A change of pace Cal direly needed

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In the Big Game on Oct. 20, Stanford’s defense smothered the Bears’ offense to death at Memorial this year. Jeff Tedford’s offensive scheme lacked excitement and unpredictability, and the Cardinal’s suffocating run defense held Cal to negative total rushing yards.

After the Big Game, it became woefully apparent that the Bears’ offensive gameplan was in dire need of comprehensive retooling. Now enter new Bears head coach Sonny Dykes.

“What’s exciting is our brand of football is fun,” Dykes said in Wednesday’s press conference. “I think that’s what’s going to be exciting for the football fans out there. We’re going to play at a fast pace, be able to move the football and score points.”

Dykes’ offense at Louisiana Tech last year led the country in points and finished second in yards per game. Its passing completion percentage ranked fifth in the country. Its running backs averaged 5.2 yards per carry, the 15th-most efficient running attack in Division I.

Dykes likes to run a formation with the quarterback in the shotgun and the running back lined up directly behind him. From there, he’ll either spread four receivers out and let the quarterback identify a mismatch or sit two fullbacks behind the center and hand off to the back for a power running play.

This radical approach to the attack provides a cure for Cal’s greatest flaw last year: an inconsistent and unreliable offense.

Tedford’s pro-style two-receiver sets excelled only after the run game established itself early in the contest, forcing the secondary to respect the play-action pass. Too many times, Cal fell behind early or couldn’t establish the run and failed to demonstrate any flexibility in reacting to opposing defensive schemes.

Dykes’ Air Raid offense makes it impossible for the opposition to lean too heavily on either the pass defense or the run defense. If the running attack stagnates early, the offense can just switch to a five-receiver set and start working the pass game.

“We’re constantly trying to make sure we’re going to have our five best offensive linemen playing at the same time,” Dykes said. “ If you have three centers who are your very best guys, we’re going to move some guys around, get our best five on the field.”

It’s a perfect fix to Tedford’s greatest problem of simply not having the offensive set to counter a menacing front seven, like Stanford’s, which dominates the trenches.

Granted, Dykes’ former teams weren’t without their flaws.

Louisiana Tech’s defense last year gave up too many points. It finished among the national leaders in penalty yards accumulated.

But these issues aren’t the head coach’s sole responsibility. With the hire of a solid defensive coordinator, Cal’s talented returning defensive starters should serve as a strength rather than a weakness.

And his offensive attack allows for a broad spectrum of possibilities.

Best case, Dykes will be Chip Kelly reincarnate. The Oregon coach has turned the Ducks into a national powerhouse behind the strength of his innovative spread option attack.

Worst case, Dykes’ offense will be gimmicky, and Pac-12 defenses will eat it alive.

What is sure is that it will be a drastic shift in the Bears’ identity. The pro-sets Cal fans have lived and died under for more than a decade have now officially been thrown out the window. The offense has officially transitioned to the 21st century.

Cal fans needed this. Last season was an exercise in torture — watching Tedford’s traditional style fail almost every single game left many begging for a change.

Athletic Director Sandy Barbour just bought a ticket for change with this coaching hire. The unanswered question here  is whether it will be for the good or the bad.

My bet’s on the former.

Michael Rosen covers football. Contact him at [email protected].