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UCLA 36, Cal 34 press box report: Sonny Dykes & crew have their own learning to do

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Last week, it was the players. This week, it's the coaches.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cal got humbled last week. The Bears haven't known success for a long period of time, so they basked in it, enjoyed it, and got swallowed up in it when they got tossed around like ragdolls against a decent (but hardly extraordinary) Washington squad. That Cal team we saw against the Huskies was an aberration, a regression to past failings and darker times.

The Bears came back against UCLA and made sure their defeat was an aberration. The defense took full advantage of all three Bruin turnovers and gave themselves the 20 points that probably wins most football tames. The offense got itself stuffed on multiple occasions, yet got gifts from the defense and managed to constantly capitalize in the red zone. Despite being chewed up on the ground and not being able to run the football, Cal found themselves driving down the field with a chance to win the game late.

The players made the most of what they could in non-fortuitous circumstances and made a game of it. It's hard to be mad at them after this loss; they all made mistakes, but they all gave it their best shots.

The coaches on the other hand ...

They could have been better.

I'm not demanding to put anyone on the hot seat. This is one of the most improved teams in the country, so everyone who wants to be back next year should be back. I'm generally pleased with the direction this team has taken this season. It's just that now that we're back to being competitive, it's time to put our critical hats on again. Most of the coaching staff deserve to get a little bit of a talking to for their performances.

Let's go down the list. I'll start from coaches I've found little fault with to the ones I'm still wondering the most about.

Kenny Lawler

Credit: Photo credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Likens (outside wide receivers)

I seriously can't think of anything bad to say about him. Likens has turned this unit into one of the top five wide receiving corps in college football. Maurice Harris would be starting on the majority of college football rosters, and he can barely see the field here. We should be getting wide receiver recruits on a regular basis and Bear Raiding constantly as long as he's in charge of this unit.

Art Kaufman (defensive coordinator)

I'd like his unit to tackle a little bit better, and of course bend but don't break is very hard on people who want to see punts and big plays, but I'm overall very impressed.

  • UCLA converted two third downs on Saturday. TWO!
  • The Bears have been far more opportunistic in getting turnovers (they had three big ones yesterday). The Bears should top last year's total of 13 (already at ten) within the next few games.
  • Second half adjustments: This was not a thing last year. Now the Bears are starting to come out and play much better after halftime. They're no Hit Squad, but they're making stops at key points in the game.

Art knows what he's doing, and with a rag-tag group has been able to keep Cal in most football games. Given what he's got, he's had the best coaching job on this team so far.

Garret Chachere (linebackers coach)

This might be Kaufman too, but the most improved unit on the team has been the linebackers after being led astray by Buh nonsense. Michael Barton, Jalen Jefferson, Hardy Nickerson are all having great seasons, Devante Downs looks like a star in the making, and Jake Kearney has been a revelation. Cal's future success on defense next season (they're all coming back) will rely on this core five continuing their upward improvement and strengthening depth.

Cal defense on Brett Hundley

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Tommerdahl (inside receivers & special teams coach)

Punting has been outstanding. Coverage units have been great on non-onside kicks.  Kick returns have obviously helped win one game this year. Punt returns are meh. So that's pretty good in five crucial categories!

Placekicking could use some work: James Langford looks like he could be a bit of a project beyond 35 yards. And we need someone who can hit the end zone or come close on kickoffs, because neither Langford nor Anderson did anything of the sort. I'm just not a fan of squib kicks in general because you gift the opposition short field.

I generally was baffled by the squib kicks; I thought Ishmael Adams was an elite kick returner, but outside the Arizona State game he hasn't really done much, and Cal coverage was generally good going into this contest. I'm not a fan of short fields, and UCLA got easy points with short fields this way.

Greg Burns (defensive backs coach)

Due to injuries, the man has given snaps at safety to a preferred walk-on who eventually started, another walk-on, a walk-on who converted from wide receiver, and a wide receiver who spends most of his time on special teams because there's no room for any more wideouts on the depth chart. It's hard to judge a man based on that.

This unit probably has had the most struggles of all the ones on defense, but it's also had the most turnover. Still, the backline tackling and angles could be better. UCLA ran screen after screen yesterday and the Bears gave up numerous first downs in these situations.

Fred Tate (defensive line coach)

Again, Tate is working with leftovers and trainees. I don't think anyone envisioned a year ago that this two deep might involve heavy doses of Noah Westerfield and Jonathan Johnson, with Tony Mekari and Marcus Manley sprinkled in for good measures. But they have been game in the chances they've been given. Even though they're starting to get gashed by the run, they are doing a good job of getting stops and holding teams to field goals instead of touchdowns. That is something that didn't happen last year at any point.

