Aug 31, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes reacts after an injury by the Northwestern Wildcats during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Northwestern won 44-30. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
When Washington State (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) and California (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12) meet on the field in Berkeley Saturday afternoon, two long-time friends will engage in a battle to out-coach the other guy.
It’s a good storyline.
Dykes was a graduate assistant under Leach dating back to when they were at Kentucky working together to breathe life into the Wildcats offense. The two pass-happy coaches brought their exciting style of play to Lubbock, TX with amazing success. Thanks to implementing Leach’s Air Raid offense, Texas Tech was prominent nationally and destined to be invited for post season play as consistently as Republicans vote against raising taxes.
Will the relationship between these two coaches impact an important Pac-12 contest for both schools?
Coach Dykes suggests a reality check for fans because, “…it’s really a lot less significant than people think it would be.”
Neither coach will be on the field trying to make plays. Their role is simply to get their respective ball clubs prepared, put together a winning game plan and then direct play from the sidelines.
"“Football’s not about coaches, it’s about the players. I don’t think it’s going to have one ounce of impact on the football game. The players have to go out and make plays.”— Cal Coach Sonny Dykes"
No question Dykes familiarity with Leach’s approach to the game is a plus.
Simply put, “He’s not trying to trick you or scheme you. He’s just trying to out execute you”, said Dykes describing the opposing head coach during his weekly presser.
Pouring over game film and developing a formula for success may not lead to a victory on the gridiron.
"“Your players may know 80% of the time exactly what play is coming. And they may be able to stop it 0% of the time just because the other team is executing it, or the players play so fast”— Coach Dykes"
Therein lies the rub for Cal this season.
Dykes find himself in a situation all-too-familiar to Leach. He has taken over a program that was heading in the wrong direction.
First year head coaches typically are saddled with the need to recruit players suited for their system and style of play. That translates into loading up a roster with young, inexperienced student-athletes.
Aug 31, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; Northwestern Wildcats wide receiver Christian Jones (14) carries the ball against California Golden Bears defensive back Isaac Lapite (20) during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The Cal secondary lacks the presence a senior brings to a defense. Much of the rotation will be freshmen and sophomores behind a pair of juniors, a sophomore and freshman starters. There’s your quintessential youth movement, having to learn their position on the fly.
Couple that with a lack of depth along a three-man defensive line and you will hear Dykes describe another dose of reality, “They’re going to be good players, they’re just kind of inexperienced. ”
"“We’ve got to develop our young players and bring them along.”— Coach Dykes"
To drive home the challenges the Bears have defensively, just look at their stats for their first four games. Cal is dead last in the Pac-12 in Total Defense surrendering a whopping 512.5 yards a game.
Before jumping to the conclusion the Bears lack any defensive prowess, consider the fact they have played against teams who consistently light up the scoreboard. In terms of scoring offense, they have played NCAA ranked #2 Oregon, #6 Ohio State, #21 Northwestern and FCS #7 Portland State.
Sep 14, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Corey Brown (10) catches a touchdown pass against the California Golden Bears in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes defeated the Golden Bears 52-34. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Reflecting on the opponents his team has faced thus far, the no-nonsense Cal coach respectfully offered, “We’ve faced really good offenses.”
Using a myopic preview based on stats, things will change this week for the Golden Bears. Offensively, Washington State ranks 11th in the Pac-12 after their first five games.
Dykes acknowledges the Cougars are a vastly improved team when compared to last season.
“Everything happens faster (for WSU) now than it did a year ago. The biggest improvement they’ve made is the speed their players are playing at. That includes the quarterback and the decisions he’s making.”
That said, Coach Dykes had to restrain from smiling when discussing what his team will have to do defensively to stop the Cougs Air Raid. “We’ve seen a lot of different things beside just a drop back passer,” referring to WSU junior Connor Halliday.
"“Anytime you face a passing team that’s good at what they do, and Washington State is very good at what they do, you’ve got to make the quarterback uncomfortable. We’ve got to get some pressure.”— Coach Dykes"
The storyline of friends competing against one another is intriguing. But this time around you should minimize the effect it might have on the outcome of this game.
Cal will focus on re-directing their season in a positive way with their first conference win under Coach Dykes much the way WSU did when they defeated USC.
One thing Dykes was crystal clear about when describing the attitude of his team, “We’re anxious to get back out and have a chance to compete.”
Following the final whistle, Dykes and Leach will meet at midfield and shake hands reflecting mutual admiration.
And the Pac-12 will be better off if these two friends continue enjoying similar opportunities for a long time to come.