Getting ready for Saturday's Oregon St.-California contest in Berkeley, we got together with Kodiak and Leon from down at California Golden Blogs to get an update of a Bears season that's been anything but Golden in the first year of the "Bear Raid" under new coach Sonny Dykes.
Thanks, guys, for giving up a size up on what has to have been a tough start to the season, and what was hoped to be a new era of Golden Bear football!
And to read what the flip side had to say, see the Dam's thoughts on California Golden Blogs.
BTD: California, as has been the case for years now, is again struggling and coincidentally they have a passer struggling with accuracy, but its been the lack of a running game and defensive problems that are really hurting the Bears. Are these problems byproducts of all the emphasis on the "Bear Raid", or something totally unrelated?
Kodiak: This is a bit of a convoluted question. I guess sheep are good listeners. (I kid) Cal doesn't have an inaccurate passer. We have an offensive line that varies between soggy kleenex and matador with regards to our pass protection. Similarly, the run game has been limited by execution errors.
Our defense has struggled because we've lost 10/11 starters and have depth/experience issues across the board. Installation of the new Dykes/Franklin "Bear Read" offensive scheme has little to do with either of these issues. I suppose you could point to the newness of the system or the fact that there's a reliance on deception instead of power in the run game. But the overall youth of the team is much more significant.
Leon Powe: I think there's actually a few things in motion here. I am not of the opinion that Goff is an inaccurate passer - despite what his season percentage is. He has shown himself to be a pretty accurate and heady passer, when given protection and time. However, as in years past, our offensive line is both a walking MASH unit AND a sieve.
Against the pash rushes of tOSU and UCLA he was hit hard and often - and I think he got spooked a little bit against UCLA. All of the Bears problems point to one main central cause in my opinion: injuries. We've lost our starting center for the year - who is the most important player in the Bear Raid offensive line scheme as they call out the protection. We've lost our best player at each level of the defense ( Chris McCain - kicked off team. Nick Forbes has played like 10 snaps all year. Avery Sebastian played 1.5 games before tearing ligaments).
We've even lost our backups who were playing to injury. We have walkons playing big minutes - not because they've beaten out scholarship players, but because there are no scholarship players. Without the injury bug, I don't know if win anymore games, but we don't look this inept.
BTD: Expanding on the defensive issues, a lot of people expected what was apparently some great recruits to translate to good defense. Were there significant mis-reads in rating recruits? Or has it been a case of the players not being good fits for each other?
Kodiak: Considering that several players have failed to live up to their high school press clippings under two different staffs, I'd say that there was serious whiffage with regards to our talent evaluation. I wouldn't say that players aren't a good fit for each other. What might be more accurate is to say that many recruits weren't a good fit for Cal's academics.
Leon Powe: Very significant misreads in rating - not just recruits, but also classes. A lot of the our really high starred recruits (and here I'm thinking Chris Martin) never enrolled or played a snap for the Bears. TwistNHook did a post on here on the recruiting misses.
BTD: Was the switch in defensive scheme to an unusual, often unbalanced front a mistake? Or is it just a case of needing to get the right players and get them used to it?
Kodiak: We theoretically played a "3-4" last year, but actually used four guys on the line with one-gap assignments more of than not. Because we lacked two-gap players, we even went with two linemen at tackle and two linebackers at end a lot of the time. During the off-season, we "switched" to a 4-3. And converted several OLBs to DE. So, we're essentially still lining up with four guys on the line and the personnel is very similar.
What's different is where the guys have been lining up relative to the Oline. There's been a lot of 1-technique/3-technique from our DTs...which is fairly conventional. Because of depth issues, we've only been rotating three players at tackle, Coleman, Moala, and Hunter. Coleman is a good player who often gets double-teamed.
Moala was supposed to be our monster nose tackle, but has generally underperformed. He's possibly the biggest reason we couldn't play a true 3-4 last year. King is another backup who has been a serious disappointment for a former HS All-American; he rarely plays and has been passed by Hunter(true frosh) on the depth chart. Some folks argue that switching to a 4-3 when we had recruited for a 3-4 was a mistake. I see a lack of healthy, experienced, and talented big bodies being the issue more than the scheme. In particular, our ends are undersized and unathletic. You'll notice them as the guys who get run over when you call a jet sweep.
Leon Powe: Admittedly it doesn't look great - but on the other hand - who can tell? I think we're two weeks away from open tryouts on campus because we've just been that depleted on defense. I might be in the minority on this, but I think with today's flex defenses - with some linebackers with their hands on the ground and other defensive ends standing up - the differences between a 4-3 and a 3-4 are not as significant as getting guys to read angles and wrap up and not get fooled by play fakes. If all that happens, it won't matter so much your alignment.
