Sonny Dykes Talks Three-Man Rush, Deep Balls and OL Development

Cal head coach Sonny Dykes talks to the media about a variety of topics, including his and Art Kaufman's disdain for the three-man rush, the Bears' missed opportunities and the development of the offensive line, and how his teams do out of the bye week ...

Some notes from the full conversation: Michael Barton "will be a later-in-the-week decision," and that safety Stefan McClure (shoulder) "should be fine."

Cal practiced Friday, but not Saturday. The Bears had a two-and-a-half-hour practice on Sunday, which Dykes called the "best practice we've had all year."

The offensive line, with three returning starters, should be fine, but they’ve, really struggled the last two games: “I think line play, there are a lot of things that are indicative of offensive line play. There’s reasons why people get sacked, and they’re not always the offensive line. I think our line has played well at times this year. I think we’ve played very well at times. I thought we played pretty well against a really good front, against Utah, and I didn’t think we played well [Thursday] at all. I didn’t think we pass protected. I didn’t think we ran blocked particularly well. Look, again, I think we’ve played well at times, and other times, we haven’t played well, and I don’t think [Thursday] was our best game. As far as the development of those guys, I think they’ve developed fin, and I think they’ll continue to get better. Aaron Cochran hasn’t played a lot. We got sacked three times, I believe, on [Thursday], and I think he gave up two of them. He hadn’t played a lot of football. He’s going to be a good player. I actually thought he played pretty well in the game, but he gave up a couple of sacks. Overall, I thought he played really good football.”

“I think we averaged 3.7 yards a carry, which is not good. I think they averaged 4.1 a carry. We’ve got to run the ball better.”

Has the OL not developed: “I don’t see it that way.”

Is he planning on evaluating switching things up, or is he happy with what he has there: “We’re playing the best players, and that’s the way it’s always going to be, regardless of the position. We’ve tried to bring some young guys along. Aaron’s done some good things for us. We don’t have a lot of options, you know what I’m saying? We can bring some young guys along, let them get in there and compete, which we’re doing some, with Patrick MekariSemisi [Uluave]'s got a little bit of a cast – he’s in a cast right now – so that’s going to have an impact on how effective he’s going to be able to be, at times. We’ve got to keep developing guys. We’ve made some progress.”

“When you play against a team that’s a good pass rushing team – and UCLA’s a pretty good pass rushing team – they’re going to rush the passer. We’ve got to keep getting better.”

Note: UCLA was missing top pass rusher Deon Hollins, and starting defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, on Thursday.

What is the injury to Semisi Uluave? “He’s got a broken bone in his hand.”

Some of Jared Goff's favorite targets – Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler – don’t have time to get down field. He’s throwing a lot of quick stuff. Is he not having time to get to his second and third reads the last couple of games: “We had five vertical routes that we threw that were one-on-one coverage routes, so they were fade balls, and we were 0-for-5. You just can’t do that. What’s happened to us, here, recently, is that people have started playing more man coverage against us, and we haven’t been able to get the ball down the field to beat man, and we’re going to continue to see it if we don’t get the ball down the field more. We get it. We understand it. We’ve got to make competitive plays.”

On missed opportunities: “Bryce had, I think, three opportunities the other night. Kenny had two opportunities, and really, in all five instances, we didn’t use very good technique at the receiver position. There was one time where Maurice [Harris] made a really nice release on the goal line, and Jared overthrew him. We just haven’t been able to connect on those balls versus press-man coverage, so that’s a big part of it. You know how it is: You complete one or two of those balls, and it changes the whole game. You go back and you look at that, we had those five balls, and in most games, we’ve caught three of the five, and in some games, we’ve caught five of the five. Our game against Texas, we caught those balls, and we made those plays. That’s why we were able to score a bunch of points, and that’s why we were able to win the ballgame. That’s really what games come down to. It’s the same thing with us defensively. We dropped three or four interceptions on Saturday, and we’ve been making those. On four of those, I think three of the four that were dropped, were scoring drives, where they went down and scored. If they don’t score on three drives, it’s a different ballgame. That’s what happens, sometimes. The other team makes the plays, you don’t, and when you don’t make ‘em, you’re not going to win. It’s really that simple, and there was a lot more going on in that game, but that was a big part of it.”

