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Getting the Lowdown on the Bears: Q&A Previewing UC Berkeley

What should we expect from the Bears?

Steve Dykes

Cal is having some trouble right now. Jeff Tedford left the cupboard pretty bare in Berkeley and Sonny Dykes is trying to transform a program without the talent, or kind of players he probably wants. Oh, and they have been decimated by injuries. The result has been losses by the bundle.

But the Golden Bears are desperate now. They're in the mid-season phase where they are either going to pull it together, fight for their lives and take a couple scalps with them into the offseason so they can build for 2014 or they are going to roll over. Which will it be and what can we make of Dykes' program? We spoke with SBN's bloggers from UC Berkeley, who gave us some great insight into what's going on in Strawberry Canyon ahead of this Saturday's clash.

A new coach is typically given 3+ years to get his own players and install his system. Do you see Dykes on that path or are there factors that change that timeline for the program?

Kodiak: I think we're becoming painfully aware that this rebuild will take longer than we had hoped. The cupboard is pretty bare on the defensive side of the ball. We should be better next year, but it very well might take until year 3. I think that's a reasonable time-frame to pass judgement on Dykes and his staff.

Norcalnick: There's no reason to give him less time. If anything, the current roster construction and injuries issues might warrant a 4 year evaluation period. While the start to 2013 is certainly sobering, we're buoyed by the fact that Dykes had a similarly difficult transition at Louisiana Tech before turning them around in about 2-3 years.

atomsareenough: I see that path on offense, yeah. The quick development of Goff and the talent of the receiving corps can accelerate that timeline, certainly. On the other hand, the offensive line and consequently, the running game, are both very much a work in progress. I'm not worried about the talent at running back so much, but those guys need some holes to run through, and they haven't been really getting them.

We have seen first-hand with Jim Mora how important it is to put together a great staff. How is Dykes' staff? Have there been any standouts or anyone whose job is on the line already?

Kodiak: For standouts, you could point to Tony Franklin for his work with Jared Goff and Rob Likens for his work with the wide receivers. Five games in, it's premature to think about firing any of the coaches. There are plenty of folks dissatisfied with defensive coordinator Andy Buh as well as all of the defensive position coaches. And considering how poorly the young Oline has come together, it raises questions about Coach Yenser's teaching ability.

Norcalnick: Well, I think everybody is pretty jazzed about offensive coordinator Tony Frankin. Special teams have generally been solid under Mark Tommerdahl. And the various WR coaches have certainly produced solid results.

There are concerns about the defensive staff, but it's really impossible to evaluate them because of injuries. The simple fact is that defensive coordinator Andy Buh doesn't have an especially distinguished track record, so there are reasons for concern. But Nick Saban wouldn't be able to save a team this decimated, so patience is required.

atomsareenough: It's quite important. I really like some of the coaches Dykes brought in. OC Tony Franklin seems like a smart, self-aware guy and a great fit with Dykes. Special teams have generally been a strength early on, so Coach Tommerdahl has looked good. Likens has done pretty well with the receivers. But there are definitely some coaches on the staff with some big question marks next to their names at this point.

First and foremost on the line is DC Andy Buh. He didn't have a particularly notable track record as a DC coming in, and the fact that he's changed us from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense due to familiarity, even when a lot of teams are moving the other way, raised some eyebrows. The extremely poor results on defense have turned the fanbase against him pretty quickly. To be fair to him, we've lost 8 or 9 of our projected starting 11 on defense, as well as a number of 2nd and 3rd string guys, so we're playing several walk-ons and true freshmen and guys who hadn't played before. But that said, there haven't been a lot of standouts, and not too many of the players that have managed to stay healthy and played consistently have looked very impressive yet. We have not one, but two DL coaches, and although our D-line is missing a few guys, we have some decent talent there, yet we can't consistently get pressure on the opposing QB. That's putting pressure on our decimated secondary, and they've gotten picked apart as a result. We've had to toss out some redshirt freshmen, but they haven't really gotten a lot better over the past 5 games as far as I can tell.

On offense, the OL is still a work in progress, and it makes one wonder about the ability of OL Coach Yenser, who hadn't been a full position coach before coming to Cal. The fumbles at the RB position and ineffectiveness of the run game make one wonder if RB Coach Ingram is up to the task as well.

Steve Alford has swung and missed on almost every local recruit in the early going because of his lack of ties to California. How is Dykes doing recruiting California so far and do you have any concerns about his ability to recruit locally?

Kodiak: Too soon to tell. Also, I think Dykes and his staff are making a concerted effort to get "their" type of players as opposed to just chasing star ratings. We won't really know whether they're good/bad recruiters until we see how it plays out on the field.

