BERKELEY -- As both Art Kaufman and Stefan McClure made a point of saying earlier this week, Saturday’s tilt between California and Sacramento State is all about the Bears for head coach Sonny Dykes, especially with the specter of last year’s narrow, 37-30 win over Portland State hanging over Cal’s 1-0 start.
“I mean, these teams have won too many times to even go into it,” Dykes said of Saturday’s Big Sky opponent. “I haven’t even talked about it to our players, because they know. Every Saturday, it happens across the country. It happens to really good programs. We didn’t talk much about Northwestern, prior to Northwestern. We talked about ourselves and playing well, and we haven’t talked much about Sacramento State prior to this one. Our deal is to get ourselves better, worry about ourselves, play at a high level and hopefully, that’ll be good enough to win.”
For offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, that starts with the running game.
“Two big things. No. 1 is run the ball better,” Franklin said this week. “We ran it a lot. I was disappointed with the success of running the football, and it was a combination of a couple of things: The O-line was really good the first half, not as good the second half. The running backs missed some opportunities for some big plays. So, we’ve got to do a better job of that The second thing is, we always want to play mistake-free football, and we turned the ball over twice. That’s unacceptable. We’ve got to get that better.”
Other than two interceptions – one off the hands of Daniel Lasco and another on an ill-advised throw-away attempt by freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer -- the Bears played fairly mistake-free, not notching their first offensive penalty (a delay of game flag) until the first drive of the fourth quarter.
“Most of these guys have played, so that should clean itself up as time goes by,” Franklin said. “I was proud of how they did. We’d rehearsed quite a bit the scripts that we started with, so they had a couple weeks of running those scripts.”
To Franklin’s point of running the ball, offensive line coach Zach Yenser said that that part of the game starts with the guys up front. Dykes didn’t specify how many offensive linemen will play – or how many he’d like to play -- on Saturday, but Yenser doesn’t want the starting five playing every snap, finding a happy medium between that and the 12 men that played on the line last season.
“I wanted to be able to rotate guys after the first drive of the third quarter,” Yenser said. “I was going to feel comfortable getting [Brian] Farley in, and I’ve got to get Matt Cochran in, whether at guard or at center, give [Chris] Adcock a couple breaks, just keep the knee fresh, keep everything fresh. Those two guys, right now, and then with Farley being able to bounce back and forth at each tackle, and when Dom [Granado]’s needed. I’ve got confidence in all of them playing. I think all 10 guys that we travel will have an opportunity to get in here pretty soon.”
On Thursday, Cal awarded No. 3 right guard and reserve center Donovan Fazer a scholarship for the remainder of his senior season, eliciting a big cheer from the team assembled at midfield.
Yenser was unable to rotate in the third quarter because the Bears hit the skids, allowing Northwestern to climb back into what was a 31-7 game. Part of that was due to the ineffectiveness of the running game, which saw freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer be the leading rusher – piling up more yards than any two running backs combined.
“It is [frustrating], and we’ve got to fix that,” Franklin said. “We went in with the idea that we were going to be better, and we were. Physically, we came off the ball, we were more aggressive, we were a lot of stuff, but there were just little things in the run game. You’ve got to make some plays, and we didn’t do that, and that was frustrating. Hopefully, this week, it’ll get better.”
Cal gained just 37 yards on the ground on 14 rushes in the third quarter.
“I had wanted to keep getting those guys fresh, and let them keep feeling success, but we hit a little bit of a lull,” Yenser said. “I’m really happy with how they finished, hanging on and winning a game on the road.
“I would probably [grade them] more on the C-. We did some good things early, and we also did things that we have been doing pretty well in practice that we didn’t really do well on the field,” Yenser said. “The great thing about it, the guys watched it Saturday night on the way home, and they watched it on Sunday on their Hudl accounts. When we all came in on Sunday and watched it, they knew. They were a little disappointed in themselves, but I always try to point out he positives, and there were a lot of positives. They played pretty physical up front, but I would say more in the C- range than anything.”
While this will be a good game to work on some of the inadequacies from last week, Dykes isn’t treating Saturday as a gimme.
“I think they’re certainly a very good football team,” said Dykes. “Any time that you have a quarterback who’s had as many starts and the receivers that have the kind of speed that these guys have, and they’ve got really good defensive players. Their middle linebacker’s a heck of a football player, so there’s a lot of good football players that play for them. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to be well-coached, they’re going to be tough, they’re going to be able to execute – that’s what stood out to me. Any time a football team can execute, it’s going to put pressure on your team.”
That middle linebacker -- Darnell Sankey -- tallied 10 tackles, forced a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown last week against Incarnate Word. Last season, Sankey recorded 65 tackles and six sacks.
The 4-2-5 defense, Dykes said, can cause problems, as it’s a defense Cal has not seen on a regular basis.
“We’ve just got to concentrate on what we do, and what we do well,” Yenser said. “We have to recognize what they’re in, whether it’s a four-down or three-down front, and then some of our protection stuff. The bottom line is, if there’s five guys in the box, we should be able to run the ball if it’s a three-down or if it’s a four-down. Even if there’s six in the box, we feel like we should be able to run the ball. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It’s about what we’re doing up front and who they’re going to play.”
As for who the Hornets will be playing, the Bears now have a better sense of who they are after a tough win on the road.
“We certainly have a sense of what we’re capable of,” Dykes said. “At times, in that game, we were good. At other times, we were below average. It was a little bit of a mixed bag. The good stuff was good, and it was much better than the good stuff has been. The bad stuff was better than the bad stuff has been, but it’s not as good as it needs to be, consistently, across the board. The key is to play like we played in the first quarter, the entire football game. That’s the goal, is to be that efficient on offense and defense and on special teams. At times, we did some good things Saturday, but at other times, we didn’t do some very good things, so that’s the challenge.”
Cornerback Darius White and safety Avery Sebastian both got first- and second-team reps throughout the week, and continued that on Thursday. Neither played against the Wildcats, though they did travel.
“Both of them today, I think we’ll have both of them,” Dykes said. “We’ll kind of see how we’re going to use them. They’re still a little behind in terms of reps, so we’ll just see how many snaps the other guys play, and how it plays out.”
Cal will be without defensive end Harrison Wilfley, who broke his finger on Wednesday.
“I think he’ll be back for Arizona,” Dykes said.
CAL vs. SAC STATE: Run the Ball Better
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