When you are a head football coach at a school like Cal. You are always looking for the next sign of improvement. In Sonny Dykes case, the next step for the Cal Golden Bears program is the biggest it has ever been heading into the 2015 season.
After taking his hits early on, Dykes has learned that taking a program from the depths of disaster to relevancy takes time. For the first time in his first two years under Cal, finally the future seems to be shining the brightest in Berkley.
Here are the reasons that Cal will not only be competitive again in 2015, but serve as a potential dark horse candidate to win the Pac 12 this season.
Jared Goff has matured into one of the Pac 12’s best quarterbacks
It wasn’t too long ago that Jared Goff was left stranded in the cold, wet rain of his first ever Pac 12 start inside Autzen Stadium against Oregon.
The once picked over recruit by many big-time schools has groomed into a junior who has become the integral part within Sonny Dykes’ up-tempo offense.
This is an offense that when in doubt goes through Goff. Last season Goff led the No. 6 passing offense in 2014 by throwing for 3,973 yards and 35 touchdowns for the nation’s No. 11 scoring offense. His third year in Dykes’ Bear-raid offense should see his numbers eclipse the 4,000-yard barrier and approach 40 touchdowns.
Now marking his third season under center. There might not be a defense he has yet to see thus far. If Goff continues the pace he is on through the air, accompanied by patience in the pocket. Cal’s offense can reach levels of insanity and very well might equal the level of Oregon’s in 2015.
The biggest concern for Goff now as a poised veteran is to avoid the big mistake. While given he is in a passing system that is bound to turn it over a few times, considering the incredulous amount of passing attempts he makes. He can’t afford to force passes in double coverage every time when going long, or else he will suffer from an increasingly large amount of interceptions. His reads need to be more precise in order to maintain the success he has been having.
Goff has unlimited options offensively to use at his disposal
Goff fell victim to a lack of options to throw at during his freshman season. Although, this soon diminished later on during his sophomore campaign. Nearly every receiver from 2014 is returning in 2015. In fact, Cal returns 328 of their 329 receptions from a season ago.
Breakout junior receiver Kenny Lawler, who was Goff’s favorite target last season, as he caught 54 passes for 701 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games will be back again next season. Ultimately, Cal’s depth at wide receiver might be the best in the conference. With 5 of Cal’s 6 receivers on the depth chart being seniors, experience is the added factor that makes this unit so special.
For opposing defenses, the biggest hassle will not just be shutting down Goff’s primary receivers, but also limiting the deep ball featured from speed demons Bryce Treggs and Trevor Davis. The two combined for well over 250 yards after the catch last season. Not only is the ability to create separation amongst their defenders so startling, but once they get behind defenses, it is almost impossible to bring them down.
Cal may be a pass-happy school with Dykes and Goff, but the running game offers some balance with senior Daniel Lasco returning after a 1,115 yard season with 12 touchdowns. Lasco is one of the more polished and underrated running backs in the conference. Due to playing in Cal’s system, he gets unnoticed easily. Now as a senior, his production should continue to be high, though there isn’t much proven depth behind him.
Cal was competitive in almost every game in 2014
Moral victories are critical when dealing with a program on the rebuild and during Dykes first year this proved beneficial. This evidently was the main reason why Dykes improved the win total to 5 last season, as they finished one win away from being bowl eligible.
In seven of their losses total, three came in games where the final margin was 1 TD or less, including the September 20th loss at Arizona, where they were sunk by an Anu Solomon hail-mary pass in the final seconds. Overall, the strides Cal has made as a program from year 1 to year 2 was outstanding. When they weren’t beating teams lower than them, they kept the pressure on against higher level competition. For instance, Cal was in the game all the way up to mid 4th quarter against USC and Oregon.
While it isn’t completely clear that Cal will beat teams such as Oregon, USC, and Arizona in 2015. However, if Cal has any intentions to make noise in the Pac 12 North, it would help drastically for them to knockoff the top dogs in the conference.
Defense needs to be “average”
As great as Cal is offensively, their defense is just as bad. The Golden Bears defense allowed 39.8 points per game, only five teams allowed more points than them. In addition, they allowed at least 31 points in their last games and set a record for the most touchdown passes allowed with 42.
So yes, if your Cal your defense can go anywhere but up, right?
What Cal does have in their favor is that their defense mostly contains upperclassmen that are entering their 2nd or 3rd year starting. Even though the overall makeup of Cal’s secondary consists of seniors, in reality only FS Stephan McClure is the only legit threat of causing havoc through the air. For the most part, nearly every Pac 12 opponent should be able to dice up Cal’s secondary.
While Cal’s pass defense should continue to get stepped on. They do have one area on defense that begs for confidence. The Golden Bears ‘ pass rush isn’t spectacular, but collectively brings the largest area of growth to a defense that is searching for anything positive.
Getting defensive end Kyle Kragen back after he missed last season due to mono will help as will beefing up the defensive line in the offseason, including the transfer of former USC lineman DeVante Wilson who transferred in from junior college. Todd Barr, Mustafa Jalil, and James Looney have to find a way to generate a pass rush otherwise the Bears defense won’t be better.
Linebackers Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson and Jalen Jefferson have a lot of starting experience already are the team’s top three returning tacklers and should be the strongest part of the defense.
Saying that Cal’s defense will be average at best is a stretch. Nonetheless, if the Golden Bears defense can generate turnovers and stop a few drives, it can help alleviate the pressure from the offense.
Bottom line is that Sonny Dykes needs to find any way possible to launch Cal into a bowl game in 2015. Because with an offense this lethal, it would be a tragedy to not find themselves in the thick of things in a rather weak Pac 12 North division.
Jared Goff has the offense around him to compete with USC’s Cody Kessler as the Pac 12’s best quarterback. Although, the biggest problem that’s holding Cal back isn’t just their atrocious defense, it’s their daunting schedule. As they have stiff road tests at Texas, Oregon, Utah, UCLA, and Stanford. It’s mandatory for Cal to get past a few of these games.
In all added sense, Cal is right where they want to be as a program. They’ve finally established an identity for themselves. The only thing there is left to now is translate this success into wins.