One of the big reasons I soured on Sonny Dykes early as the long-term hope for the California Golden Bears was his ability to cope with crisis. Seeing how utterly helpless Dykes was during the 2013 full-blown disaster was eye-opening. There should have been tons of learning experiences for a team in transition, but by mid-September it was clear Dykes had lno idea how to steer the ship back. The team could not adjust to the new tempo and pace.
The injuries mounted and the margins grew, but the tempo stayed the same. Players transferred because Dykes refused to adapt to the reality of the situation. Cal started the season a bad team and probably would’ve finished the season a bad team, but instead finished the season as one of the worst teams in recent Pac-12 memory needlessly. There was no learning. Just losing. It was a lost year for the program and might have doomed Dykes before he even started.
2014 became what 2013 should have been for Sonny at Cal. Those are the small things that doom coaches to failure before they even hit the ground.
I have higher hopes for Justin Wilcox.
In 2009, when I first started California Golden Blogs, one of my first ideas was to produce the report card. It would be a fun way to assess performance and judge the team on its merits. This made sense at the time because Cal was a fully formed squad with tons of talent on both sides of the ball. The team had the capability of producing A+ performances with the players they had, and beating some of the best teams in the nation.
I’ll always enjoy the report card post. But for this season, I don’t think grades should be assessed in the same way to judge how we feel about our Bears.
A lot of us did not think that Cal was going to be very good, and for good reason. This was a five win team losing its starting quarterback, a ton of its offensive line, its best wide receiver, and returning one of the worst defenses in college football and most definitely the worst run D in the nation. This is a team adjusting to new offensive and defensive schemes and a host of young talent taking the reins for the first time, most notably at quarterback and at the offensive line, but also in the front seven and at the safety spot. There are gaps.
Cal beating Weber State in a close game is not that shocking. The Bears have issues running the football. They have deficiencies stopping the run, and those deficiencies aren’t going anywhere. They do not have a consistent weakside pass rusher. Their secondary is talented but wildly unseasoned. There will be moments where this defense gets humbled, and those moments are fast approaching in the five game death march ahead.
But in the end, despite all the struggles, despite the 4th quarter deficit to an FCS team, despite the 500+ yards of offense conceded, despite the lack of a pass game, Cal perservered. They had impressive heroes (Patrick Laird and Luke Rubenzer for starters), they pitched a second half shut out (although Weber blew their opportunities), and they escaped. Wasn’t pretty, was hardly impressive, but it was a time for learning, and Cal got a win out of the process.
Cal was predicted to finish last in the Pac-12 for a reason—the weaknesses are too deep, the deficiencies waiting to be exploited by teams with the noticeable talent advantage. The Bears are just not going to be coming into football games and posting many 20+ point blowouts. The depth is not there, the gamechangers are not there, and the recruits that can build that structure are not there. Dykes left some great men to be coached up by Wilcox, but this team still needs an influx of talent at critical spots to really start making the big structural changes.
Therein lies the growth mindset the Bears have to embody. They can win, and they can learn. Losing isn’t a referendum on Justin Wilcox. It’s learning for the future. Cal is young and in new hands. There is time to breathe. This is a year for winning and learning, and the more Cal embraces it, the better our chances for success will be in the long-run.