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Football: Cal vs. Grambling State game facts

CAL VS. GRAMBLING STATE

2014 RECORDS: Cal 5-7, 3-6 in the Pac-12. Grambling State 7-5, 6-2 in SWAC.

KICKOFF: 2 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.

TV: Pac-12 Networks.

RADIO: KGO 810.

SERIES HISTORY: First meeting.

STORYLINES: As a 43 1/2-point favorite, Cal is not expected to be seriously challenged in this one, but the game will be a proving ground of sorts for various players or position groups. Will newly installed kicker Matt Anderson deliver? Can the Bears’ secondary contain what appears to be a strong Grambling receiving corps? Can the revamped defensive front pressure and contain dual-threat quarterback Johnathan Williams? Can the offensive line allow the Bears to begin establishing the running game they hope will balance their attack? We won’t have all the answers after one game, but perhaps a hint of things to come.

INJURY UPDATE: Cal — S Griffin Piatt (knee) and LB Aisea Tongilava (toe) are out. LB Nathan Broussard (knee) is probable. Grambling — None reported.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cal’s offensive line vs. Grambling’s pass rush. The Tigers recorded 45 sacks last year to lead the Football Championship Subdivision. Cal coach Sonny Dykes said Grambling stunts and blitzes out of a 3-3 alignment, but quarterback Jared Goff said he doesn’t expect pressure to be a significant problem.

STATS THAT MATTER: Cal is 8-0 all-time vs. FCS opponents and Grambling is 2-13 vs. Football Bowl Subdivision teams, without a win since 1985. … Goff enters his junior season needing 546 passing yards to break Troy Taylor’s career school record of 8,126, set 26 seasons ago. … Joe Starkey begins his 41st season as Cal’s radio play-by-play man, making him the sixth-longest tenured radio announcer in the country.

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Football: Bears’ defensive secondary eager to show how much it has improved

Darius Allensworth, part of a Cal defensive secondary that will be in the spotlight until its performance chases away scrutiny, avoids the word “pressure.”

“When people have a lot of pressure on them they tend to mess up. I’d say we have expectations,” said Allensworth, a sophomore who will make his first career start Saturday when the Bears open the season against Grambling State.

“Cal fans expect us to be better. And me and D-White, we expect us to be better,” Allensworth said, referring to fellow cornerback Darius White. “We don’t really have pressure.”

By any name, there will be attention on a Cal defensive backfield that last season allowed 42 touchdown passes, most in history by a Football Bowl Subdivision team. Ten of those were 40 yards or longer, four of them exceeding 80 yards.

“We won’t have too many of those plays this year,” Allensworth suggested.

The Bears should be too strong for Grambling, a Football Championship Subdivision program without a victory over an FBS foe since 1985. But the Tigers, who rebounded from a 1-11 season in 2013 to go 7-5 last fall, will try to match Cal’s aerial firepower.

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Football: From panic to grateful disbelief for Cal’s Aaron Cochran after stranger returns lost wallet

A good citizen with a resourceful mind has strengthened Cal offensive lineman Aaron Cochran’s faith in mankind.

Cochran, 20, was walking back to his parked car after lunch with a friend in Berkeley last Friday when he realized he’d lost his wallet. Inside the wallet was the per-diem cash he’d been given an hour earlier as part of his football scholarship.

“I was in huge panic mode,” said Cochran, who spent more than an hour retracing his steps in hopes of finding the wallet.

No such luck, so he returned to his apartment. “I was just sitting there pouting,” he said.

Cochran was sharing his frustration on social media when he suddenly received a private Twitter message from someone identifying himself as Joe.

“Hey, Aaron. I found your wallet. Call me,” Joe wrote.

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Football: Yes, Bears want to win . . . but by how much?

Quarterback Jared Goff, going all politically correct, said Tuesday the Cal football team would be “happy” if the offense scores just seven points in the opener Saturday as long as it beats Grambling State.

“We just want to win,” Goff said of the matchup against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent that is a 431/2-point underdog. “There’ll probably be a lot more stuff to work on after a win like that.”

Senior wide receiver Bryce Treggs was a bit more definitive.

“At the end of the game, if everybody does their job, we should have somewhere around 50 or 60 points,” Treggs said. “That’s probably me being a little bit confident, but that’s really what we believe.”

Acknowledging he has only seen game tape from last season, Treggs said Grambling plays its defensive backs close to the line of scrimmage. Grambling ranked 108th nationally last season among 121 FCS teams in passing yards allowed.

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Football: Grambling tries to re-establish tradition

While Cal was staggering to a 1-11 record in 2013, things were worse still at Grambling State.

The most famous and successful football program among the traditional black colleges of the South, Grambling not only matched the Bears’ won-lost record but went through three coaches and a six-day player boycott that resulted in one of the 11 defeats.

“We don’t really talk about that,” senior quarterback Johnathan Williams said.

The Tigers, who visit Cal on Saturday in the season opener for both teams, are strictly looking forward these days — but always with an eye on their past.

Broderick Fobbs begins his second season as coach of the small Louisiana school after guiding his alma mater to a 7-5 record last fall. Fobbs, 41, played for legendary Eddie Robinson, who won 408 games during a 55-year coaching career and sent more than 200 players to the NFL, many of them before the big Southern schools were integrated.

“We’re very aware of our history,” Williams said. “Coach Fobbs makes sure we understand where we came from. Sometimes it feels like we’re being coached by Coach Robinson.”

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Football: A quick look at all things Cal football

VITAL SIGNS

Coach — Sonny Dykes, third year

Dykes’ record — 6-18 overall/3-15 Pac-12

Last season — 5-7/3-6 (4th in North)

Returning starters — 13 (eight offense, four defense)

Pac-12 media projection — 3rd in North

LEADERS OF THE PACK

Offense — This is now quarterback Jared Goff’s team and he has weapons all around him. Cal’s receiving corps, led by Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler, is among the best in the Pac-12, and Daniel Lasco leads a deep group of running backs expecting success behind a more established line.

