BERKELEY -- During his three years at Louisiana Tech, California head coach Sonny Dykes's offense went through a transformation. His intent: He wanted the fastest team in football. The first season, the Bulldogs averaged one play every 21.69 seconds of possession. That year, Louisiana Tech went 5-7.
In 2011, Dykes’s Bulldogs slowed down, averaging one play every 22.41 seconds as they perfected and polished the offense. Louisiana Tech went 8-5. In Dykes’s final year in Ruston, his team averaged one play every 19.02 seconds. The Bulldogs led the nation in total offense, and went 9-3.
During Dykes’s first year in Berkeley, he tried to turn the dial up on the speed of the offense with a true freshman quarterback at the helm in Jared Goff. While in the first game against Northwestern, the Bears got one play off every 18.4 seconds, things went downhill, as Cal went 1-11, and ended the season averaging one play every 20.3 seconds.
True to form, last season, as the Bears went 5-7, the offense slowed down, adjusting to Goff as Goff adjusted to it, and it’s increasing complexity, averaging one play every 22.13 seconds.
Through the final week of fall camp, and during the first several game prep practices this week, Cal has been upping the tempo not just on offense, but in every aspect of the game. Friday’s focus was primarily on substitutions in game situations, particularly on special teams.
“The biggest thing is getting the play call coming in quickly, getting stuff signaled in, with the offensive line, making sure they can make their calls quickly and get lined up quickly,” Dykes said. “I think the biggest improvement we’ve made is that our offensive line is lining up much more quickly, and the calls are much more efficient.”
Left guard Chris Borrayo returned on Friday from an illness on Thursday, and was with the first-team, which returned to its projected starting lineup with Borrayo and veteran Jordan Rigsbee flanking first-year starting center Dominic Granado, with Brian Farley at left tackle and Steven Moore at right tackle.
“I think it’s happening much more quickly, and we hope it’s significant,” said Dykes. “You don’t ever know. If we’re executing well, that could make a big difference. That’s the key to offensive football, is just execution. When you execute, and you get your guys to play fast during the play, that’s a big thing, and when you can line up and get the ball snapped, that’s another big thing. We’ve got to be able to execute.”
During Dykes’s first year in Berkeley, Cal averaged 5.2 yards per play, and 19.7 yards per point scored. In 2014, the Bears averaged 6.1 yards per play and 12.9 yards per point scored – much more efficient, as Cal and then-sophomore Goff took their time.
“The biggest thing is execution – when guys know what to do and how to do it, they can do it efficiently and that’s when offenses become good,” Dykes said. “I think we were [slower] at times last year, because we wanted to let Jared be comfortable. We felt like, at times, we rushed him a bit the first year, so he felt like he was a little more comfortable when we slowed it down. I think the good thing is, now, he’s probably more comfortable, the faster we go.”
Goff Ready to Step on the Gas
Goff is more comfortable with the increased speed, but also with processing more information at a faster rate, as he takes greater command of the offense, able to change protections, routes and other play calls while at the line in game situations.
“I think I’ve been able to earn that in the last couple years,” Goff said. “Me and coach [Tony] Franklin think similarly now, as far as football goes, and we can bounce ideas off each other, as well as coach Dykes. Leading up to a game, I want to be more involved in it, I want to have more of a say on stuff, let him know what I like and what I don’t like and hear his side of it, as well, and I think that’ll help the whole team.”
Goff’s liked Peyton Manning since he was young, and he still favors the Denver Broncos quarterback who just so happens to be offensive coordinator Tony Franklin totem when discussing the ideal quarterback. This fall, Goff has looked not dissimilar to Manning, in the way he stands, the way he carries himself and the way he directs the offense.
“I study Peyton a lot,” Goff said. “We have NFL film we can watch, and I enjoy watching him as a fan, more so. You want to take things from him. Watching him work is just fun.”
Goff in fact is on the Manning Award Watch List this year, among other preseason honors.
“I don't put much weight in that stuff,” Goff said. “It’s just all the same stuff that I talk about – I don’t care about it. It’s definitely an honor, and I’m very appreciative to be mentioned with some of the guys on that list, to be in the conversation.”
Goff is among the most highly-rated draft prospects in the nation, but even he, as a freshman, probably ran before he could walk, with the way the offense was installed. Last year, he jogged, and this year, he and the Bears are ready to sprint.
