The California Golden Bears will not have many linebackers available for their final game of the season. Cal might have to get creative to stop the triple option and rely heavily on their secondary.
Jalen Jefferson did not make the trip to Dallas for personal reasons, according to Ryan Gorcey. As a senior, he has played his final game at Cal.
Michael Barton is unavailable due to injury and has also played his final game at Cal. He will transfer next year to a graduate program.
Devante Downs has a lingering injury and is not playing. Nor are Hamilton Anoa'i or Aisea Tongilava, although neither have been major rotation players this season.
That leaves us with four Cal linebackers available for today's game: Hardy Nickerson, Ray Davison, Jake Kearney and Nathan Broussard. Nickerson is the team's leading tackler and Davison has come on late in the season, but Cal is obviously very thin against an Air Force offense that will require extreme discipline.
Here is video straight from the Armed Forces Bowl press conference and updates on what the Cal Bears did in Fort Worth on Monday! Quotes below from Jared Goff, Hardy Nickerson, and Sonny Dykes as well.
No. 16, Jared Goff, 6-4 Junior, Quarterback, Novato, Calif.
About growing up watching Cal Football (his father played at Cal was well)
"It was fun, through a lot of great players and seasons. When I got to Cal we were 3-9 and then 1-11 and I felt a little responsible to bring them back to prominence. To get them back in the national eye and I think we have done that. My teammates and I have worked very hard to turn things around. Last year was a stepping stone at 5-7, this year at 7-5 so far was another one and it's that moving forward progress where you want to be."
About his imprint on the program
"Going from where we were to where we are now is definitely a hallmark for me and this team. It is something I am very proud of. We have gone from being very bad at 1-11 to reaching a bowl game and competing to win eight games are all great accomplishments for us. It is exciting. This has been our objective and hopefully we have built something that will continue in the future of Cal football.
About feeling pressure after opening the season with five wins followed by four straight losses
"I think my dad helped me a lot through this process, keeping me relaxed and reminding me to just go out there and have fun. It is the same game I was playing when I was seven years old and just keep that focus.
About close losses and what ifs
"Every bowl game is a great reward and we haven't been to win since 2011 and it is the first one for me and the entire team. You want to win close games and we lost some this year but was also won some. It just seems to balance out every year. We could have easily won nine or 10 games the way we have played this season but the ball bounces different ways during a long season and we are just happy to be here at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. We have a good opponent in Air Force (8-5). We are ready for the challenge and it should be a fun game."
About being in Texas again this year (Cal defeated Texas, 45-44 in Austin on Sept. 19)
"It gives you a bit more confidence and you feel a little more comfortable entering the bowl game. We are a little more comfortable with the weather changes as well."
About playing against Air Force
"You just can't look at numbers and just break them down individually. You look at films without any preconceived ideas. Air Force is good, there is no doubt about it. Good secondary, good linebackers and good rush from the defensive line, what you would expect playing in a bowl game. It should just be a great opportunity for both teams to go out and have some more fun playing football."
About battling back after starting the season with five straight wins and then losing four straight before winning again
"I think we just tried not to freak out. I think everything that could go wrong did go wrong during that stretch of the season. We knew what was going on and we just didn't catch a break. In the first five games that we won, we caught a lot of breaks but in the next four we didn't and that just happens. We realy just tried to stay calm and not freak out or anything. Then the Oregon State game came and we played well, won and we felt like we had our ‘mojo' back and became bowl eligible for the first time since 2011 as well.
Then we played well against Stanford but didn't win and then beat Arizona State and hopefully we will win this game and finish winning three out of our last four games and get our eighth victory."
No. 47, Hardy Nickerson, 6-0 Senior, Oakland, Calif.
About early life with his dad who starred at Cal and played 18 seasons in the NFL
"I lived all around and moved back to the Bay Area during my sophomore season in high school at Bishop O'Dowd and finished my high school career in Oakland. I grew up kind of all over. I was born in Florida, and went wherever my dad went in the NFL but we always called the Bay Area home. So, off-season we would spend in the Bay Area and in season we were wherever my dad was playing.
How much does it mean for you to have a dad who went to Cal (1983-1986) and was a star with the Golden Bears on defense before you
"It's awesome. We compare out experiences all the time. My dad never went to a bowl game during his four years at Cal so this bowl game is even more special for our family. I am excited that I am the first Nickerson to make it to a bowl game and it has been a great deal for us and we are all so proud as family.
"I have learned the highs and lows of playing here just like my dad did. I think my dad's best season the Bears went 5-5-1. My worst season was 1-11 which was very hard for me and he helped me get through that. You know last year we were 5-7 which meant there was no bowl game and that was tough. But I talk to my dad every day about what's going on and he always has some great advice for me. He has helped me tremendous throughout my entire career.