Daniel Lasco

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Pierre Ingram (running backs coach) and Zach Yenser (offensive line coach)

I've tag teamed their effort to critique the run game, simply because I'm not quite sure either of these guys has the talent yet. But after coaching these units up the first month of the season, the run game and the offensive line have taken significant steps back.

Cal's offensive line got BLOWN up for most of the game. With no Chris Borrayo, the run game was out of commission. Again interior rush took away most of Goff's ability to attack the middle of the field, as he had to escape the pocket or find the sidelines to get his looks. Alejandro Crosthwaite and Matt Cochran could not handle any of UCLA's defensive linemen, and it gobbled up the run game pretty quickly. I know it's hard to find good offensive linemen these days.

Daniel Lasco has had a good season, but he still does things that are fundamentally unsafe, and have shockingly not yet cost the Bears. He leaves his feet a lot to leap and pick up maybe an extra yard. He does spin moves in traffic that usually end up with him facing the other way.  He still remains very tentative on his cuts and allows the defender to catch up with him on the occasions.  Coach Ingram has to coach these things out of his system, because one of these days he will fumble the football and it will cost the Bears.

While I'm not expecting the Bears to make Herculean leaps between this year and last year, Cal is on pace to have a bottom 25 running attack for the second straight season (108th in yards per carry last year, 108th in yards per carry this year). Even though S&P+ rushing numbers are up a bit, Cal still has USC, Oregon and Stanfurd left on the slate. We're expecting big things from the Bears next season, but if we can't learn how to run the football with any consistency, it's going to be tough sledding.

Yenser and Ingram have to improve here. Fast.

Tony Franklin (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach)

This sums up how I feel about Franklin.

Franklin's mad genius may pay off in year three, but I'm still utterly baffled by several of the things he does. The reverses never seem to go anywhere. Calling run plays in the second half just seemed to serve to put us in 2nd/3rd and long situations, and I really wish we'd design more moving pocket or rollout plays to take some pressure off of our quarterback.

And of course, taking a downfield shot that late and betting on a defender to be somewhere else is just really risky. I especially don't like repeating a play in that circumstance (the Kenny Lawler downfield streak had already been used to set up an earlier touchdown). With ninety seconds left, you have plenty of time to work your way down the field. Get into field goal range, THEN take a shot or two.

Also, the Tony Franklin System is partly to blame for our bad pass protection. If you have any weak links in the offensive line, two-point stance becomes much harder to execute. Your weak links will get pushed back and the quarterback will have no pocket to step up into (Goff is up to about 20 to 30 out-of-pocket scrambles in the last two weeks I think). And the last two weeks seem to justify that we still have a lot of guys playing out of position this year.

That being said, he is the quarterbacks coach, and Jared Goff is Jared Goff, and we're probably 1-6 without that type of development...so I'm not more positive on him than negative. I just worry that Franklin will eventually cost us games when we're expecting victory because he decides to get a little too cheeky.

Marcus Rios interception

Thearon W. Henderson

Sonny Dykes

Every game, it seems to be something new. Against Arizona, it was poor late-clock management that gave the Wildcats a chance for the Hill Mary. Against Washington State, it was allowing the Cougars to run the clock out once it was clear they'd be in field goal range and not going for any type of big play. Against Washington, it was poor tempo that allowed the Huskies to dig in once Cal got rattled.

And against UCLA, it was timeout management.

  • Burning one because we were crossed between putting Luke Rubenzer in and Goff.
  • Burning timeouts on 4th down defense. These are not situations where you want to burn timeouts. The crowd gets pumped on 4th down and a timeout takes them out of it. You have to make sure everyone is lined up right to get this down correctly.
  • The extra point/two point conversion timeout was egregiously bad (reminded me of the Poinsettia Bowl blunder, which started making me think Jeff Tedford was probably past his prime). I would expect this coaching staff to have known the moment they got that turnover to start preparing their two point plays.

Cal might have had a second chance after that "pick" if the Bears had all three timeouts (heck, even two might have given us a chance to get the ball back with 15 to 20 seconds), but having only one allowed UCLA to run the clock out.

So far, Dykes looks like he's done okay at best on the sideline. He has proven to be (at best) a mediocre game manager. I'm sure he'll get better at it, but it's not like he has much time to improve here.

I'm more up than down on this coaching staff. They've made great strides in a year and have a solid but not-too-deep group of Golden Bears competing game-in and game-out. We had opportunities to actually be 6-1 (and yes yes we could also be 2-5, so 4-3 evens it all out).

That doesn't mean they can't get better. They need to get better. The standards are higher, and the benchmarks will be raised based on this season. This staff still has plenty of things they need to fix up, and they need to fix these issues before judgment time comes next year.

The Pac-12 is a conference for wolves. Sonny and company have to be on the hunt every week. Or they're going to get devoured.