New coach Sonny Dykes ready to unveil his brand of offense at Cal 

BERKELEY — Like Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, the newest mind in Bay Area football is a coach's son.

Cal's Sonny Dykes grew up around the game, hanging out at Texas Tech practice as his father, Spike Dykes, a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, coached the Red Raiders from 1987 to '99.

But when Dykes threw on the headset, embarking on his own coaching career, he took a philosophical path that diverged from his father's approach.

"He was a defensive guy," Dykes said. "His thoughts on winning football were different."

Dykes' reputation as one of the brightest offensive minds in college football helped him land the coaching gig at Cal after Jeff Tedford's ouster last fall. In 2012, his Louisiana Tech team led the nation in scoring (51.5 points per game) and total offense (578 yards per game), and now he's bringing the show — known as Bear Raid — to Strawberry Canyon. The new offense takes center stage Aug. 31 when Cal kicks off the 2013 season against No.22 Northwestern at Memorial Stadium.

"We've done a good job of executing the offense in practice," Dykes said. "Now, we've got to see if we can carry it over on to the field."

The 43-year-old Texas native was first introduced to the spread offense when he took a graduate assistant coaching position at Kentucky in 1997. He lived frugally, ate ramen noodles and fell in love with coach Hal Mumme's innovative offense, a departure from his father's defensive-minded approach.

In 2000, Dykes moved on to Texas Tech, where he coached under another Mumme disciple, Mike Leach, and, in 2007, he took over as offensive coordinator at Arizona for the next three years.

In 2010, Dykes took the helm at Louisiana Tech and hired Tony Franklin, another former Kentucky coach to be his offensive coordinator. Together, they developed an up-tempo version of the spread offense that's popular throughout college football right now.

"In football, you need to keep trying to stay ahead of the curve," Dykes said. "With Tony, it was a marriage of a good scheme and someone who understood pace."

Dykes and Franklin didn't coin the term Bear Raid and they say it's misleading because they don't run a traditional spread offense, which typically involves four- and five-receiver sets.

"We're a multiple-formation team," Franklin said. "We'll be in three-back sets, two-tight end sets, we'll put eight offensive lineman on the field. The one thing people will notice is that we play fast. We usually throw first, run second, but it balances itself out."

Franklin said he runs 13 basic plays — eight passes, five runs — that he calls concepts, a departure from Tedford's offense off more than 500 plays. Each concept has multiple variations of the same play.

"Once you know a concept, you know the entire deal," Franklin said.

Rather than creating deception through shifting formations, a staple of Stanford's offense, Franklin fools defenses with his up-tempo pace. Last year, the Bulldogs averaged 88 offensive plays a game.

The key to the offense is strong fundamentals, throwing accuracy and fast decision-making.

Dykes and Franklin like to spread everything out, relying on timing routes in space: quick screens and perimeter outs combined with vertical passing. They offset their aerial attack with an inside power running game and run the offense through the center, not the quarterback.

But do the Bears have the right personnel to run this attack effectively?

Franklin said with young and athletic receivers Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler, the Bears already possess the right pieces. He said the running backs — junior Brendan Bigelow and sophomore Daniel Lasco — will complement the passing game with their ability to explode in open space.

"The talent is here, we're just young," Franklin said.

The biggest question mark heading into the season is the learning curve of true freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who won the starting job by beating out former first-team All-American Zach Kline.

Throughout fall camp, Goff threw with accuracy and demonstrated the necessary decision-making skills to steer the Bear Raid offense.

"It's very simplistic — very simplistic," Goff said.

An offense that depends on perfect synchronicity could take time to gel. It's naive to assume it will be as effective this season as it will be in three years, when the freshmen and sophomores are juniors and seniors.

But Dykes is more than just an offensive guru and Franklin said many of the traits he inherited from his father will pay off as he navigates his first season at Cal.

"His father will tell you, 'It's never about the building, it's about the people,'" Franklin. "Sonny's gift is taking care of everyone so we can concentrate on football."

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Paul Gackle

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