Norcalnick: To be honest, I don't follow recruiting very closely, but the general perception of Sonny's first class was that he closed it out fairly well considering he came in late to take over a team coming off a disastrous 3-9 year. He managed to hold on to Jared Goff, and a few other freshman are making immediate contributions. Recruiting on the offensive side of the ball has been going well and will probably never be a major concern. The open question is if Cal's defensive staff can rope in the type of talent they need.

atomsareenough: Well, considering the circumstances, Dykes did a pretty decent job in his first recruiting cycle. It wasn't Mora-esque, but he wasn't working with nearly the same advantages that Mora was, either. He got some really good players, and some under-the-radar guys that are looking like good pickups. He missed on some safeties at the end though, and that's a huge position of need for us, so we could really have used those guys. All in all, it was a decent class, and I think considering our cultural and academic concerns at the end of the Tedford era, he's really looking for the kind of high character guys that will fit in with the kind of team he wants to build.

Anyway, Dykes says that he regularly recruited California from when he was at Arizona and Texas Tech, so he's not completely without ties, and hopefully his ties to the state of Texas can be of benefit. Tony Franklin's extensive work with high schools across the country should help as well on the offensive side of the ball. Many of the new coaches seem young and enthusiastic and appear to enjoy recruiting, so I'm not very concerned. If we show some promise by the end of the year, we should be able to get some kids who want to play early. There is plenty of opportunity for that.

Injuries have been a problem for Cal this season. Was S&C a problem during the latter Tedford years and how do you think Dykes has done with addressing that aspect of his program? Has the Student Athlete High-Performance Center impacted things?

Kodiak: S&C was perceived to be enough of an issue that long-standing coach Krasinski was replaced by Mike Blasquez. It was supposed to be a switch from old-school to a more modern approach. 'Can't say that the results have been noticeable on the field. During pre-season camps, the players look to be superbly conditioned. Some of them, like Bryce Treggs, are playing an unreal number of snaps per game at a high level. I think the SAHPC has been good for the student-athletes as well as recruiting. I'm afraid I have no answers as to the freakish number of injuries.

Norcalnick: This is one of those questions that is impossible to answer. Cal has a new strength and conditioning coach under Dykes, so I'm willing to concede the possibility that previous S&C coaches did a substandard job and left behind players unprepared for the rigors of football.

But it's so hard to establish correlation to anything. The injuries happened during spring ball, fall ball, practice, games, home, road . . . they have happened anywhere and everywhere. Lacking the ability to blame it on anything, I'm inclinded to blame random chance and the Gods of football.

atomsareenough: It has been a problem for a while. Tedford replaced the S&C coach a couple of years ago, and then Dykes "promoted" him out of the position and brought in his guy from Louisiana Tech during the offseason. They didn't seem to have these kinds of injury problems at Tech. Looking at the injuries themselves, it's really hard to say whether they are the result of a conditioning problem, or a technique problem, or just freak accidents and bad luck.

Dykes was asked about it at his presser the other day, and he said they've been thinking about it a lot and trying to re-evaluate what they do, but there just isn't a common thread to tie the injuries together. Some of them are old injuries that pre-date the current regime and haven't fully healed, there have been collision-related head/neck injuries that are now handled with a lot more caution, there have been some knee injuries, and some other random bits of trauma. It's really hard to put your finger on one thing that could have prevented them.

The Cal defense is, statistically, horrendous. Is it really as bad as the numbers suggest and do you see a way for them to slow down the UCLA offense?

Kodiak: Yes. No.

Norcalnick: The answer to the first part is yes, and the second part is no. Cal's injuries are so extreme in the secondary (every single starter and multiple backups are out) that they literally cannot play a nickel or dime package and have WRs practicing as emergency depth. But the Bears are also missing key defensive linemen and linebackers expected to be difference makers, primarily Brennan Scarlett and Nick Forbes. As a result, there's no 'strength' on the defense. They can't get a pass rush, the linebackers have trouble reading plays and getting to the ball, the secondary can't hold coverages for very long, and there is an issue with tackling pretty much across the board.

This is a defense that, if fully healthy, might have been mediocre. But with somewhere between 7 and 9 of the projected pre-season starters out, it has descended into the realm of nightmare. The defense relies on mistakes from the opposing offense to get off the field.

atomsareenough: Unfortunately, yes it's that bad. We've played some good offenses in the first few weeks, but as noted in the previous question, the rash of injuries has been so incredibly, almost unprecedentedly awful that we're almost throwing a progressively less experienced and less talented set of players out there every successive week. Not only are we playing our 5th and 6th string DBs, we're actually practicing our star wide receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs at corner because we simply don't have any other players left. If things stabilize a little and the young players improve a bit, maybe we won't be quite so bad by the end of the season, but as of now we're taking our lumps on defense, for sure. Also, I recently looked over the last 3-4 defensive recruiting classes, and if you go down the line at every position group, there are more players that have either left the program or are injured than are actually playing football for us right now. You can't lose that kind of talent and expect to be very good.

