The last couple of years have seen California fall to the basement of Pac-12 North, which caused a head coaching change, as the Jeff Tedford era ended in favor of Sonny Dykes, and more recently the reassignment of Andy Buh, with Art Kauffman brought on as the Bears' new defensive coordinator.
The Bears, and Dykes' "Bear Raid" offense has nevertheless been on of the more productive in the country, at least as far as passing yardage goes.
With the rest of the Pac-12 North as competitive as ever, it will be tough for California to climb back into the thick of things, but if the Bears can, it will make an already wild race incredibly difficult. If they can't do so soon, another coaching overhaul could be in the offing sooner than later. Either way, Oregon St.'s fortunes will be affected.
We got with our buddies down at California Golden Blogs to get an update on things in Berkeley after spring ball, and find out what Beaver fans can expect as we look ahead to the season, and the visit from the Bears come November 1.
1. How did the transition from the failed Andy Buh experiment with the defense to Art Kaufman go? What will we see system wise that will be different that what we saw last year in Berkeley when the Bears arrive at Reser? What else has Kaufman done off the field to put last year behind the Bears?
Scott Chong: Angels were singing and leprechauns throwing gold were seen riding on the backs on unicorns.
Tackling and maybe even a little bit of coverage. It's still a 4-3 formation, but it's more of a one-gap scheme with an emphasis on upfield penetration a la the Miami 4-3 under Jimmie Johnson. The defense wants to disrupt the offense and is willing to give up the occasional (wince) big play in order to impose their will.
Burned last year's game film. More seriously, he has spoken about moving forward and doing assessments with what he sees rather than dwelling on last year.
Leland Wong: The players have endorsed Kaufman's system by saying it's simpler, allowing them to play faster and more instinctively and confidently. Kaufman thinks this will be integral in order to face-off against the up-temp offenses of the Pac-12.
2. We have heard a lot of conversation about the Bear defense transitioning between the 3-4 and the 4-3. Further, when Buh made the transition, one of the concerns was that it was not a good fit for the California personnel on hand, but personnel comes and goes. Is the 4-3 still the best fit for the personnel now in the program? What about the 4-3 will work better for which players than the 3-4?
Scott Chong: Buh switched from Clancy Pendergast's 3-4 (under Tedford) to a 4-3 under. The "4-3" vs. "3-4" discussion is a bit overblown. It's more about even/odd fronts and gap responsibilities. At this point, I don't really care what scheme they use; I'm more concerned that the players are taught properly. From a personnel standpoint, we've got serious concerns on the D-line, particularly at tackle and we need corners who are capable of playing man on the outside. Doesn't everyone?
Since we lack size/depth on the line, one-gapping and attacking upfield is as good a plan as any for our personnel.
3. California threw the ball all over the place in the "Bear Raid", which is Coach Dykes' preferred style, but a limited rushing game seemed to be a factor in why a highly productive offense, in terms of total yardage, turned into an underperforming one in scoring/red zone situations. Will we see a move to better develop the rushing game this year to address this? Who among the RBs on hand stands to lead the way this year?
Berkelium97: The others have given great insight on this question but I'd like to reiterate that the preferred ratio for the Dykes-Franklin offense is a 50-50 run-pass distribution. Dykes is not Mike Leach and it's odd that so many (including journalists who cover Bay Area sports) assume they run the same system.
Scott Chong: It's an excessively-repeated misconception that the Bear Raid is designed as pass-only. The preferred style is balance with plenty of run-pass combo plays executed precisely at a high-tempo. The running game underperformed last year after three starters on the O-line went out. Better offensive line play and maturation from our RBs will hopefully address this. If he can stay healthy Daniel Lasco has the look of a workhorse back. True soph Khalfani Muhammad was actually our best back last year as a frosh. And incoming recruit Tre Watson may be good enough to contribute right away.
Leland Wong: It's actually a huge misconception that Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin are trying to air it out all day. In their final--and most successful--season at LA Tech, they had 50-50 play selection between pass and run plays, but a struggling offensive line and a lack of a breakout running back inhibited their ability to run their ideal offense.
We have three running backs returning in 2014 who saw game action in the nightmare that was 2013. Khalfani Muhammad is perhaps the most notable as he was the starter during the final games of last season, but he split time this spring with Track and Field and a healthy Daniel Lasco may have taken advantage of all those extra snaps in practice.
4. Did anyone take an apparent big step forward during spring ball, someone we will see making a difference for the Bears this fall that we might not have expected based on past seasons?
Scott Chong: Brennan Scarlett at DE might be one of our most talented players and could be the edge pass rusher we've been missing since forever. He's been out injured the past couple of years, but was a HS Army All-American and a 4* recruit.
Berkelium97: During the spring game the defense did not give up many big plays and was pretty good about bringing guys down immediately after contact. These were some of our biggest problems last season and it's great to see some across-the-board improvement in these aspects of the game.
5. Who, or what position groups, did you expect or need to see take a step forward this spring? Who lived up to those expectations? Where do you still have serious concerns because no one emerged during spring?
