BERKELEY -- At his two previous stops, the offensive performance in third years under California head coach Sonny Dykes have been landmark years. At Arizona in 2009, the Wildcats went 6-3 in conference play, their best conference finish under Mike Stoops. At Louisiana Tech in 2012, Dykes led the Bulldogs to their best finish since 1997, and a massive jump in offensive yards per game, going from 394.6 in 2011 to 577.9.
“The process is normally, you teach them what to do, then you teach them how to do it, and then you can really get good at the little things,” Dykes said during spring ball. "“The little things are what make a difference between winning and losing, especially in a league that’s as competitive as the Pac-12, and so we’re trying to get good at the little things. The guys know what to do, they know how to do it, now we’ve got to be good at the details.”
The Bears (5-4, 2-4 in Pac-12) started 5-0, and reached as high as No. 19 in the polls for the first time since 2009. Then came Utah. Then came UCLA. Then came USC. Then came Oregon. Cal is now on a four-game slide, and bowl eligibility -- once a foregone conclusion -- is at stake this Saturday against Oregon State, and it's the offense -- not the much-maligned defense that was last in the FBS in defending the pass the last two years -- that's not holding up its end of the bargain.
The Bears are currently averaging 34.9 points per game, 6.4 yards per play and 483.7 yards per game. In 2014, when Cal went 5-7, the offense averaged 38.2 points, 6.1 yards per play and 495.2 yards per game. In Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin's first year on campus, the Bears averaged 23.0 points per game, 5.2 yards per play and 453.6 yards per game. Yards per play have trended up consistently, but points per game and yards per have have gone down, and after Saturday's game against Oregon State, Cal will face Stanford -- the nation's 29th best overall defense -- and Arizona State, the nation's 74th overall defense, and the conference's sixth-best total defense.
"When you win a ballgame, it's because of players; when you lose a ballgame, it's because of coaches," Dykes said. "I truly believe that."
Things won't get any easier for the Bear Raid, though the Bears are coming out of their toughest stretch on the season, facing three of the Pac-12's top five defenses -- Utah, USC and UCLA.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1608949-bttv-bear-raid-spu... "We've been honest and realistic with them in our evaluations of what we have to improve," Dykes said. "They get it. They're excited about improving in areas we need to improve in, and getting better ... It's been something different [every week]. There's been times where I thought we certainly played well enough, defensively, to win -- Utah and USC. We didn't have a lot of possessions on offense against USC, so there was a real fine line there. We got the ball, for all intents and purposes, nine times in the game, and had three punts, three turnovers and three touchdowns. When you have nine possessions, there's a fine line. But, we certainly played well enough to win that game, defensively.
"There's been different things in games that have hurt us a little bit. The turnovers, obviously, against 'SC and Utah, I truly believe that if we don't turn the ball over six times against Utah, it's a different story, but that's part of the game, and that's the way it works. That's what we're trying to do: Just get better, weather the storms a little bit better. There are times where, you lose a game, and you start to get a little bit -- when you haven't won that much -- where you might lose your confidence at times, a little bit, and I think we need to be a little mentally tougher, and I've challenged them about doing that. Our effort's been great, all year. Our guys play as hard as anybody in college football, and that's why I have so much respect for this team. I love these guys. They play hard every Saturday. They play hard when they're down, they play hard when they're up. They play hard, but the biggest thing about getting over the hump is just to develop confidence. That's the last step."
Cal did, though, lay an egg against the conference's worst defense in Oregon just last week, when the vaunted passing offense managed just 329 passing yards against the nation's third-worst passing defense.
"You know, I don't have any magical answer right now," said junior quarterback Jared Goff. "We just need to keep being detailed and having really high standards for ourselves during practice. I think we hit a little bit of a slump, and that can happen in any sport. In order to get out of a slump, you just have to keep working and work harder. Once something clicks, as I'm sure it will, I'm sure it will all fall into place from there."
Dykes -- who did not have the services of Kenny Lawler on Tuesday, due to lingering effects from what he dubbed a "bruised right butt cheek" on Sunday, and noted that he's banged up "like everybody is at this time of year" -- noted that, at times, the Bears have dealt with injuries to Lawler, Bryce Treggs and Trevor Davis.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1608950-bttv-jared-goff-di... "A lot of our receivers have been banged up at times, and it's had an impact on us a little bit," he said on Sunday. "All those guys have had different situations this year, in terms of injuries and missed practice opportunities. Obviously, [Daniel] Lasco missed a lot of time. Kenny's been a little banged up. Week to week, Trevor Davis has been banged up. Stephen Anderson's been banged up. Bryce has been banged up. We just haven't really, for whatever reason, played as well as any of us thought we would. The good thing is, there's three weeks to get it fixed and play better."