“We were incredibly simple on the front end,” Dykes said. “Year two, we became a little bit more diverse, and that slowed us down a little bit, and required Jared to think a little bit more. Now, you hope we can be more diverse and do so faster.”
But What About the Defense?
That increase in speed has had an affect on the defense, as the defensive position coaches have been harping more and more on quick changeovers and substitutions.
“It’s all going to be dictated by what’s going on in a game, and where we are, with our defense, and just adjusting to what you become as a team,” Dykes said.
“At Louisiana Tech in Year Two, we said we wanted to be the fastest offense in college football,” Dykes said. “But, we struggled offensively and played great defense, so we said, ‘Let’s still be the fastest team in college football, let’s make sure we don’t turn the ball over, punt the ball well and play good defense,’ and that won us a conference championship.”
That third year, though, Dykes had the one of the worst defenses in college football. Each of the past two seasons, Cal has had the worst passing defense in college football, and in the pass-happy Pac-12, that was a veritable death sentence, no matter how good the offense was.
Goff thinks that this year will be different.
“The pass rush is a lot better. They’re healthy, they’re deep, they’re fast,” Goff said. “The linebackers have always been pretty solid, and they continue to get better. The DBs, they’re starting to make plays when the balls in the air. They’ve always been good at running with the receivers, and technique, but the next step that they’ve taken is that they’re making plays on the balls. Darius White’s doing a great job with it, Darius Allensworth doing a great job with it, and the safeties, too. When the ball’s in the air, they’re actually making plays.”
Dykes cited White, in particular, as a transformed player from last season, when he missed most of fall camp and had to still play right away as the numbers in the defensive backfield quickly dwindled.
“He’s completely different,” Dykes said. “He got thrown into the fire last year. He came in, in the summer, and hadn’t had a lot of prep time. He just didn’t know how to play the position we wanted him to play it, and it was kind of baptism by fire, and he gets injured, doesn’t get a lot of reps, gets thrown in against Washington State, gets beat on the first play he’s in the game. His confidence was shaken, and he was trying to play catch-up.”
Now, the rest of the defensive backfield is playing catch-up to White.
“He had all spring, he had all summer, he had all fall camp, and now, he’s settled,” Dykes said. “I think he’s going to be one of the elite corners in this league. He’s got that kind of talent. He’s playing with that kind of confidence. He’s come a long way.”
So has the rest of the defense.
"Now, we're much more diverse, with what we can do, defensively, because guys know what to do, so that's going to allow us to play more zone, and press and play man and disrupt," Dykes said. "What we kept doing was moving people and moving positions. Somebody would go down, and it limited what we were able to do on the back end. In order to teach the guys how to line up and how to play football, we had to be simple. When you're simple and you're not deep and not very experienced, that's a recipe for disaster. Now, our guys know what to do, how to do it, and we can be much more diverse in the calls we make and the coverages we run."
- For the second day in a row, freshman wide receiver Austin Aaron had a productive practice, catching a fade from Chase Forrest for a touchdown in skeleton work.
- In scout work, linebacker Hardy Nickerson hauled in an interception, as did White.
- Kicker Matt Anderson took all of the reps on kickoff and field goals, and Dykes said that, if the Bears were to play today, he'd be their kicker.
- Neither Aisea Tongilava nor Aaron Cochran were in practice on Friday. Cochran "is a little sick," according to Dykes, and Tongilava has a non-football toe injury. The Bears are trying to get that assessed. It's uncertain when he will return.
- With Cochran out, Farley stayed with the first-team offense at left tackle, while Vince Johnson went with the twos.
- "Being consistent, that's what you want to see from offensive linemen," Dykes said when asked about Farley's selection as the starting right tackle. "You want to see consistency and toughness. We challenged him. We said, 'You've got to play more physical, you've got to be more physical and you've got to compete harder.' He did that, and he's been consistent. He's always been a good athlete. He's always been an athletic guy who can do a lot of the things we want tackles to be able to do, but he lacked a bit of consistency, and probaby wasn't as physical as we wanted him to be. He's stronger now. I think he's probably more committed than he's ever been."
- Dykes said that the staff is "really" confident in Farley at left tackle.