There’s an old football adage that offense wins games and defense wins championship.
Cal has just finished quarter of their 2013 schedule, and the defense has been atrocious. Cal has given up 43 points per game and 533 yards of total offense per game. They are on pace to finish the season at the very bottom of most defensive categories in the Pac-12 and probably on the lower end in those categories nationally.
I wouldn’t say that I am too surprised. Cal has the third toughest schedule in the nation, and they happened to also face to ranked opponents in three weeks (both of whom scored over 40 points against Cal in Memorial Stadium). Also, Cal is without a good chunk of their starters on the defensive side of the ball. In the Ohio State game, Cal was forced to start Joel Willis (a former wide out) at cornerback and Jason Gibson (a linebacker) in the safety position. Moves like these don’t happen in the third game of the season, they happen in spring ball. The depth right now is bad in Berkeley.
It’s no one’s fault. The injury bug is a bastard.
That said, what makes me feel a little at ease about the situation is that coach Sonny Dykes has no delusions about the situation. He isn’t going out to press conferences to argue that the depth is ruining his roster, he isn’t throwing players under the bus, and he isn’t trying to say that it’ll fix itself. He is taking the bull by the horns and explaining that it’s a problem that must be fixed and he’s going to try and work on it.
“We worry about how [the players] are going to respond, but at the same time we have a lot of confidence in them and they’ve got to suck it up and get better,” Dykes said at his post-Ohio State presser.
Dykes has been successful in the past based around his defense. In 2011, as the coach of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, he had a defense that held it’s opponents to 23.2 points per game and won the 2011 WAC Championship. That defense was as solid as a defense can be in a scoring league.
Dykes has an offense that is the football equivalent to a Ferrari. It’s fast, runs well, and is coveted by nearly everyone else who gazes upon it. Not to mention, it’s driven by a hell of a driver. I’m not saying Jared Goff is Enzo Ferrari, but I am saying he has the potential to be. At least as far as football is concerned. The problem is he need to get the equivalent of that on the defensive side of the ball.
We don’t know how well this weekend went with the 150 recruits that ended up watching this weekend’s game against Ohio State, and we won’t know until mid-February. That said, I think that going forward, Dykes’ biggest priority will have to do with building up a sold defensive unit that can compete with the fast, disciplined offenses that the Pac-12 are going to be featuring for the next couple of years. You can’t beat Oregon, UCLA, Stanford or Washington with a team that consistently gives up the big plays.
One the bright side, Dykes knows this. He believes in the “defense wins championships” mantra.
“At the end of the day, we are going to be successful here only if we are good on defense. Only. I know that, our team knows that and we understand that. All you have to do is look at Oregon. For a while Oregon was scoring a lot of points and getting a lot of headlines with their offense. But they started winning championships when they got good on defense.”
Cal recruiting has to focus on building a defense.
Dykes built one of the best offenses in the country last season while still at Louisiana Tech, and yet, the team was so bad defensively that the team lost three winnable games, including a 59-57 loss to then-23rd ranked Texas A&M. They hung 57 points on one of the best teams in the SEC last year, and lost because the defense played like a Big 12 team. Had they even been average, the team could have been undefeated, rather than 9-3 and watching a bowl game from home.
Dykes is a smart man. He now has the tools to make things happen. If he can get the bulldog offense he ran in 2012 and even an average defense, which Cal has had in the very recent past, this team could be special soon. It’s just a matter of getting it done.