Defense, discipline on Dykes' agenda

Sonny Dykes (Don Feria/GoldenBearSports.com)

Improving defense and academics are top priorities for new California head coach Sonny Dykes, as he meets the Bears for the first time.

BERKELEY, Calif. – He is one of the top offensive minds in college football, so of course new California head coach Sonny Dykes spent much of his introductory press conference Thursday afternoon at Memorial Stadium talking about … defense?

Maybe it isn't that big a surprise, as his third and final season at Louisiana Tech featured plenty of points, for both the Bulldogs and their opponents. Dykes directed the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation, scoring an average of 51.5 points per game, while the LA Tech defense allowed 38.5 points and 526.08 yards per game, worst in the nation.

In their three losses to Texas A&M, Utah State, and San Jose State, those totals rose dramatically, to 53 points and 644.67 yards per game.

"Defensively I think that will be the biggest, most important hire that I make, hiring a defensive coordinator that can come in and get to work from day one and get a defense established," Dykes said.

"In the Pac-12, you've got to be able to play versatile defense, you have to be able to adjust. One week you may play Stanford, one week you may play Oregon. Two completely different teams philosophically. You have to be prepared to play against both styles of football."

Dykes acknowledged that one potential option could be current New Mexico State head coach and former UCLA defensive coordinator Dewayne Walker.

Beyond that, he did not address his staff, other than to say that he hoped to have it assembled within the next 10-14 days and that those assistants hired to assist with the transition – offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, running backs coach Ron Gould, wide receivers coach Wes Chandler, and defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose – would all have a chance to interview for positions.

Safety Avery Sebastian said he was not worried about the dismal defensive statistics at LA Tech because now that Dykes is here, "things will change."

"Their defense might have been last in the country, but at Cal, we take it personally to be the best defense when we step on the field. It's a really different demeanor that all the players have," Sebastian said.

"We have a lot of great guys coming back next year, a lot of experience. And I know whatever coach we are going to get will run the best scheme for us, and we'll execute."

There was equal optimism, perhaps considerably more well founded, coming from freshman wide receiver Chris Harper.

"I'm ready, I'm ready," Harper said. "I watched like one or two (LA Tech) games. I saw the way their offense works and how they like to pass the ball a lot and I like that."

Cal struggled to score last season, largely because of pass protection issues and inefficient quarterback play. The defense had its own breakdowns, and players on both sides of the ball attributed the 3-9 record, worst in Jeff Tedford's 11 seasons leading the program, to a lack of discipline.

"It was just attention to detail, small things that people would slip up on individually," Sebastian said. "It's part of the game and something that we need to get corrected as a team."

That has also manifested in the classroom, as Cal's Academic Progress Rate has declined in recent years, finishing 11th among Pac-12 schools according to the most recent results released by the NCAA.

"Our football team has some challenges that lay in front of us. Academically we have to improve, we know that. I believe there's a direct correlation between having academic and athletic success," Dykes said.

"This is a proud program with a rich tradition. We will set lofty goals for our program, but our primary focus will be on improving every day in all phases as we ensure to build a total program."

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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