Barring a catastrophic meltdown, the Sonny Dykes era will notch its first victory in Berkeley on Saturday, when the Cal football team plays host to Portland State.
But then again, seven FBS schools — including Oregon State — had such meltdowns last Saturday in losing to FCS schools.
“It can happen at any time,” said quarterback Jared Goff. “We’re preparing for this game like we prepare for any game. We’re not treating it any differently.”
Still, Saturday’s matchup with the Vikings should provide the Bears (0-1) with what will be the easiest path to a win they will have all season. Three of Cal’s next four games will be against ranked opponents, including No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Ohio State in consecutive weeks.
If nothing else, Saturday should provide a good litmus test for an offense that overall looked potent in putting up 30 points against Northwestern but still showed plenty of growing pains.
“How we perform on Saturday will say a lot about our program and where our guys are mentally,” Dykes said. “It’s a big game for us.”
But where the Bears appear to need more work is on the defensive side of the ball. And although the Vikings (1-0) won’t show the same versatility and explosiveness that the Wildcats brought to Berkeley, they will bring a pistol offense — one that has given Cal fits in recent years — that put up 57 points and 672 yards of offense last week.
Combine all of that with the loss of safety Avery Sebastian — who went down last Saturday with a torn Achilles’ tendon and will miss the remainder of the season — and Portland State could have some opportunities to throw the ball downfield.
“He’s one of our leaders on a team that doesn’t have a ton of leadership,” Dykes said of Sebastian. “It’s a big loss for us in a lot of different ways.”
Sebastian won’t be the only missing piece this weekend. Although linebacker Khairi Fortt is expected to play, and linebacker Chris McCain was reinstated after being suspended for a half due to a targeting penalty, linebacker Nick Forbes and defensive lineman Mustafa Jalil will sit out again because of injuries.
“We’ve got to do a good job of having guys step up and be consistent and be guys that we can count on when we have injuries,” Dykes said. “We’ve lost some pretty key guys.”
However, the Bears finally appear to have some inside knowledge of how to defend the pistol, as defensive coordinator Andy Buh and defensive line coach Barry Sacks both coached under Chris Ault at Nevada and thus got to see the unorthodox offense every day in practice.
And even if the young and inexperienced Cal defense isn’t able to contain the Vikings on Saturday, it’s hard to imagine Portland State’s offense keeping pace with the Bears, assuming that Goff and company continue building on their impressive debut.
“We’re all going to have a chance to watch (Goff) improve every day,” Dykes said. “He’s going to continue to get better and better every day. I think he set the bar relatively high Saturday, and I think he’ll continue to get better and better every week.”
And while Goff’s play was indeed impressive, he’ll need to be far better if Cal is to contend with the Buckeyes and the Ducks in coming weeks.
And the squad has only one more game to bring itself to that level.
“When you have a young team like we do, every practice is important, every game is important,” Dykes said. “Every chance to get better is magnified.”