BERKELEY, Calif. – The Sonny Dykes Era has been as advertised in his first three games as California's coach: the offense is piling up points, and the defense has been a dud.
Freshman Jared Goff threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns in another prolific performance that was wasted by a dreadful defensive display in Cal's 52-34 loss to No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday night.
The Golden Bears (1-2) fell behind 21-0 in the first 6 minutes and allowed 608 total yards — the third straight week they've given up more than 500 yards — despite Kenny Guiton making his first career start at quarterback for the Buckeyes.
"I don't really know the answer to that honestly," Dykes said. "We have just started so poorly now for three weeks. It's something that as a coaching staff we've talked a lot about and talked to the players about. Don't really have an answer at this point. It's something we're going to have to figure out and get fixed."
The same formula that got Dykes hired is starting to resurface out West.
Louisiana Tech led the nation with an average of 51.5 points under Dykes last season. But the Bulldogs ranked last in the country in yards allowed (526.1) and 116th in points (38.5) per game.
Cal allowed 508 yards in a loss to Northwestern and 553 in a close win over Portland State, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision. To put that in perspective: the Bears allowed 500 yards at home four times in Jeff Tedford's 11-year tenure.
The strenuous September schedule is not getting any easier, either. After a bye next week, Cal heads on the road for an even more difficult defensive test at No. 2 Oregon.
"We got to get better. I think Oregon had like 25,000 yards today against Tennessee," Dykes said.
The most positive development for Dykes so far is he has seemingly found a quarterback to lead his fast-paced passing attack.
Goff just missed his third straight 400-yard game to begin his career. He finished 31 for 53 passing but also threw an interception in the first quarter to put the Bears in a hole they could never escape.
"I felt like we had a good chance to make some plays early on," Goff said. "We kind of fell behind the eight ball there going down 21-0. That kind of hurt. But I was proud of the way we fought back. We never quit."
Unlike Goff, Guiton waited until his fifth year at Ohio State to get his first start in place of the injured Braxton Miller. Two plays into the game, he was already in the Buckeyes' record book.
Guiton threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first six minutes, including a school-record 90-yard pass to Devin Smith, as Ohio State (3-0) rolled to its 15th straight victory.
The injury-ravaged Bears defense did little to slow down Urban Meyer's spread offense, failing to end drives even when they came close. The Buckeyes converted all four fourth-down attempts.
"I think our main issue is eye progression," said Cal cornerback Joel Willis, a former wide receiver. "We keep losing eye progression on the No. 1 receiver and they keep getting behind us."
With both teams running no-huddle offenses for much of the game, the defenses scrambled to keep up. The teams combined for 86 points, 11 touchdowns and 1,111 total yards on 177 plays.
Goff got little help from the running game or defense. Brendan Bigelow, who rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns on four carries last year against Ohio State was held to 39 yards on 11 carries in the rematch.
Despite that fast start, the Buckeyes only led 31-20 at the half as Goff threw a pair of TD passes and Dykes pulled out all the stops.
On fourth-and-8 late in the half, Dykes appeared to send the punting unit out. But Goff, who wears the same number as punter Cole Leininger, lined up in punt formation and threw an 11-yard pass to Stefan McClure that set up Vincenzo D'Amato's 43-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
"I don't think we're that far off," Dykes said. "We're a very young football team. If you just compare the roster in terms of starters, I think we had two seniors that started for us today. I think they had like 14, 15. That's a big difference. We just got to grow up. We've got to improve. That falls on us as coaches to coach better and bring our players along and put them in a good position to be successful."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP