BERKELEY -- The first signs of futility arrived Saturday night, after the third game of his first season as football coach at Cal. Sonny Dykes, hired to revive the program, was searching for solutions and coming up empty.
His Golden Bears had lost a game they were expected to lose, 52-34 to Ohio State, the No. 4 team in the country. They were beaten by a better team, and anybody who knows a football from a cashew could see and accept that.
The questions that stalked Dykes, however, were pointed and specific. They were about Golden Bears' consistently ineffective defense.
Cal's habit of falling behind quickly and decisively continued against Ohio State. Six minutes after kickoff, the Bears were down 21-0, burned by two long touchdown passes.
"We talked about it after doing it two weeks in a row and thought we had a trend that was coming," Dykes said. "It is more than a trend."
Playing before a bipartisan sellout crowd (62,467) at Memorial Stadium, Cal allowed more than 500 yards for the third straight game, surrendering 608, all but 47 coming in the first three quarters. More galling, the Golden Bears occasionally appeared unprepared for Ohio State's ability to play fast.
"That's on me," Dykes said. "I got to get that fixed. That's my fault."
Dykes in his postgame news conference accepted a lot of blame. He embraced it. That's typical of college head coaches when they have no answers. They are making millions and should do all they can to shield the unpaid amateurs in uniform.
He never once mentioned defensive coordinator Andy Buh or any member of the defensive staff.
Maybe he could have. Sonny, after all, was hired largely because he knows offense. His obsession with offense is plainly evident. He's a willing gambler and creative thinker, with an affinity for the gadget chapter of his playbook. Cal is scoring a lot of points, generally by throwing the football.
But the Golden Bears are going to lose a lot of games if they can't find a way to concoct a better defense.
Granted, Cal's defense is assembled with Vaseline and pocket lint. It's makeshift and foundering. Being makeshift, as a result of injuries, is fate. Foundering, however, is what coaches are hired to prevent.
"We have some personnel issues," Dykes understated.
"Our job is to win football games," he later added, "We have enough good players to do that."
The search for solutions has to begin with Buh. His unit is being exploited, which invites closer scrutiny, which automatically imperils his job security.
Dykes would not -- and should not -- consider the path of Texas coach Mack Brown, who was so furious with his team's defense that he fired coordinator Manny Diaz two games into this season. It was a panic move by a veteran coach long in place but barely clinging to his legacy.
Dismissing Buh after three games would be downright reckless. He's a rookie in his role at Cal, as is Dykes. They are invested in each other. Considering Sonny's 2012 Louisiana Tech team finished dead last on defense, Buh was his most important hire.
Maybe Buh, who last season coached linebackers at Wisconsin, can spin some magic with what he has. Or maybe he can't. But for Dykes to focus on offense, he needs someone who can shepherd the defense to respectability.
"We need to grow up and get better," Dykes said. "That's falls on us as coaches, to coach better and bring our players along to be in position."
Defensive backs Stefan McClure and Joel Willis said they believe the failures can be corrected, that it's a matter of staying focused and on technique. Such simple solutions seemed lost on Dykes.
This game followed a script similar to that used in the first two games of the Dykes era. It offered thrills on offense and spills on defense. Only against lightly regarded Portland State was that a recipe for victory.
But that script is bound to grow more tiresome by the week.
Not exactly what athletic director Sandy Barbour had in mind when she hired Sonny, and hardly what the coach imagined when he arrived. With two weeks to prepare for the next game, he has plenty of time to chase solutions now out of his range.
Contact Monte Poole at email@example.com.