Clancy Pendergast sits in a classroom on the first floor of the John McKay Center on a recent Friday afternoon. It serves as a rather appropriate setting, considering the 45-year-old defensive coordinator has some teaching to do.Looking up · USC Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast has plenty of experience, including a yearlong stint with the Kansas City Chiefs. — Courtesy of Kansas City Star His lesson plan, as he points out, includes instructing USC’s defense to be aggressive, swarm to the ball, tackle and force turnovers. The primary goal, he says, is simply “to get our guys to play fast.”The checklist, of course, sounds a bit lengthy.It’s extensive, if only because the Trojans have particularly struggled on that side of the ball in recent years. Just last season, the unit allowed 394 yards per game (ranking 60th nationally) and 24.3 points per game (40th nationally). Most glaringly, in a Nov. 3 home game against Oregon, they gave up 62 points and 730 yards — the most points and yards given up in a single game in school history. It appeared to epitomize everything that had gone wrong with the group since the turn of the decade: slow reacting, slow adjusting — just slow, mostly.Not to mention two years earlier, in 2010, USC allowed, on average, 400 yards per game, the worst mark since the school first began tracking the statistic in the mid-1950s.Pendergast shrugs it off. He isn’t interested in discussing the numbers, not at length and not on this day anyway. In his mind, it’s irrelevant.“I had my own things going; I really didn’t look closely at what they did,” said Pendergast, who joined USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s staff on Jan. 18 after spending the last three seasons heading the defense at Cal. “I’m looking forward into the future and not back.”What Pendergast and Kiffin hope the future holds is this: that USC can adjust to the rising number of Pac-12 teams utilizing spread offenses — an obstacle the outgoing Monte Kiffin, the team’s de facto defensive coordinator, seemingly could not overcome. Teams such as Arizona, Oregon and UCLA all moved the ball with relative ease against the Trojans last season, employing spread systems that produced touchdown upon touchdown.“That’s what makes it so challenging to coach in the [Pac-12]: the diversity of offenses that you face,” Pendergast said. “That’s also one of the reasons I enjoy coaching in this league.”So, at present, with USC in its second week of spring practice, Pendergast is emphasizing a revamped defense. The program is breaking away from its traditional 4-3 defensive front, which utilizes four defensive linemen combined with three linebackers, in favor of a 3-4 scheme as part of that adjustment geared toward stopping speed in space.“It’s the way to go in this conference,” Kiffin said. “It’s why we made the change.”The exact defensive installation so far revolves around a “5-2” defense, a variation of the 3-4 that moves two linebackers up and closer to the line of scrimmage. Call it an aggressive approach, less reactive compared to the famed “bend but don’t break” Tampa-2 system favored under Monte Kiffin.Pendergast seems confident it’ll work.“It’s multiple and it’s flexible to use the personnel that we have,” he explained.He’s conveyed that message often in recent weeks. He emphasizes the personnel available and a willingness to play anyone at any age at any position — a link to USC’s defensive heyday in the mid-2000s under Pete Carroll, who frequently played underclassmen without a second thought.“The game’s about the players,” Pendergast said. “I don’t know any coaches who have ever blocked or tackled or had an interception. It’s a player’s game. Regardless of the style of offense, we want the best guys out there.”Players say they’ve warmed up to the approach.“He demands a lot out of the whole unit,” redshirt junior safety Josh Shaw said. “That’s what you want out of your [defensive] coordinator. Like I said, he’s hands-on. We’ve definitely responded well to him.”Pendergast also quickly cites his resume, which serves as a sign he can fix the Trojans’ ailments. During his first season with Cal, the Golden Bears jumped from seventh to first in the then-Pac-10 in total defense. And in 2008, as the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, Pendergast led his unit to fifth in the NFL in takeaways with 30 en route to a run to Super Bowl XLIII — a testament to his aggressive scheme.“The guy has a lot of insight,” Shaw added. “His knowledge is unbelievable.”For USC to bounce back in 2013, the team’s best hope is that his knowledge is as good as advertised.
