Beneath the crowing of the worst defense in Cal history, the Bears squandered strong efforts on…
MONDAY: Another Blow
BERKELEY -- The hits just keep on coming for the California football team. Then again, seeing as the Bears lost yet another starting defender for the season, there may very well be fewer hits.
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes announced on Monday that the Bears had lost Hardy Nickerson, Jr., for the final two games, after he injured his foot early in Saturday's loss to USC.
"I hate that Hardy got injured," Dykes said. "He was starting to play well. He had had a foot issue that he was dealing with most of the year, and finally it was starting to feel better. He really played well against Arizona, practiced well last week, started to look like a different guy, and it's disappointing to see him go down."
Nickerson is the latest in a string of big injuries for the Cal defense, which, after a 62-28 loss to the Trojans, has now given up more points in a single season (with two games left, at that) than any defense in school history. Before Nickerson went down, the Bears lost Avery Sebastian in the first game of the season (Achilles), Brennan Scarlett (hasn't played a down while recovering from a bone graft in his hand) before the season started, Nick Forbes (only played a few snaps against UCLA), Mustafa Jalil (hasn't played a down and had season-ending knee surgery several weeks ago), Stefan McClure (went down with a knee injury against Washington State), Sione Sina (hasn't played a down while recovering from knee surgery), Nathan Broussard (tore his ACL in fall camp) and Austin Clark (knee injury before fall camp).
To add to that, defensive tackle Gabe King left the team three weeks ago and rush end Chris McCain was kicked off the team after the fourth game of the season.
"We haven't been very good," Dykes said. "It's not hard to see that. We've just got to get better. We've given up too many points. The thing about it is, I think we've given up nine non-defensive touchdowns this year, which has got to be close to a record. That's basically 63 points that's not really on the defense. It's punt returns, blocked punts, interceptions returned for touchdowns – that kind of stuff. That's contributed to that total, as well. It just hasn't been very good. We haven't played very well, and when you don't play very well, you get a lot of points scored on you."
While Dykes and his defensive staff mulled the idea of putting running backs in at Nickerson's MIKE linebacker spot on Saturday, that idea never got past the discussion phase, and on Monday, it was Michael Barton's turn to run the first-team defense in the middle.
Chad Whitener is also a possibility to take over the MIKE, and played there with the second unit, but much of what fans see on Saturday in the linebacking unit will depend on the health of Khairi Fortt, who was in a red jersey on Monday.
"There's a bunch of different options, depending on what happens with Khairi, depending on how healthy he is," Dykes said. "We're going to train two or three different guys at that middle linebacker spot, and it depends on what happens with Khairi."
Fortt was favoring his strained biceps, but moved around better than he did last week, in Dykes's estimation.
Receiver Chris Harper was back in action on Monday after being in-and-out during Saturday's game, which Dykes said was due to a hip pointer.
"It just got tight on him," Dykes said. "He's fine. He worked through it today in practice, and he's going to be fine. He just had a hard time moving much. It started to get stiff on him and he just couldn't move much."
Offensive lineman Freddie Tagaloa played with both the first and second team offense at right guard on Monday, and saw, according to Dykes, 15-20 snaps at right guard last week in his first action since being demoted from starting left tackle in favor of Christian Okafor, who was scolded several times for not getting out to block on screens.
"We'll see how he practices and how he performs," Dykes said of whether or not Tagaloa could see more snaps against Colorado this week. "I thought he did some good things at times. He's a little inconsistent still, still making some adjustments to the position. He's still working hard at it and trying to get more accustomed to playing that spot."
Matt Cochran took all the second-team snaps at right tackle.
Statistically, freshman quarterback Jared Goff had his best game on Saturday, and has just two turnovers in the past three games. Goff went 35-of-49 passing on Saturday for 260 yards and three touchdowns. He's now thrown eight touchdowns over the past three games to just two interceptions.
"I would have liked to have seen what would have happened," Dykes said, addressing the three touchdowns USC scored on special teams, effectively putting the game out of reach. "That's kind of been our issue at times this year. We'll play well, with the exception of a couple of big plays, and that's what's killed us. There wasn't that big a differential in yardage or that kind of thing. There was just a big differential in the scoreboard, and that's the only thing that matters, but I would have liked to have seen what would have happened. It stunned us a little bit, and our guys did a good job of cutting it to 21-14, and really felt good about our chances, at that point. I think our kids were excited and felt good and then we gave up 14 more points on the punt team, so that was a pretty devastating thing to happen."
Despite the Bears being down by several scores for most of the game – when, in the past, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin would take to the air -- Cal still rushed a season-high 43 times for a season-high 190 yards.
"That's kind of what we had. We thought, coming in, we'd be able to run the football the way that they played us," Dykes said. "We felt like we had opportunities to run it, and we ran it pretty well to get back in the game. We felt like they're a good pass-rushing football team; that's one of their strengths. We didn't want to play into their hands, so we tried to run the football as much as we possibly could.
"We tried to run it the other night. What's happened to us is, once we get a drive started, typically when we start running the ball, guys start playing fast, we catch a rhythm, and that's when we start running the football well. We need to get a couple first downs early in a drive to wear the defense down a little bit, get a rhythm and run the football."
On Monday, both Daniel Lasco and Darren Ervin wore red jerseys, with both listed as "probable" on the first injury report of the week.
"He's sore," Dykes said of Lasco. "He's going to be sore on Mondays, the beginning of the week, every week. He's got a little bit of a shoulder issue, and that's typically the way those things play out – they're real sore on Monday, a little less sore on Tuesday, a little less sore on Wednesday, feel a little better on Thursday. Hopefully, by Saturday, he'll feel good."
Cedric Dozier took all the first-team reps at corner opposite Kameron Jackson, and tallied a leaping pick on a ball meant for Kyle Boehm during scout team work.
Cornerback Isaac Lapite was injured during Saturday's game, and is listed as out for the week with a knee.
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