Don’t blame the schedule

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For the second week in a row, Cal head coach Sonny Dykes bemoaned the state of Pac-12 scheduling, lambasting the conference for having the Bears play a Thursday night road game against a team that was coming off a bye week and had nearly 12 days to prepare.

After Cal’s brutal 45-24 loss to USC on Thursday, Dykes sounded off in the postgame presser:

“We looked like a tired, beat-up football team and we were. I’ve said it last week. It’s a travesty whoever scheduled this game to schedule us back to back weekday games on six days rest to play a team on the road on an open date. I hope the Pac-12 doesn’t do this again to another school. Everyone talks about student-athlete welfare, and they didn’t put their money where their mouth is.”

Dykes also lamented the schedule after the Bears’ 52-49 double overtime win at home over the Ducks on Oct. 21.

“We have a game in six days which is crazy, absolutely nuts that we have to turn around and go to USC in six days and play a team that’s had you know, 13 days off to prepare for us. Absolutely makes no sense,” Dykes said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of equity in scheduling but like I said, I clearly didn’t make the schedule. I’m not happy about it.”

To be clear, Dykes is completely correct in saying there isn’t much equity in scheduling.

It’s also true that this has been the case for the entire history of college football.

There is no denying that USC had almost twice as long to prepare as its opponent, that it’s incredibly difficult for players to adjust to such a quick turnaround after such a taxing dogfight at home and that the Pac-12 schedule is subject to the iron fist of television deals and as a result, is often brutal.

But perhaps it would have helped Cal’s exhaustion had it been able to sustain its lead against the Ducks last week and finish them off, instead of falling apart on both sides of the ball in the second half. Perhaps it would have helped the Bears to anticipate that USC — an unusually balanced offense ranking sixth in the Pac-12 in both the run and the pass — would be looking to exploit Cal’s miserable rushing defense. And indeed, the Trojans picked up 398 yards on the ground against the Bears, with 223 coming from sophomore Ronald Jones II.

Until Thursday, Jones’ season high was 77 yards.

As the head coach, Dykes has a right to complain about the schedule, especially in defense of his worn-out players and staff. But first and foremost, he should be taking responsibility for Cal’s poor showing against USC and admit that it’s not just the whims of conference scheduling that causes a team to surrender close to 400 rushing yards while also giving up 231 yards in the air. It’s not the schedule that led to Cal’s distinct honor of now ranking last in the nation in run defense, yielding nearly 10 more yards than the second-worst team, the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (how many of you have heard of them?).

The Bears are undeniably suffering from an exorbitant number of injuries on defense, including to defensive tackle Luc Bequette, cornerback Darius Allensworth and defensive tackle Tony Mekari, who was hurt during the game and did not return. But isn’t managing depth and adapting to injury part of coaching?

For better or for worse, another dreadful performance from the run defense was only one reason for the Bears’ loss. Cal was also only 3-12 on third down conversions, compared to USC’s 6-10, and found its inexperienced secondary struggling as well.

Scheduling isn’t exactly the primary culprit for the Bears’ problems on the field. A host of other issues have hounded the team this season, long before the quirks of the schedule revealed themselves. And after all, the team has a few extra days to prepare for juggernaut No. 4 Washington. Maybe that will help the Bears avoid the result all of us are expecting.

Michelle Lee covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @michelle_e_lee.