About influence on this team to finally get to a bowl game
"It means the world to me. You talk about all the seniors that are on this team and the juniors that have been here and gone through 1-11 and hit the bottom. To finally get to this place to be playing in a bowl game and to win some respectable games and go 7-5 in the Pac 12 in one of the league's best seasons are big accomplishments and being here is just huge. We just can't wait to play tomorrow. There is an excitement about Cal football that we haven't had for many years with recruits and even on campus at Cal. Students are very excited about Cal rising up and taking the next step."
Speculation regarding the possible departure of Coach Dykes
"I wouldn't say it was a distraction, but we wanted him back. He has helped us out a lot these three seasons. To get us to a bowl game this season shows how much we have improved and how much he means to the program. There is great stability right now at Cal and we can only grow more for this place where we are now."
"He has meant a lot to our program. Besides our record, we were having some academic difficulties and he changed the culture. Guys love going to class now where they weren't always like that. We love working hard and we have really bought into his ideology about the game and life in general. Working hard and making sure we prepare the best. It has shown on game days."
Memories of playing at Cal
"Wow. My first game and my first start in my redshirt freshman season we played against Northwestern. I ran through the tunnel with goose bumps, nervous. It was a night game on ESPN and on the first play, I was on kickoff coverage I ran over someone and I said to myself ‘we're here now, let's go' it was so amazing. My dad was there, it was a memorable experience. Strawberry Canyon is just a beautiful place to play football."
About playing against an option attack like Air Force.
"We have practiced against it a lot this week and this month. I think the biggest thing is ‘slow until you know.' Once you see it, attack it. They are trying to get yardage fast. They run this offense near perfectly. It is going to be a lot for us to stop but I am excited for the opportunity."
"Linebackers have the read run/pass responsibility, but this game we have definitely got to stop the run. They average over 300 yards rushing per game. Triple option is something we haven't seen. We have seen some zone option teams like Oregon, but Air Force runs stuff we haven't played against but we have a solid defense and should hold our own on the field."
"They will lull you to sleep and then throw a surprise pass. We have to be alert. The big thing in this game is down and distance. They can run the triple option at any time. It could be third and eight and they can run it. You can expect run at any time. The play-action can get a lot of people and I think we are ready to challenge it."
About ever having a doubt where he would go to college
"You know, we traveled so much and lived so many different places, I went through the recruiting process in high school. Didn't always have my mind set on Cal but after my junior year at Bishop O'Dowd, I committed early to Cal and never second-guessed my decision. I never looked back. I love Cal, what it stands for academically and playing in one of the best conferences in the country in the Pac 12. Just couldn't pass this opportunity up. My major is legal studies, I will graduate and I will walk in the spring."
Sonny Dykes, Cal Head Coach
Talking about the above players
"I can talk a lot about both of those guys. You know, as I alluded to earlier, they're both kids that really love Cal. I think it means a lot to them to play and have an opportunity to, you know, put on the blue and gold every Saturday and go out and compete and represent the university. You know, they're both incredibly unselfish. They're both guys that played a lot of football. I think this is Jared's 37th consecutive start, hasn't missed a start at quarterback, played a lot of football."
"Hardy's been the same way, kind of been an Ironman for us defensively. They're both team captains. "
"You know, they're just really good football players, and they're kids that have continued to get better and better and better and have provided leadership for us that's got us where we are right now and will, hopefully, continue to propel us in the future. So, you know they're special kids to work with. They love the game. They play with passion. They're both serious about their academics and, you know, guys that you're really proud of. And the things they are going to do off the field will be really incredible as well. "
"So, you know, excited to see them play tomorrow and looking forward to it. And, again, they've been a big part of our turnaround in our program, just their work ethic and dedication and unselfish nature and just really, really great kids."
Quotes from Dykes
TIM SIMMONS: Starting with you, Sonny, weather hurt preparation?
COACH DYKES: You know, not really. We came in on Christmas Day, had a really good practice. A lot of guys started ‑‑ we started on the West Coast. And some of them started at 2:30 a.m. And so they got together, they did a great job of being mentally focused and practiced pretty well. We had good weather.
And then the next day, day after Christmas, we had some West Texas winds that I think they blew in straight from Lubbock. So we had 40, 45‑mile‑an‑hour winds. But the guys ground through it. I think we got some work done.
Yesterday, we were fortunate where we're practicing has an indoor facility, so we had a good walk‑through. And we're a team that does a walk‑through two days prior to the game and does a full‑speed practice the day before. So we will be over at TCU today. I think we're going to be in their indoor this afternoon and look forward to having a good practice and getting some work done today and getting our timing down.
Anytime you have a bit of a break, I think that's what you worry about probably as much as anything else, is making sure that, you know, your timing is down. And we have to get a lot of those little details worked out in practice and need to go into tomorrow's game with a lot of confidence. And what football comes down to is execution and, you know, we need to execute at a very high level tomorrow. Air Force will do a great job of limiting our possessions. And we have to be really precise with those possessions when we have the ball.