Leland Wong: We absolutely need our offensive line to improve. I didn't see remarkable improvement during the spring, but I think they will with time as players start to jell together during their second year in the system as they settle into their positions and as a unit,
Scott Chong: We need the O-line to step up. They look to be running the ball better, but it's hard to say because our Dline is under-strength. And speaking of which, it's the Dline which is easily the biggest concern. We'll be relying on guys returning from injury, JC transfers, duct tape, and chewing gum to hold the middle.
6. Were there any significant injuries during spring ball?
Leland Wong: Thankfully, no. DE Puka Lopa and OL Jordan Rigsbee both suffered ankle injures (Rigsbee coming dramatically during the Spring Game), but both are expected to return for fall camp.
Scott Chong: (Thousand-yard stare.)
Berkelium97: Injuries? Us? How quaint.
7. Who did the Bears lose that will be especially missed, if anyone, given last year was a 1-11 run?
Leland Wong: We had some pretty reliable starting defensive tackles last year in Deandre Coleman and Viliami Moala. With both of them gone, we could use some more depth at that position and I bet there will be several instances next year when we'll miss their abilities to anchor the middle of the line.
Berkelium97: We're going to miss Kam Jackson. He wasn't the best player to leave the team, but we need all the bodies we can get at defensive back. Losing someone with a couple years of starting experience is a big blow to an already depleted secondary.
Scott Chong: We'll miss Deandre Coleman and Vei Moala at DT. We've got plenty of playmakers at receiver, but we'll still miss Richard Rodgers' as a big-bodied playmaker.
8. How much have back to back very bad years hurt recruiting at California? Is this year a "must bounce back" year to avoid a recruiting impact that the Bears won't be able to overcome for a several more years?
Scott Chong: Recruiting from this staff has remained surprisingly on point. But yes, we lost a number of highly regarded commits because of our record and because of changes to the defensive staff. I think it's fair to say that we need to show progress in terms of being competitive for recruits to remain interested in our program.
Berkelium97: Ironically, the recruiting years that have really hurt us were the start-studded 2010 and 2011 classes. It's incredible that we had so much talent, but due to injuries, transfers, academic issues, and failure to develop talent (during the later Tedford years), very few of those highly rated recruits made a difference. Worse yet, many players struggled academically and we were on the verge of dipping below the NCAA-mandated APR minimum.
The recruiting classes under Dykes haven't had stellar rankings (they're certainly respectable, however), but the staff has a clear vision for the kind of players it wants: academically oriented, hard-working, dedicated players.
9. Jared Goff is the #1 quarterback for California, but due to defections, there appears to be no #2. Who does Coach Dykes turn to if Goff goes down, or needs to come out for some other reason? And what happened next?
Leland Wong: Incoming freshman Luke Rubenzer was raised in the Tony Franklin System, so he'll be the favorite to fill in if Goff has to miss considerable time. For the sake of QB depth, my personal theory is that Rubenzer will technically redshirt in 2014, but have that immediately be burned if Goff ever gets injured in a winnable game. (Wait, a winnable game for Cal?)
Scott Chong: Can you play QB? Any eligibility left? Senior Austin Hinder and Junior Kyle Boehm are battling it out for the backup spot. Both are more mobile than Goff, but neither have shown any semblance of consistency with throwing the ball. Incoming frosh Luke Rubenzer is the QB of the future. If Goff can't go, I wouldn't be surprised for Dykes to burn his redshirt.
10. What Pac-12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this fall?
Leland Wong: Right now, the Colorado match-up seems like our most winnable conference game, so that's the one ray of sunshine in the Cal universe.
Scott Chong: All of them.
Berkelium97: Colorado, because it's our best (and perhaps only) chance of beating an FBS team.
11. Why does everyone from Cal always seem to want to punch someone in the face?
Leland Wong: Spending all this time with TwistNHook makes these feelings pretty much an instinct for us.
Scott Chong: All that hippie chai-latte-vegan-gluten-free fa-shizzle makes for a pretty darn cranky Bear.
Berkelium97: We've just completed the worst two-year stretch in program history and we haven't been to the Rose Bowl in 55 years. Even Oregon State, which suffered through 25 years of the worst football the NCAA has ever seen before Mike Riley's first stint, has been to the Rose Bowl more recently than us. Our bitterness spans generations.
12. Monty retired, and then baseball had a losing season, capping off a banner year in Berkeley. Is DOOOOM eminent? Or unemployment for Athletic Director Sandy Barbour?
Leland Wong: There's always doom around these parts, but I think Sandy Barbour's success in non-revenue sports has secured her some job security.
Berkelium97: Actually, aside from Dykes (on whom the jury is still out, despite an abysmal first year), Sandy has made several great hires at Cal. We're generally upbeat about the Cuonzo Martin hiring, men's swimming won a national championship, rugby played in the national championship game and won the battle for a 7s title, and we still revel in the fact that Stanfurdium doesn't exist.
That said, we're CGB. DOOOM springs eternal.
Scott Chong: No. And No.
Thanks, guys! Lots of great insight there.
It will be interesting (as always) to see how things unfold this fall!