That said, he still couldn't put a finger on just why the offense -- now with Dykes and graduate assistant David Gru handling the receivers, while Franklin coaches the quarterbacks and running backs -- has sputtered.
"I don't know," he said. "I think we've just got to play more consistently. We're not doing anything any differently, from a coaching standpoint, than we've done in the past. I don't think anybody's done anything different to us defensively. We had that three-week deal where people played a lot of press, and they took away some of the easy throws. That's a good question. I don't have an answer for you. I think we've got to keep practicing hard and keep improving and just execute better as an offense. That's been the biggest issues. At times, this year, we haven't executed as well as we did in the past, for whatever reason."
Left tackle Brian Farley "isn't as healthy as he needs to be," said offensive line coach Brandon Jones, who's line has allowed 22 sacks through nine games -- 40th most in the Football Bowl Subdivision. For comparison's sake, the Bears allowed 27 sacks last season, and 34 in 2013. They're on pace to allow 29 this year. Goff, to his credit, gets back up after every hit, and it's one of the reasons that, Franklin says, his line would "die for him."
"Great kid, and we talk quite a bit," Jones said. "We've just got to do a better job, as an O-line. We've got to take more pride in it. I don't necessarily feel they're out of position. It's just a matter of executing and doing their job while they're out there."
The lack of time that Goff has had in the pocket, combined with a three-week stretch that saw opposing defenses play heavy press-man coverage, and the fact that Goff's top receivers have been limited in practice have had a cascade effect.
"I think they do," Jones said. "I think, as an offense, we need to protect better, and I know coach [Dykes] has challenged them to get open, so I think they go hand-in-hand. If there's nowhere for him to throw the ball, obviously, he's going to hold it, and, hell, if we're getting beat early, they're going to be able to get to it. They go hand-in-hand, and that's obviously something we've got to correct."
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1608945-bttv-sonny-dykes-o... Goff hasn't had time to hit routes down field, his timing on the short routes has been harmed by lack of reps and heavy rotation, despite the Bears running 76 plays per game -- fewer than either of the first two seasons under Dykes and Franklin (87.167 in 2013, 81.25 in 2014).
"He had a few pressures [from Oregon], and a few of them were on Brian," Jones said. "As an O-line coach, it's the whole group ... I think that's a lot on us. We're obviously trying to work to fix it."
Execution, at this point in the year, can't improve.
"There's really not much you can do," said Jones. "It's just got to be more of a pride deal -- 'I'm not going to let my guy get close to him.' They're buying into it, and they hear all the negativity around them, and they're tired of it. The only way you can wreck that is to play well and shut up all the doubters."
That will be Cal's mission on Saturday. Oregon State is last in the league in sacks (11), ninth in rushing defense (202.2 ypg), ninth in total defense (429.1 ypg), 11th in interceptions (7) and ninth in passing efficiency defense (139.1). To Goff's great pleasure, Dylan Wynn is no longer on the Beavers defensive line.
"The first impression that you get is how physical they are," Dykes said. "The linebackers are very physical, the safeties are very physical. They will hit you. To me, they're probably as physical or maybe more physical than maybe anybody in the league. Those guys will hit you, and the linebackers and safeties, especially. That's the thing, to me, that stands out. They vary their scheme enough to keep you off-balance. They blitz enough to create issues for you. They're going to show you a lot of different blitzes and do some things that are tough to protect, from a scheme standpoint. They run to the ball well, they know how to leverage the football. You can put a film on and see how well-coached a defense is by how well they leverage the football, and these guys leverage the ball well."
Oregon State has switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4, with middling results, but the Beavers do have some tricks up their sleeves.
"I think the biggest thing that we've got to be prepared for is them trying to draw you offsides," Jones said. "They played UCLA last week, and they got their O-line to jump seven times. I don't know what they're doing, exactly, but that's something that we've addressed, and something that we've got to be prepared for."
Last week, during a 41-0 loss to UCLA, the Bruins claimed that Oregon State barked out their defensive calls at the same time as they were calling out their offensive signals, causing confusion.
"Hypothetically," Dykes said, not wanting to get in the middle of a row between two other conference opponents, "that's part of football. Sometimes, we've played people that, from time to time, have called defensive signals the same time we were calling offensive signals, and you can talk to the officials about it and get upset, and they just kind of ignore you. We just try to adjust and move forward."
As an offense, that's exactly what Cal has to do: Adjust and move forward.