BTD: Did Coach Dykes, who has never been remotely thought of as a defensive coach, just hand the defense off to Andy Buh, or is he actively involved in trying to get it on track?
Kodiak: Initially, he handed over the keys. Recent practice reports indicate more time spent on that side of the ball.
BTD: Back on the offense, is the "Bear Raid" a mistake, as far as under-utilizing quality running backs? Like Brendan Bigelow. Cal has seemed to consistently recruit quality backs, so it seems this might be a mistaken move.
Kodiak: Myth #1: The "Bear Raid" is a pass-happy Air-Raid attack. Dykes/Franklin actually prefer to run a balanced offense. They had a top-25 rushing attack at LaTech last year. Myth #2: Bigelow '13 is an under-utilized star. Pre-knee injury, he was a dynamic player with game-breaking ability. This year, he's been a fumble-machine who lacks vision, confidence, and explosiveness. For whatever reason, he's just not the same guy. They've tried all sorts of ways to get him going; plenty of outside zone runs and more recently a move to the slot to get him the ball in space.
The real issue here is the lack of run-blocking from the Oline and our inside receivers.(former tight ends) That's going to be an issue no matter what offensive scheme you decide to run.
Leon Powe: I love the kid, so it's difficult for me to say this, but any lack of playing time or carries for Bigelow is looking more and more like his own fault. He's fumbling, he's missing blocks. In his defense, our offensive line hasn't been exactly opening huge holes AND he is coming off knee surgery - but he hasn't made the WOW plays that he did last year. Some fans think he's really pressing. His playing time against UCLA came mainly as a wideout in the slot.
BTD: Freshman Jared Goff was chosen as the quarterback of the future going into the season, and while he has put up huge yards, he's also struggled with accuracy (< 60%), and been sacked almost into oblivion (on pace for 40 this season if he survives that long). Was it a mistake to throw him into the fire so soon?
Kodiak: Hard to say. It was a gutsy call to pick a true frosh QB as the guy. Losing two starters off an-already young offensive line certainly didn't help. In the Dykes/Franklin offense, it's the center who calls out the pass protection. We're currently on our third center and that seems to have set the offense back. It remains to be seen whether Goff gets shell-shocked by all the pressure, or if this forges him into a real player.
Leon Powe: Well it came down to 17 year old freshman Goff or 18 year old red shirt freshman Zach Kline, so I think it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. I think the mistake was not having a functioning offensive line.
BTD: You guys have watched Goff much more than anyone in Beaver Nation. What realistically should we expect to see from him Saturday night? As far as type of player, who would you most compare him with?
Kodiak: He'll look like a young QB that has some talent. He'll make some great throws, miss a few, and probably force at least one bad one that'll get picked. Like most QBs, if your base defense can get pressure on him, he'll struggle. In some ways, he might remind you of Sean Mannion as a 1st-year starter.
(That was rough!)
BTD: Do you believe that even if this is a lost season, Goff will find accuracy, and develop into the guy going forward?
Leon Powe: He HAS accuracy. He just needs a smidgen more time and fewer large angry men trying to do him harm coming at him at full speed every play.
BTD: Similarly, is it too soon to pass judgment on the Dykes hire? Or will the empty seats (watching the WSU game tape, Memorial Stadium looked like a ghost town, and this in beautiful weather for a perfect time slot) force Athletic Director Sandy Barbour to make another move sooner than later?
Kodiak: Did you fire Mike Riley after he had a bad season?
(A lot of folks were ready to, and it wasn't this bad.)
Leon Powe: I don't think we have the funds to make a move anytime soon. Additionally, I don't think this year is a fair reflection on his abilities as a coach. I don't think the fanbase is unified on this. Frankly, I'm excited about NEXT year's team - with a junior Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper and Senior Richard Rodgers and sophomore Goff (or Kline) throwing to them. I've already filed this season away as a wash.
BTD: Finally, is Oski going to punch someone? Or has doom over football already caused everyone to move on to hoops season?
Kodiak: Oski is a lover, not a fighter. Besides, he's really more of a finesse move-without-the-ball type than a low-post bruiser. We're hoping he's worked on moving his feet and relying less on his hands defensively. He might not be much of a scorer, but he's the quintessential glue guy that keeps the whole team fired up.
Leon Powe: Check here:
Thanks, guys! We'll see you Saturday night in Berkeley.