BTTV: Sonny Dykes on UCLA

BERKELEY -- Head coach Sonny Dykes updates the health of some key players, talks about getting the all-important sixth win, and recruiting down in Los Angeles ...

On the bye week: "I think it's been good for us. Our guys needed to rest up a little bit. We had had [...] I think we're getting ready to play our fourth out of five games on the road. We've traveled a lot. We played some night games, which are tough on guys physically, probably tougher on the coaches -- just trying to get caught up on your sleep and all that stuff is tough for us to do. We're looking forward to playing, and they're a good team. We'll have our hands full."

On playing UCLA after the bye: "We have a lot of players from Southern California, and we're looking forward to the game. We have had an opportunity to rest up a little bit. As a coach, you're always a little bit concerned, coming off of an open date, just how your team's going to react, especially if you've played well, and we've played relatively well up to this point. I think any change in your routine sometimes throws you off, but we've had a good week. I think we've gotten enough work done, but we've had a chance to rest our guys, which I think is very, very important, in re-focusing."

On practicing in the pre-dawn hours on Monday: "Monday's an academic day for our players. We try to give them an academic day off, where we don't do anything with the guys, encourage them to not come around [the facility], really just to get away from football and focus on academics. We have classes all day, during the day, so we instead decided to practice our players early this morning. We got some work done today, and got them on to class."

How challenging is a Thursday-night game and how is Cal making adjustments to cope: "It is weird. The midweek games are strange. I'm not a huge fan of 'em, and I think it's hard on everybody. I think it's, first and foremost, it's hard on the players. With us, in the past, I know a lot of players have wanted to stay in Los Angeles. We're requiring every single one of our players to come back after the game Thursday night. We want them to go to class Friday. That's the biggest thing ... We want to miss as little academic time as we possibly can ... We're going to leave on Wednesday, we're going to try to get out of here relatively late, so that we can attend our classes Wednesday, for the most part, and obviously, guys are going to miss class on Thursday. I don't really like it. I think it's part of the gig, unfortunately. I think it's hard on the fans. Players' families like to travel, and people are working. I think it's hard on the home fans, especially in the metropolitan areas, like our area and like Los Angeles, just because of the logistics of having a game during rush hour is hard on everybody.

"It's not my favorite thing. As a fan, I like Thursday-night football games, because I actually get to watch 'em. Those are the only games of the week that I get to watch. You go home early, Thursday's kind of your family night, and typically, eat dinner with the kids, put them to bed and watch a game. That's really the only time I get to watch a game, so it is kind of fun to play on Thursday night, just because you do know everybody's watching ... It's part of the deal with the league -- you've got to play a couple of Thursday games and a couple of Friday games. I'm not a big fan of the Friday games, either."  On experience: "I feel like last week, there was a lot of build-up for that game. There's two undefeated teams, it was College Game Day and all that. That was the first time, really, quite frankly, since I've been here, that our program has had that kind of exposure, and I don't think we responded particularly well to it, as a football team. I just don't think we played our best agaist Utah, and Utah's got a fine football team. But, we were probably, it probably took us a little bit to get settled in, before we played that game, honestly, and I think our guys will handle this better, at least, I hope we will. You have to go through something like that, to learn from it. As coaches, we can talk about it, and we can try to prepare our players the best we can, but it's something completely different to go through it, and I think they went through it. I think that part of our maturation as a football program is just believing that we're good enough to win, against good football teams, on the road, and especially when you don't play well. We're going to have to play better Thursday than we did last Saturday, and I think our guys will handle the situation better."

Has Jared Goff put the Utah game behind him? "I think he's just like the rest of our team. I think he didn't play his best, certainly, and I think he's had a really focused week of practice. It seems like he's much more at-ease now than he was then, and I think our team is much more at-ease."

How much recruiting will Cal do while in Los Angeles: "Most of the [coaches] are staying. We have guys going everywhere. I'm staying over. Going to go to some high schools and some games on Friday. We've got guys hitting high schools and junior colleges not only in Southern California, but really, across the country, on Friday and Saturday."