On the parity of the Pac-12: “That’s the first time this year that we have not played well as a team. We’ve got to play well. If you look at the league, look at the teams in the league, look at the scores of the teams in the league. UCLA was a top-five team, a top-10 team, and they didn’t play well for two weeks, and got beat. So, we didn’t play well last week, and we got beat. That’s what happens when you play against good people. That’s why all these teams in the league are beating each other, because there’s a lot of good teams, and you’d better play your best, and if you don’t, you’re not only going to get beat; you’re going to get your rear end kicked. All you have to do is look at the scores of the games every Saturday.”

Three-man rush was fairly predominant for Cal, with Josh Rosen being successful: “The thing with the three-man rush, if you go back and look at all of our defensive snaps, the three-man rush is the most effective thing we’ve done on defense, if you look at our statistics. When we rush three on third down, our conversion rate is so much better than if we rush four. We have more turnovers, we’ve had plenty of sacks, and with a three-man rush, we’ve created pressure. I think people sometimes, when you rush three and they complete a pass, everybody goes, ‘Well, you rushed three people,’ and we didn’t do a very good job rushing four people. We didn’t pressure the quarterback near as well as we needed to. You have to look at our total statistics through the year, which we do every week, those are things, obviously, that we look at, that we constantly update. Our three-man rush has actually been successful for us. I don’t really like a lot of three-man rush. I know Art doesn’t like it, but it’s something that we’ve been pretty effective with this year, and we do it to be able to mix coverages on the back end and do some things we can’t do if we don’t do it. That’s something that everybody uses, and it’s been pretty effective for us.”

How much is the offense being inhibited by field position, with getting very little help from kickoff return and punt return teams: “Well, when they kick it through the end zone, there's not much you can do about it. We haven't had a whole lot of opportunities to return kickoffs this year, at all. Most of the people we've played against have kicked it through. In terms of the punt game, we've faced the best punter, I think, in college football, against Utah, and he did a good job flipping the field on us, at times. He's a pretty unique guy. This week, quite frankly, we faced a not-very-good punter, and a lot of the punts were short punts, so we didn't have much of a chance to return those, either, because they were rugby punts, or they were low-hang-time punts. It's not much from a special teams standpoint you could do. We tried to block one, we got a decent rush. They changed punters. They were so unhappy with their punter that they I think played with a different punter, and it was a rugby-style punter, and it was about a 35-yard average. Any time you have to drive the ball the length of the field, it's more difficult on you.

"A big part of the reason why we were getting short fields early [in the season] is that we were getting a lot of turnovers. We got one turnover last game, and we've been getting more than one. We've just got to continue to keep grinding and keep working, get turnovers, get some short fields, and we've got to make more plays on offense. We haven't played well the last couple weeks, and we'll play better."

The past three years, you're 0-4 coming out of the bye. Is there something you look at over those four games, and see any kind of trend? "The bye thing was, we won one ballgame our first year, so we weren't probably going to be very good coming out of the bye that year. We weren't very good not coming out of the bye. We've had one bye this year, and we lost to a good football team, that lost the week before, coming out of the bye. So, that's for you guys to make those deals. We look at everything we do, and every decision we make -- how we practice, whether or not we practice -- it's always vetted, it's always discussed, it's always considered. Since we didn't win, we'll probably try to do something different next time. We tried to do something different this time than we did before, and like I said, I think the first one, you just throw it away, because we didn't win any games. I don't know how many conclusions you can draw from that. You guys got any ideas, I'm open to them."


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