How does Cal head coach Sonny Dykes diagnose the Bears' Big Game Loss, and what challenges does Arizona State present?

The latest on officiating, red zone, the Big Game, contract extension talks and Arizona State from Cal head coach Sonny Dykes ...

Officiating Objections

Following California's Big Game loss to Stanford on Saturday, head coach Sonny Dykes expressed his frustration with the officiating, but he has not yet sent the plays in question to the conference for review.

"No, we haven't," he said in Sunday's teleconference. "I'm not quite sure what we're going to do yet, in that regard. I don't know if it's worth sending it in, or not."

Contract Negotiations

Following the game, athletic director Mike Williams said to Dykes, "We'll talk tomorrow." Dykes said that he did not meet in-person with Williams on Sunday.

"We didn't meet today, but I'm sure we will, here, at some point, but as of right now, no," said Dykes. "I think that the discussions are ongoing, but Mike and I haven't specifically met on it, today."

Red Zone Issues

Cal scored just one touchdown on five trips into the Cardinal red zone on Saturday, settling for three field goals, and having one drive pulled back because of a Dominic Granado personal foul.

"We were right there," Dykes said. "If we had made a couple plays, we could have won the game, so I don't think there's any lack of confidence."

After watching the film, Dykes pegged the failures in the red zone on execution.

"Yeah, I'll be really honest with you. To go through there, we had plays, where, obviously, the first drive, we had a dopped pass -- we thought we scored, and we didn't," Dykes said. "The ball got knocked out of [Maurice Harris's] hands, so we dropped that one, and another one where we got down there and had a receiver open and missed him, and we had another one down there where we threw a post route to Chad [Hansen], and it was thrown a little bit late, and it was out of bounds. Those are three plays -- there's more plays -- but all three, easy to pick out plays where we were literally on the verge of scoring. Obviously, instead of getting nine points, we get 21 points out of those drives, and it's a different ballgame."

Health Update

Safety Damariay Drew and senior defensive end Jonathan Johnson -- both down with knee injuries -- will not play this week in the season finale against Arizona State, Dykes said.

"It looks like both of them are going to be out for a while," Dykes said. "I think Damariay and Johnson both will miss this game."

Johnson, Dykes said, will "probably not" be available for the bowl game, and will "more than likely" require surgery, ending his college career.

Drew, Dykes said, will be back for the bowl game.

As for other injuries, the lower-leg maladies that have afflicted Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco have allowed Tre Watson to seize an opportunity, and he's run for 195 yards on 24 carries the last two games.

"Tre has been playing well for us," Dykes said. "He's somebody that we think can have a big game. I think we'll have Khalfani back this week, as well, and with his speed, he runs with a lot of toughness, and that gives you a lot of opportunities to make some plays, as well, and the same thing with Vic. Not sure where Lasco's going to be, yet. He didn't do too much today, practice-wise. We'll know a little bit more on Tuesday with him, but it looks like we'll have Khalfani back, and that'll be a big help for us."

Tricky Devils

Cal finishes the regular season this Saturday at 7 p.m. at California Memorial Stadium, on FOX Sports 1, against Arizona State.

During the Sun Devils' 2-2 start, the Sun Devils blitzed on 66% of dropbacks, and while that percentage dropped to 52%, according to Pro Football Focus, as of Arizona State's tilt with Oregon, the numbers have been significant enough to draw attention from Dykes and the Bears.

"I'm sitting here watching the film right now, trying to figure it out," Dykes said on Sunday. "They're going to bring a lot of people -- they're going to bring six people a lot. They play a lot of cover zero, and try to bring more than you can block. The key is to get the ball out quick, and when they don't blitz, you've got to do a good job protecting, because they're always twisting and line moving, and guys are moving around. Their defensive front's pretty athletic. It's just a combination of things. You've got to block well, you've got to get the ball out quick. When you have opportunities, you can catch them in man coverage, you've got to make plays, because they're going to come from everywhere. It'll be a big challenge for us to try and pick up on all the different blitzes."

Arizona State is second in the nation in team tackles for loss (8.9 TFLpg, 98 on the season), and tied for first in sacks (4.0 per game, 44 total).

"They run two or three guys through the same gap sometimes, it seems like it's coming from eveywhere," Dykes said. "It's a little unorthodox, but what you have to do, when you catch him in a situation like that, you'd like to have an opportunity to make a big play, and you have to make the big play."

Cal's offensive line has been better -- notably so, according to Dykes, in three of the last four games -- allowing six sacks in those contests. The Bears are 40th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed (5.45 per game), and have allowed 13 tackles for loss -- 3.25 TFLs per game.