Editor's notes: Cal has several commits from SoCal, including defensive tackle Chris Yaghi (Santa Ana Foothill), offensive lineman Francisco Perez (Baldwin Park), cornerback Camryn Bynum and offensive lineman Daniel Juarez (Corona Centennial), receiver Logan Gamble (Long Beach St, Anthony), athlete Zion Echols (Covina Charter Oak), corner Traveon Beck (Bellflower St. John Bosco), quarterback signee Max Gilliam (Thousand Oaks), San Diego running back Derrick Clark (Mission Bay) and quarterback Armani Rogers (Hamilton). Gamble has already tweeted that he will be at the game on Thursday.

Cal's only loss was against a good team in a close game, whereas UCLA is coming off of back-to-back double-digit losses, yet, the Bears -- ranked No. 19, while the Bruins are unranked -- come into this game as underdogs. Cal opened as 7.5-point dogs on the road, but that line has fallen to 4.5 points.

Does being an underdog, despite the rankings and recent win-loss record, bother Dykes, that he's not getting the national recognition that his team deserves? "I don't think so. I didn't really even know we were the underdog until somebody mentioned it this morning. It's not something that coaches pay much attention to, really. I think respect is earned, and I don't think it's easily earned, at least the kind of respect that you want, so I don't have any problem with that. To me, we need to continue to play well to earn people's respect, and I don't have any problem with that, at all."

How has the loss of Myles Jack affected the UCLA defense? "They've lost some good players. I think they've lost one in the D-line, one in the linebackers, and one in the secondary, so I think all three units of their defense have been affected. Myles Jack's a special talent. I haven't been around many guys that can do the things that he can do. I think, if he was a running back, he's have been one of the top two or three running backs in the league. He was certainly one of the top linebackers in the league, if not the top. There's just not that many guys that have that skill set. Any time you lose a player like that, it certainly has an impact on your program, but they've got good players ... I think it's bad for college football to lose a guy like Myles Jack, because he is such a good player and he's fun to watch. He's not very fun to play against, but he's fun to watch."

Can Cal's ability to generate turnovers, and create havoc, affect a young quarterback like Josh Rosen? "You certainly hope so. That's what experience gives you  -- an ability to compartmentalize things. That goes back to what we were talking about earlier -- just as a football program, and certainly, individually, that when you get a little bit out of your flow, and you're a young quarterback, I think it can be hard on you. Again, this guy, Josh Rosen's a pretty unique talent. He just is. He physically can make all the throws, but I think the thing that sets him apart, probably, and gave him an opportunity to play as well as he's played as a freshman, is his confidence. I think, just getting to know the kid a little bit through the recruiting process, that's the one thing that stood out: He's a conifent young man, and I think, as a result, he doesn't get rattled very easily. He's seemed to have gotten through the tough stretches that he's had. He seems to get through them well, and improve, and when you get to this point in the season, and you've started six games, you're not really a freshman quarterback anymore. It's a little bit like Jared his first year. You start to hit the second half of the season, and you've got enough experience to play at a high level, and certainly, Josh Rosen does."

Does this feel like a place you want to spend the rest of your career? "That's why you come to a place like this, because you want to raise your kids here and grow old. As coaches, that's kind of the ideal scenario, for all of us, is to go someplace, be successful, and have the resources that you need, in order to be successful. How could you not like living in the Bay Area?" At the midway point, with Cal in a position it hasn't been in for quite some time, are rankings, bowl eligibility and Heisman campaigns in the minds of the players? "Not really. Last week, I think, was really good for us, because there was a lot of scrutiny, and it seemed like we were able to get through that, last week, and I think the guys now are just more focused, and things have died down a little bit, and it just seems like the team has gotten refocused on what's important, and that's doing their job, and doing it well, and doing the little things that have made us successful.