If this is how it’s going to be, we’re all in.What happened on Thursday in front of an AT&T Center crowd that absolutely knew it was going to celebrate a series clincher isn’t supposed to happen.No way, no how.The NBA champion Spurs live for these moments.They don’t just welcome this stage.They built it.But there were the Clippers, absorbing Spurs haymakers originating from North Texas, picking up momentum while sweeping across Waco and Austin before landing with vengeance in San Antonio.These were vicious blows.And they made the Clippers wobble and double over as the Spurs built a 10-point lead and threatened to do what they’ve done so many times to playoff opponents while winning five NBA titles over the years.Finish them off.But the Clippers never broke.They never went down.“We showed great resolve tonight,” J.J. Redick said.Said coach Doc Rivers: “I’ve been saying all year this team is tough. They are mentally tough. We hear all this stuff about them. This team is mentally tough.”Their composure stabilized, the air returned to their lungs, the buzzing subsided in their ears and their eyesight cleared up.And that’s when they went to work.Chris Paul found a shooting rhythm, rebounding from an 0-for-7 start to finish with 19 points and 15 assists and sinking a floater with 29 seconds remaining to give the Clippers a 98-93 lead.“This,” Paul said, pointing to a stat sheet. “Doesn’t matter in the playoffs. It’s about who wins or who losses.”In other words, the 0-for-7 start never rattled him.“I didn’t think about it,” he said.Blake Griffin steadied himself, becoming a force on the boards, in the paint and on the perimeter while scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.When Redick’s 3-point range abandoned him, he took a few steps in and drained two-point jump shots the rest of the night. Redick had 19 points, and the Clippers needed every one of them.Jamal Crawford has not been himself all playoffs, but he nailed a critical jumper late in the fourth quarter and his clutch free throws with 10.1 seconds remaining put the Clippers up 100-96 and made a potential 3-pointer simply a nuisance rather than a killer And with DeAndre Jordan still agonizing over his unfortunate offensive basket interference that negated what would have been the winning points in Game 5, he turned his fury on the Spurs and pummeled them with 15 points and 14 rebounds. The Clippers beat the Spurs at their own game, exhausting themselves on the defensive end to force stops, then working, moving, locating and converting for critical points offensively that frustrated and drained the Spurs before finally tumbling over.And now they go to a Game 7 in the friendly, familiar surroundings of Staples Center.They mowed down 14 of their final 15 opponents during the regular season to secure homecourt advantage in this series. The payoff for their efforts arrives in full on Saturday, when they host the series finale.Staples Center has not been kind to the Clippers this series, the site of losses in Game 2 and Game 5 that can only be described as devastating.This series should really been over by now, had they simply taken care of business at home.But they’ve never been so happy to see a Game 7 as they are right now, needing to stand tall and strong amid the hysteria and deafening noise of AT&T Center to survive one final push by the Spurs in the closing minute to bring the series back home.“This has been unbelievable,” Crawford said. “You’re seeing high-level basketball right now.” We’ve questioned our faith after two gut-wrenching losses and an inexcusable blowout, kicked them out of the house and told them never to return.Only for them to go and win us over again with a bounce-back road virtuoso in Game 4 and again Thursday night in a must-have 102-96 Game 6 stunner that sends this series back to Staples Center for a win-or-go-home Game 7. “We weren’t ready to go home,” Jamal Crawford said. “We just weren’t.” Damn you, Clippers.But, oh what the hell, get over here ya big lugs. SAN ANTONIO >> So that’s how it’s going to be, huh?The Clippers luring us in, then ripping our hearts out, only to reel us back in again?They coughed up two home games in this roller-coaster ride against the San Antonio Spurs, graying our hair and wrinkling our face and causing a pit in our stomach that gnawed painfully inside us.Only to dip us in a vat of anti-aging cream, hand us a pack of Tums and pull us up feeling alive and well and believing again. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error