Cal is moving the ball pretty well, especially through the air, and they aren't turning the ball over so how do they rank 11th in the conference in scoring?

Kodiak: We have no running game and have trouble finishing in the red zone.

Norcalnick: Cal has had the single worst red zone offense in the conference. You can have spirited debates about whether or not there is some sort of inherent flaw in the offense or just back luck and random chance, but for whatever reason Cal has managed to fumble the ball away with alarming regularity in the red zone, and when they don't they settle for field goals too often.

atomsareenough: Well, we kind of are turning the ball over. The last few games have seen a ton of fumbles, and we've had more than our share of picks as well (some poor throws, some tipped balls). We've thrown the ball a lot, and that's allowed us to rack up yardage, but it's because 1) we've fallen behind very quickly and are trying to catch up, and 2) we haven't had a very productive run game. The lack of run game has also made it hard to punch it in once we get to the red zone.

A number of folks are wondering why we haven't yet seen the diamond formation very much in those situations, when we need to pick up a few yards. Anyway, there's a lot of potential with the offense, but we definitely need to iron out the turnovers and figure out how to run the ball effectively before we start to see the points production catch up to the yardage production.

The obvious bright spot on the team is Jared Goff. Dykes' offense makes things easier on quarterbacks, but there's a lot more to Goff's success than system so what makes him so good and how good can he be in a year or two?

Kodiak: It's clear that this question was written by a UCLA alum. For a true frosh, Jared Goff shows a lot of poise in the pocket. He's often under pressure and has no running game to rely upon. The Franklin/Dykes system relies on quick reads and accurate throws. He's good at doing both. He'll still force a ball here and there. However, it's understandable considering his youth as feeling pressure to make a play. The lack of defense, inconsistent Oline and absent running game make it tough on him. If any of those areas improve next year, he'll be a top-half of the league QB at worst.

Norcalnick: We expected Jared to be able to make the easy throws - the swing passes, outs and short crossing routes that are the staple of the air raid. But he's shown a couple traits that have been pleasantly surprising. For one thing, he has a better deep ball than many expected. The report out of fall camp was that sophomore Zach Kline had the better arm while Goff was more consistent. But Goff has been hitting receivers deep with more consistency than one would expect from a true freshman.

His pocket prescence has also been better than expected for a true frosh. While Cal's pass protection isn't awful, it's still not great, and Goff has to deal with defensive linemen who know the Bears are going to pass most of the time. But he's been able to avoid pressure and make plays through contact more often than expected. All in all, everybody is excited about both what he can do now and in the future.

atomsareenough: He's got a lot of great attributes. He makes quick decisions, is pretty accurate with the football, has a good arm (I think he's one of the leading QBs in the country with 50+ yard completions), has a very even demeanor and doesn't usually get rattled. He's not a running QB by any means, but I think he's more mobile than people give him credit for. That said, he's prone to some freshman mistakes, but I'm pretty confident those will get ironed out over time. If he stays healthy he's going to re-write all the Cal record books with this offense.

Funding for the Memorial Stadium rebuild has been tougher than expected, in no small part because of the struggling program, and the stadium has had large swaths of empty seats this season. How much concern is there about being able to meet payment obligations on the stadium and is winning simply the answer to putting butts in the seats or is there more to it?

Kodiak: Just win, baby.

Norcalnick: We've had a few articles breaking down all of the financing issues - suffice to say that it's an issue too complicated for a quick breakdown, so if anybody is curious I'd suggest you give them a read (You can read them here, here and here). But to summarize, Cal has a long term payment plan, which means that there isn't an immediate short term need to rake in a ton of revenue. But it does mean that Cal can't have the sort of sustained run of mediocrity (to put it kindly) that the program suffered between the early 90s and the Tedford era. Sonny Dykes needs to win . . . eventually.

atomsareenough: Winning would go a long way, no doubt. That's pretty much all there is to it. You can pick apart various Cal marketing strategies, and there certainly are plenty of us who enjoy doing that, but ultimately there's no substitute for winning. Plus, there are many alums and faculty who don't support football or sports in general, so that puts more pressure on the athletic department to be self-sufficient.

If you could punch Tosh Lupoi in the face, how many times would you do it?

Kodiak: Trick question. Before we wound up, he'd just drop to the floor pretending his jaw was broken.

Norcalnick: Just once, and then I would pretend that I hurt my hand just to see if Sark would complain on Tosh's behalf.

atomsareenough: Several times, just for spite. All in all though, he probably hastened the end of the Tedford era and hopefully that will have proven to accelerate the rebuilding process at Cal. Anyway, good riddance to him.