"I think we've gotten settled in, and I think we're playing better," said Dykes. "I thought Aaron Cochran really played well the other night. I felt Jordan Rigsbee played one of the better games he's played. I think our offensive line, we're playing some guys that haven't played that much. Steven Moore is coming off two shoulder surgeries, went through spring football still trying to get his strength back, Dom's a first-time starter, a guy that hasn't played a lot -- Aaron Cochran -- is a first-time starter this year. We're still playing with some young guys, and you expect those young guys to get better. Chris Borrayo and Jordan have played a lot of football for us, and Steven Moore had played some football, but he's still not back playing as well as he was, doesn't have that strength. It'll be a big offseason for him. It's good to see those younger guys come on, continue to improve and play better. I expected that. I expect them to keep improving, and, hopefully, that trend will continue this week."

While sending so many defenders can certainly be problematic in pass protection, the Bears see it as perhaps an opportunity to exploit the run game. Arizona State, for all its sacks and tackles for loss, has the ninth scoring defense in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils are eighth in the league in total defense, but are second in rushing defense. After Cal rushed for 307 yards two weeks ago against Oregon State, the Bears rushed for just 98 yards on 23 attempts -- including two Jared Goff sacks and one improvised run by the junior quarterback -- compared to 58 total passing attempts.

"I think they're kind of feast-or-famine against the run," Dykes says. "They'll catch you for a negative play in the run game, and they might get two guys in a gap, or you push somebody out of a gap and you can pop them for a big play in the run game. THe key is to try to get a helmet on a helmet, and run them past their gap, where they do a lot of linebacker run frees, and the things that they do. You have opportunities to pop some, but at the same time, they have opportunities to catch you in the backfield, and when you watch them play, that's what you see: You see a lot of negative plays, and you see some people pop some big plays against them, as well."

Last week, the Sun Devils took advantage of the unsettled quarterback situation for rival Arizona, and picked off three passes, raising them to 13 on the season, good for fourth in the Pac-12, and have taken back a league-best two picks for touchdowns.

"Any time that you have a defense that rushes and causes the quarterback distress, and they're hitting him whem the quarterback's throwing, and you're putting pressure on a quarterback, that's tough on him, and it leads to errant throws, tipped balls and all those types of things," Dykes said. "When you play an aggressive style of defense, and pressure the quarterback, that typically leads to the quarterback making more mistakes. So, that's what you see. You see them coming after guys all the time, and quarterbacks under durress, and guys throwing off their back foot or throwing it before they're ready to throw it, or getting hit, or all those things."

After throwing seven interceptions in three games, Goff has thrown just two over his last three contests, including a zero-pick game against Stanford.

"I think he's improved," Dykes said. "The level of competition, Stanford is a different challenge than Grambling. I think, if you go and you look at it, the thing I believe is, when we protect well, when the offensive line plays well and we protect well, then Jared's been very impressive this year, and I think, if you look at that, and put it in perspective that way, he's played well. The games that have been a challenge are the games we haven't protected well, and that's just the nature of what we do, and why it's so important for us to play well up front: When the offensive line plays well, and the quarterback has time to throw, it's going to be much more effective. I think Jared's gotten better all the time. I think he's more comfortable. We've had to deal with some issues, personnel-wise, in terms of, we haven't had Daniel Lasco all year, didn't have Kenny Lawler for the better part of a couple weeks, Trevor Davis hasn't been healthy, didn't have Khalfani. When you don't have those things, those are pretty important missing pieces. The onus is on the quarterback to play even better. I think he's gotten better all year, and I think he's more consistent. I think he's playing at a high level."

Goff -- who may leave after the season to try his luck in the NFL -- could certainly stand to finish the regular season on a high note, and doing it against a team that blitzes so heavily could do a lot to silence some of his more vocal critics. Given the nature of Cal's offense, though, with the prevalence of timing-based routes, it's likely that Goff won't be going down field much against the Sun Devils, but rather finding his inside receivers on hot routes over the middle, as he did with Bryce Treggs on Saturday.

"When you throw the ball like we do, and you build an offense like we do, from Day One, you're working against blitzes, you're working on throwing hot, you're working on getting the ball out -- all the things that you have to do against blitzes -- because you have to be able to handle that," Dykes said. "In order to be a good passing team, a team that can make a living throwing the football, you have to be able to handle the blitz. Our scheme is kind of made to handle it. Our quarterback does a nice job of handling it. Having said that, this will be a different test. This is a different level of blitzing. This is guys coming a very high percentage of the time, and playing reckless and being very good at getting to the quarterback. They're just very good at rushing and their linebakcers are good with their hands, their D-line is good with their technique -- all the different things that make you a good D-line, they've got. It'll be a different challenge maybe than a team that blitzes one guy. They'll be coming with a lot of six-man pressures, so it's a different level of blitzing, and a commitment to it that's a little unusual."


BearTerritory.net Top Stories