We've had good preparation. The guys have been mentally focused. They've been sharp and into it, but we have got to continue to do that.
TIM SIMMONS: Talk a bit about the matchup with Air Force. What are the keys?
COACH DYKES: Well, as I alluded to earlier, just, you know, they do such a good job of keeping the football away from you. I think that's ‑‑ when you sit down and put the tape on, you know, they just ‑‑ they keep the ball away from people. They grind it out. They make first downs. And then all of a sudden, you look up and they're making big plays as well.
So, defensively, we have got to play assignment football. It's a little bit different for us, a unique offense, something we don't see really at all. And so there's going to be an adjustment associated with that.
We've tried to replicate the look the best that we could, but we're certainly not going to be able to do it with the precision and speed that Air Force does it. So there will be an adjustment going on.
Troy and his staff do a good job of staying a step ahead. As you adjust, they adjust. And you're just trying to catch up the whole time. They are so good at what they do and well‑versed. You have just got to figure out a way to get off the field. That's the important thing defensively. And, when you have the football, you have to execute at a high level, cannot afford to turn the ball over. Have to play penalty free. Can't get into third‑and‑long situations. They do a really nice job of pressuring the quarterback and contesting throws and long yardage situations. So we have to stay out of those the best we can. And, you know, it's going to be important for us to maximize every possession.
TIM SIMMONS: Talk about the two players you brought today.
COACH DYKES: I can talk a lot about both of those guys. You know, as I alluded to earlier, they're both kids that really love Cal. I think it means a lot to them to play and have an opportunity to, you know, put on the blue and gold every Saturday and go out and compete and represent the university. You know, they're both incredibly unselfish. They're both guys that played a lot of football. I think this is Jared's 37th consecutive start, hasn't missed a start at quarterback, played a lot of football.
Hardy's been the same way, kind of been an Ironman for us defensively. They're both team captains.
You know, they're just really good football players, and they're kids that have continued to get better and better and better and have provided leadership for us that's got us where we are right now and will, hopefully, continue to propel us in the future. So, you know they're special kids to work with. They love the game. They play with passion. They're both serious about their academics and, you know, guys that you're really proud of. And the things they are going to do off the field will be really incredible as well.
So, you know, excited to see them play tomorrow and looking forward to it. And, again, they've been a big part of our turnaround in our program, just their work ethic and dedication and unselfish nature and just really, really great kids.
TIM SIMMONS: Sonny, any distractions this week with all your family around being back in Texas?
COACH DYKES: No, it's been great. I have two little girls, a 7‑ and 4‑year‑old. So we came in on the 23rd. And my wife's family is from Wichita Falls, so they had a Christmas tree waiting and presents under the tree. So we did Christmas Christmas morning and had a great time, kids running around, and a lot of American Girl stuff. That seems to be the big gift this year. So I've figured that whole thing out. It's a whole new thing for me, but they had a great time.
As I said, we've really enjoyed being back here, have had a chance to see a lot of friends and family. And, you know, my family's still trying to figure out how they're going to get here from Lubbock. I don't know if they will be able to figure that out before the game tomorrow or not. They've had weather there, and so it's a little bit challenging. But, you know, it's been great. My family's enjoyed it. Again, we had an opportunity to see friends and family that we haven't seen in a long time, so it's been a lot of fun.
Q. For both coaches, I'm just curious, as fans of football, how intriguing do you find this matchup where you have the disparity of the passing offense on one side and the rushing offense on the other side?
COACH DYKES: That's what makes college football unique. I'm not a big fan of pro football because it's the same offense and defense Sunday after Sunday. And the great thing about college football, it's a game of extremes. You get to see a run‑and‑shoot team play against a triple‑option team or you get to see a spread‑run team play against a spread‑pass team. So you have two schools that go about doing things in different ways, but it's really the same thing.
Air Force is a team that's built on, you know, having answers. So, for example, if your guy does this, we do this; if your guys does this, we do this. And a lot of those answers take place on the first level, on the defensive front where they leave a D lineman unblocked and greet him. They do it running the football.
We do it a little bit differently. We do it second level by throwing the ball. It's the same concept, the same idea. If your guy does this, we do this. So they're really similar schools of thought, just go about doing it differently.
I think the thing that makes us unique is, obviously, Air Force has ‑‑ the student‑athletes are truly student‑athletes. These guys are guys that are going to go on and do great things when they're done playing football. You know, they're going to serve in the military. They made a huge sacrifice for all of us, and you certainly have to respect that and acknowledge that. And I have a lot of respect for that institution and what it stands for and the young men and women that attend that institution.
We feel that way about Cal. It's a unique university. It's been the #1 rated public university 24 consecutive years in the world. So, you know, these guys, every day, they have to grind in the classroom. And, you know, just like the kids at Air Force have to do as well. So I think that gives it more of a unique flavor just because you have serious students as well as very good athletes playing in the game tomorrow. So it's an interesting matchup in a lot of different ways.