"You have to remember: These are young men you're dealing with, 18-22-year old men, young people, and their mind have a tendancy to wander, and that's our job, as coaches and mentors, is to refocus them as much as we can, just on the things that matter, and the things that matter for our guys are going to class, studying and doing things the right way and playing hard and training and doing the little things that allow them to be successful on and off the field. I think that's our job: To always make sure they're focused as well as they can be, and again, I think we're starting to show signs of maturity, the way that we've handled things this week. The build-up will come the next couple of days, and we certainly don't have all the answers. Every day, we're still trying to improve our formula and get better."

Getting the sixth win, to get that off the table, how significant would that be? "I don't know. Like I said, I was talking to somebody the other day, talking about being 4-1, and they had to remind me we're 5-1, so you know how it is. We just want to play well on Thursday night, and see where that takes us."

How are you feeling, health-wise, with guys like DT Mustafa Jalil (arm) and OT Brian Farley? WR Jack Austin was back yesterday ... "Good. Jalil's still coming on. I think he's moving better than he has been. I think he's feeling better. Jack's practiced some this week. I think we'll continue to see him improve daily. He did some things [Sunday], he did some things this morning. Hopefully, he'll do a little more tomorrow. Then, we'll see how effective we think he can be. Brian's kind of in the same boat. I would expect him to play, but every single day, we just want to keep getting those guys a little bit better."

Aaron Cochran has taken all the LT reps that we've seen last week and this week. How important is that in regards to your confidence in him: "Aaron just keeps getting better. I think the thing about Aaron is, he needed experience. If you'd have said, 'What does he have to do to get better?' it's just 'Play,' and get practice reps. I think he gets better week to week, so it's exciting to see that, because Aaron's such a big kid and such a good athlete and has so much potential, that he just has to continue to grow, and the only way you can grow is by getting reps, whether those are practice reps or game reps. I think it's great for his longterm growth. I think it's great for our program's growth. He's played well, when he's gotten in games. I think that he got thrown into the fire a little bit against Washington, against some really good pass rushers, and did some good things, and has had an opportunity to play a little bit more as the weeks have passed. I just think it's helped him mature."

It looks like Bryce Treggs has been on the outside more, with Trevor Davis still dealing with an ankle sprain: "We're just moving those guys around a little bit. Part of it is, we've played Kenny [Lawler] so much. Kenny's basically played almost every play at Z, and I think it's probably affected him a little bit. So, we'll move Bryce around, play him at different spots, just because he's done it in the past, and he's got that experience doing that. He'll still play inside some, and we expect him to play outside, as well, just a move to give us more depth."

How healthy is Davis? "He practiced today (Monday), and he's hobbled a little bit, but I think he'll feel better by Thursday."

Do you expect Austin to play this week? "I don't know yet. Maybe. Maybe. If he does, it'll probably be in a limited role."

How's Daniel Lasco coming along, health-wise? "Daniel had his best day of practice on Sunday. We saw signs of just [...] he didn't look great on Friday, and then, on Sunday, he looked like he took a big step forward. Still want to see it happening consistently. I hate it for him, and he's frustrated. But, that's a position where a guy's got to be full-speed, and he's got to be able to do all the things that running backs have to do. I think he's much closer than he has been. It's just one of those injuries that keeps lingering and lingering and lingering, and we're hoping he can work through it, because we certainly miss him, and he's a big part of our offense." Why did you decide to burn Cameron Saffle's redshirt? "I think half a year is a great chance for a guy to play. Number one, he wanted to do it. He said, 'Hey, as soon as I'm ready, I want to play. We felt like he was capable of playing, and helping us. We think he has the chace to be a really good player, so we want to get him getting reps and participating as much as we can, just to get his growth started, and we think he's going to help us win games down the stretch. The last three or four weeks of the season, sometimes you're just searching for healthy bodies, and we wanted to make sure that we had enough options there at the defensive end position, and we felt like he gave us something different, just his strength and his suddenness. I think he's going to be a player a lot like Kyle Kragen, just because he's relentless in his work ethic and his approach. He's a young kid, but I think he's got a chance to be a really good football player for us, down the road. We're hoping we're playing more than six games, and he'll be a part of those, so I think that's a big deal for us." Top Stories