Defense — Young and overmatched on this side most of the past two seasons, the Bears are looking for big seasons from five senior starters — tackle Mustafa Jalil, end Kyle Kragen, safety Stefan McClure, linebacker Jalen Jefferson and cornerback Darius White.

BUSTIN OUT?

Offense — No. 2 running back Vic Enwere, now 6-1, 230 pounds, gives the Bears a north-south runner with power and a year of experience.

Defense — Sophomore defensive end James Looney, a transfer from Wake Forest, has drawn raves from coaches and teammates for his speed and athleticism.

STAT THAT MATTERS

The Bears are 1-19 against Stanford, Oregon, Washington, USC and UCLA the past four years. In two seasons under Dykes they are 0-10 against those five schools, giving up 46.0 points per game and losing by an average 24.7 points. If Cal wants to take climb the Pac-12 ladder, it will have to beat someone other than Oregon State, Washington State and Colorado.

KEY DATE

Sept. 26: at Washington (tba) — Cal will be coming off a tough nonconference road game vs. Texas when it opens Pac-12 play against a Huskies’ team whose 31-7 win in Berkeley last season was the turning point in a year that saw Cal start 4-1 and finish 1-6. If the Bears wants to climb into the upper half of the North Division they need to win in Seattle.

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Football: Can Golden Bears make Year 3 under coach Sonny Dykes their breakthrough campaign?

There are heightened expectations for Cal football in the third year of coach Sonny Dykes’ regime, and they start at the top, in the athletic director’s office.

“Sonny has told me the third year is the great year in the Sonny Dykes system, ” Michael Williams said last spring on the day he was named Cal’s permanent athletic director. “No pressure.”

Williams did have a smile on his face when he said it, but Dykes’ new boss clearly is expecting more in 2015 after seasons of 1-11 and 5-7.

He isn’t the only one. The media picked the Golden Bears to finish third in the Pac-12 North, and the players are anxious to return Cal to a bowl game for the first time since 2011.

“This third year is the change year,” senior defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil said. “All the changes are put into place that will let us finally get over the hump.”

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Football: Cal elects 5 team captains

In a vote of players, Cal elected five team captains Sunday, and coach Sonny Dykes feels great about them.

Chosen by their teammates were senior safety Stefan McClure (for the third straight year), junior quarterback Jared Goff and senior running back Daniel Lasco (each for the second straight year), senior guard Jordan Rigsbee and junior linebacker Hardy Nickerson.

“If the coaches had voted, I think we would have elected the same five guys,” Dykes told reporters. “These guys are all mature, all invested. I’m mainly more comfortable with these guys than in previous years because I know them better. I know what they’re all about.”

Dykes admitted that sometimes coaches “wince” at the choices players make when asked to vote for team captains, for instance, “because this guy was elected because we didn’t have anybody else.”

That wasn’t the case with this group, Dykes said.

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Football: Farley completes Cal’s O-line puzzle

After weeks of fiddling and reshuffling along Cal’s offensive line, the last piece to the puzzle was picking a starter at left tackle.

That became redshirt senior Brian Farley, who officially was named to the spot last week when the Bears revealed their first fall depth chart. Farley beat our sophomore Aaron Cochran for the job.

Asked what put the 6-foot-7, 290-pounder over the top, coach Sonny Dykes said it was consistency.

“That’s what you want to see from offensive linemen. You want to see toughness and consistency,” Dykes said. “We challenged him, told him, `You’ve got to play more physical, got to compete harder.’ He did that and he’s been consistent.

“He’s always been a good athlete, who can do a lot of the things you want tackles to do. He’s stronger now and I think he’s probably more committed than he’s ever been. And I think his performance is much better as a result.”

Farley recalls the conversation when the coaching staff suggested he get a little more aggressive. But it didn’t really begin to show until last spring.

“Something just clicked after the second year with them,” he said. “I just feel bigger, a little more confident, a little more driven. More kind of a time-is-right thing.”

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Football: Cal kicker job still up for grabs

Cal is taking Saturday off – one week before kickoff in its season-opener against Grambling State – and will hold a closed practice Sunday.

A few notes off Friday’s practice:

Just days after Noah Beito was listed as the No. 1 placekicker on the team’s first fall depth chart, coach Sonny Dykes said sophomore Matt Anderson now is the leader.

“Our kicker today would be Matt Anderson,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes through the week.”

In other words, stay tuned.

The situation has become a bit more clear at punter, where incumbent Cole Leininger finally delivered the kind of performance last week that gives confidence to the coaching staff.

“I walked away feeling good. Cole had a good week, was consistent,” Dykes said. “Cole kind of found what he needed to find last week, and I feel real good about where we are now.”

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Dykes is excited to watch senior cornerback Darius White on game day. Last season was a lost cause for the junior college transfer from Mississippi, who was injured on the first day of fall camp, then burned for a 90-yard touchdown pass on his first play against Washington State in his debut.

Dykes said White’s confidence was shaken and he never recovered all season. But he had a strong spring, summer and fall camp and is “settled,” according to Dykes.

“I think he’s going to be one of the elite corners in this league. I think he’s got that kind of talent. He’s playing with that kind of confidence,” Dykes said. “He’s come a long way.”

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Sophomore linebacker Aisea Tongilava missed practice Friday because of a non-football toe injury that was still being assessed. Dykes had no report on Tongilava’s prognosis.

Sophomore offensive tackle Aaron Cochran sat out practice Friday because he wasn’t feeling well.