The inaugural season of the Sonny Dykes’ era has finally come to a close for the Cal Golden Bears. Dykes came to Cal with much fanfare, as he led the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs to the best scoring offense in the nation during the previous season. Fans had visions of footballs flying through the air, big chunks of yards gained on the ground and points being put up at a dizzying pace.
The visions never managed to materialize, as injuries, inconsistency and a lack of balance held the Bears’ offense back throughout the season. The Bears struggled their way to a 1-11 season, with an average margin of defeat of 25.6 points per game. Their lone win was a seven-point victory over a mediocre FCS team in Portland State. Let’s take a look at what went right and what went wrong on offense over the course of the season.
Starting off with the bread-and-butter of the Dykes’ Bear-Raid offense, the passing game. Dykes entrusted the keys to the offense to highly touted true freshman quarterback Jared Goff. Goff exploded on to the scene with a highly impressive performance against a ranked Northwestern squad with 450 yards passing. He followed that up with a record-setting 485 yards against Portland State. He then added 371 and three touchdowns in a valiant effort against Ohio State. Then the disaster in Autzen turned his season around.
Goff would not make it through the first quarter, as he was highly ineffective and struggled to hold on to the ball in the wet weather. He would have a quick resurgence the following week against an awful Washington State defense with 504 yards passing, but he would never be same after that. Goff would struggle his way to just one more 300-plus-yard passing game over the course of the season.
Goff showed flashes of his potential early in the season, but a disastrous performance against Oregon had a huge negative effect on his confidence. It is what you can expect from starting a true freshman quarterback and throwing him into the fire. Placing him behind a makeshift offensive that struggled to pass protect all season exacerbated the issue, as the Bears ranked near the bottom of the nation in sacks allowed with 36. Teams began to just bring blitz after blitz to rattle the young signal caller.
The bright spot for Goff was the experience he gained by playing against Division I talent and building chemistry with his talented receiving corps.
The most productive unit for the Bears was the receiving corps. They were led by the dynamic duo of Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs. The two receivers combined for 147 receptions for 1,603 yards and six touchdowns, which equates to nearly 40 percent of the passing offense. Several players also emerged as secondary options in the passing. Converted tight end Richard Rogers and redshirt freshman Kenny Lawler solidified their positions as third and fourth receivers. Coach Dykes likes to use formations with lots of receivers and the more receiving threats available will help out in the long run.
Following the most productive unit, we move on to the most disappointing. The Cal Bears’ rushing attack to a major step back this year, as they dropped from 182.5 yards per game last season to 122.2 yards per game. This was suppose to be a breakout year for athletic playmaker Brendan Bigelow. Despite leading the team in carries with 105, Bigelow finished second in rushing yards with 421. His inability to step up in the feature back role severely hampered the Bears’ rushing attack.
Electric freshman Khalfani Muhammad ended being the Bears most effective rusher, as he led the team in rushing yards with 445 and yards per carry at 6.0. Senior Daniel Lasco also provided effective running, despite missing several games to injury. The Bears needed their running to provide help for the passing game, as they were unable to provide the offense with key gains on first down or in short-yardage situations. It killed them in red-zone situations, as they did not have another option in those confined areas and teams could just drop and congest the passing lanes.
The offensive line did not help out the running game at all, as well. They constantly collapsed at the point of attack and failed to seal running lanes. The amount of penetration allowed and the lack of vision from the running backs led too many tackles for loss, which tended to stall out the offense.
Overall, it was an ugly year for the offense. There is no sugar-coating how bad this team was statistically, as they finished in the bottom third of nearly every major statistical category. The only category they had any success in was passing yards, but they finished with one of the worst pass efficiency ratings in the nation.
There are some silver linings in what was a painful year for a very young Bears team. The Bears have a potential high threat passing game with a young talented quarterback and young, deep stable of wide receivers. If they can find any semblance of a consistent running attack and some decent pass protection, then there is potential for this team to become a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
Give this team a season or two to let these young players come into their own and let Coach Dykes bring in his own recruits to fit his system. Cal has the talent, it just needs to be allowed to grow with time.
Offensive MVP: Chris Harper, WR
Harper earns the offensive MVP by being the most productive and consistent threat for this offense. He often was Goff’s main target on key downs and situations. He led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. He has a very bright future in store for him.
Biggest Disappointment: Brendan Bigelow, RB/WR
Bigelow was suppose to the be the big play threat for the Bears’ offense, but he could never find his rhythm in the running game. He does not seem to have great vision and tends to dance around if the hole is not their right away. He has all the physical talent that you look for, but he needs to work on the mental aspect of the game. The Bears will be counting on him to bounce back next season.