Jalen Jefferson makes a big impact in his first day back in blue, Dykes evaluates the Bigelow-in-the…
NOTEBOOK: Lasco Out, New Big Back in the Mix?
On Monday, Cal practiced true freshman Khalfani Muhammad as the first-team back, followed by Jeffrey Coprich, Jr., Darren Ervin and Jonah Hodges.
"Darren Ervin will get in there, and Brendan [Bigelow] will be ready, in case we need him to play some running back, as well," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "We'll have some options. It's the same old mantra: If somebody goes down, somebody's got to step up, so those guys will step up."
Bigelow spent much of Monday evening with the receivers, instead of with the running backs, after his slot-receiver debut last Saturday against UCLA, turning in two particularly eye-opening over-the-shoulder grabs deep down field in team and 7-on-7 periods.
Dykes, though, did not say whether Bigelow would stay at that spot.
"We'll see how it plays out," he said. "I don't have any idea. We'll kind of see how he progresses, and we're just trying to find ways to get him the ball, and let him make some plays for us, so we'll figure out whether it's going to be there or at running back."
Following his running back debut on Saturday, inside receiver Richard Rodgers continued to take a few reps carrying the ball out of the bone formation on Monday in short-yardage situations.
"We think Lucas [Gingold] is such a good blocker at the point of attack that we'd like to try to [...] he can carry the ball, too, some, but he's pretty valuable, blocking, so we're just trying to figure out what the best combination is," Dykes said.
Dykes said Rodgers "did a good job" toting the rock, and that the Bears will continue to "see if it's an option," given the match-up problems Rodgers can bring to the table as a 6-foot-4, 245-pound running back.
"It gives us something we don't have; it gives us a big-bodied back," said Dykes, making Rodgers perhaps that much more important given the injury to Lasco. "He's a downhill runner, and, especially with Lasco being out, that's something that we lack."
Don't expect Rodgers to carry the ball on a regular basis, though.
"I don't think he's going to have 25 carries Saturday," Dykes laughed. "He'll get a couple carries in some spots."
While Lasco was on the sidelines on Monday, both Jalen Jefferson and Joel Willis saw action in seven-on-seven and light contact work (both in red jerseys), and both are expected to play this weekend.
"They'll be back," Dykes said. "I would think they'll be full-go tomorrow, assuming everything went OK today."
Dykes offered his thoughts on the loss to the Bruins, after watching the tape over again.
"We did some good things; kind of similar to what's happened to us, at times, this year – we got off to a slow start, again," Dykes said. "That's been something we've battled. I thought, defensively, we did a great job holding them to a field goal against that offense, and from that, gave up a long run and then held them down. We didn't do much, offensively, early in the ballgame, battled back and cut it to a seven-point game, gave up a long drive before the half. Defensively, in the second half, we came out and stopped them again, but couldn't get much going, offensively. We had our chances."
A pass interference call on a would-be Adrian Lee interception in the second half was a big momentum point.
"I thought the pass interference call on the interception was big; they went down and scored on that drive," Dykes said. "We were going to get the ball on our half of the field, and I thought that was a big play in the ballgame."
On Monday, Lee turned in an interception in seven-on-seven work against the first-team offense, while Willis nearly picked a pass intended for Chris Harper in the front corner of the end zone. Willis later turned in a tackle for loss against the scout team defense. Cedric Dozier also had a near interception on a pass from Zach Kline intended for Jack Austin, but saw the ball bounce right off his breastplate.
Once again, punching the ball in down deep was an issue, as the Bears continued their red zone struggles, scoring just once on three trips. On the season, Cal is 17-for-23 scoring on red zone trips, but has only turned those trips into touchdowns 10 times.
Particularly vexing was the failure of a nine-plus-minute, 21-play drive to produce any points.
"We're down there, again, where we've had some problems this year, but that's the funny thing about doing what we do – early in the year, any time you're installing a new offense, the last area that comes around is always the red zone offense," Dykes said. "Your execution has to get better, so we've got to continue to develop that and execute at a high level when we get down there, and that's something we haven't done much of, this year."
Maximo Espitia got several one-on-one reps and seven-on-seven reps at safety for the first time since making the switch from inside receiver, while true freshman wide receiver Caleb Coleman also donned the blue defense jersey as a corner.
"We're checking it out," Dykes said. "We're checking it out to see if that's a position he could end up at. We think he's got a skillset that equates pretty well to being a corner. He's got quick feet and can transition in and out of breaks. Corners are hard to find, and if we've got a guy we think can play that position for us, we're going to see if the move makes sense."
Dykes praised Saturday's opponent – Oregon State – for its ability to execute, saying that it is a typical Mike Riley squad. Lack of execution, Dykes continued, is something that has plagued the Cal offense this season. Added to the red zone difficulties, the Bears average 19.45 yards of offense per point scored, 4.44 yards per point more than the next-least-efficient offense (Colorado) in the Pac-12.
"We had a 21-play drive, and to not score at the end of a 21-play drive is pretty unusual," Dykes said. "Typically, that's going to result in scoring a touchdown. We didn't have a lot of explosive plays [Saturday], and had to earn everything. UCLA did a good job of making us drive down the field and earn everything that we've got. We've got to generate some big plays, and we didn't get any of those on Saturday."
Safety Damariay Drew continued to rep with the first team defense after taking over for Michael Lowe in the second half of Saturday's game, a move which Dykes said was due to a lack of performance from the most experienced defensive back on the Bears roster.
"We thought he was triggering faster and making more plays, getting involved both in the run game and breaking some passes up in the passing game, as well," Dykes said. "It's kind of like all our spots – they're all going to be up for grabs. Who's playing the best is going to be the one who plays the most, and it's true of those safeties."
Linebacker Nick Forbes got into the action on defense on Saturday, but didn't show enough for Dykes to deem him ready for full-time duty.
"We wanted to get him in and see what he was going to do, see if he could do something, and he's certainly a guy we'd like for him to play," Dykes said. "He's a good player, but he's just not to that point yet, I don't think."
Starting quarterback Jared Goff turned 19 on Monday, leading Dykes to joke that he's going to be "a whole different Jared Goff" now. On a more serious note, Dykes said that he expects Goff to bounce back after a subpar performance against a stout UCLA pass rush.
"There were some pass protection issues and a combination of things, but he'll play better this week," Dykes said. "I think it's going to be a whole different Jared Goff as a result of him turning 19 today. Hopefully he'll win, whatever that is, maybe 3-2, whatever it takes."
Aaron Cochran continued to work as the second left tackle behind Freddie Tagaloa, and Brian Farley got first-team reps at right tackle.
Defensive lineman Harrison Wilfley was not dressed on Monday, as he recovers from a head injury suffered last week in practice.
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