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Football: Jeff Tedford’s last great recruiting class rises up for improving Cal defense

It was a play the Cal defense never would have made last season, but the Bears’ long-dormant recruiting Class of 2011 came to the rescue.

With the Bears leading 7-0 midway through the first quarter of their opener at Northwestern three weeks ago, the Wildcats’ Warren Long took a handoff into the line on fourth-and-1 from Cal’s 22, and was stuffed for no gain.

Defensive end Brennan Scarlett and safety Stefan McClure got credit for the tackle that helped propel the Bears to a 31-24 victory, but teammates point to tackle Mustafa Jalil, who shoved the Northwestern guard back into the ball carrier.

“He basically stopped the whole play,” linebacker Jalen Jefferson said.

Did the Bears ever make such a timely play on defense last year, when they allowed nearly 46 points per game and went 1-11? Of course, Jalil, Scarlett and McClure — all part of a heralded 2011 recruiting class — never were on the field together last fall.

Injuries dismantled the Bears, with Jalil, Scarlett, McClure, safety Avery Sebastian and linebacker Nathan Broussard — all potential starters — combining to play six games in 2013.

Two years earlier, those players arrived at Cal with big dreams, part of what Scout.com rated as the 16th-best recruiting class in the country. The class also included Jefferson and five-star defensive tackle Viliama Moala, who turned pro after his junior season last fall but went undrafted.

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Football: 2015 schedule announced

Cal will open the 2015 Pac-12 Conference schedule with a Sept. 26 game at Washington, the conference announced Tuesday night.

The Bears will play at Stanford in the Big Game on Nov. 21, then close the regular season with a Nov. 28 home game against Arizona State.

Their one non-Saturday game will be a Thursday, Oct. 22 matchup at UCLA.

Cal misses Colorado and Arizona on next season’s schedule.

Cal will open the 2015 season with home games against Grambling and San Diego State before its Sept. 19 matchup with Texas.

2015 CAL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 – Grambling at Cal

Sept. 12– San Diego State at Cal

Sept. 19 — Cal at Texas

Sept. 26 — Cal at Washington

Oct. 3 — Washington State at Cal

Oct. 10 — Cal at Utah

Oct. 17 — bye

Oct. 22 — Cal at UCLA

Oct. 31 — USC at Cal

Nov. 7 — Cal at Oregon

Nov. 14 — Oregon State at Cal

Nov. 21 — Cal at Stanford

Nov. 28 — Arizona State at Cal

Dec. 4 or 5 — Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium

 

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Football: Bears say confidence preceded wins

When it comes to his Cal football team’s growing confidence, coach Sonny Dykes says the chicken arrived before the egg.

“I think it’s different, not because we won some games,” Dykes said of his team’s demeanor, “but we won some games because it’s different, if that makes sense.”

In other words, on the heels of a 1-11 season, Dykes saw good things coming, even before the Bears beat Northwestern 31-24 on the road in their opener.

“Our players have grown up, they’re more mature, they have more confidence, they’ve worked harder,” Dykes said. “All that stuff happened prior to us having some success. So honestly, they expected to have success.”

At 2-0 coming off their bye week, the Bears face their stiffest challenge yet on Saturday in Tucson, where they meet 3-0 Arizona in the Pac-12 Conference opener for both teams.

Quarterback Jared Goff said the vibe around the team was more positive all throughout fall camp, climaxing at Northwestern.

“We knew going into that game — obviously we weren’t making any guarantees — but we had a very strong feeling we were so prepared no one could beat us on that day,” Goff said.

“We just gained so much mental momentum, emotional momentum. When the win came, it reaffirmed that for us. We just feel great right now, going into this game as well.”

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Football: Will BYU be unbeaten when it visits Cal?

While watching BYU beat Houston on Thursday night to improve to 3-0, I wondered when the Cougars are likely to face a team that might beat them.

I came to this conclusion: BYU will be 11-0 when it visits Cal on Nov. 29.

That will have the Cougars – and their fans — convinced they ought to be in the mix for the College Football Playoff.

In the meantime, BYU fans will be cheering hard for Cal to have a good season, because the Cougars’ strength-of-schedule will need it.

Playing as an independent, BYU faces a schedule that won’t much impress the playoff committee: Utah State, Central Florida, Nevada, Boise State, Middle Tennessee, UNLV, Savannah State and Cal.

Hardly a gauntlet.

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Here’s the rest of Cal’s schedule, with my best guess of the record their opponents will bring on game day:

• at Arizona, Sept. 20: The Wildcats (2-0) will be 3-0 when the Bears visit after facing Nevada on Saturday. The Wolfpack beat Washington State last weekend and two years ago spoiled Memorial Stadium’s reopening. But they’ll be no match for Arizona.

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Football: In 2nd round, Bears lose out on McKinley

Below is staff writer Phil Jensen’s story:

Contra Costa College defensive end/linebacker Takkarist McKinley is headed to UCLA after signing with the school Thursday afternoon.

McKinley, a former Kennedy-Richmond star, signed a national letter of intent with Cal in February 2013, but was deemed a non-qualifier by the university. Instead, he played for the Comets and had 10 sacks as a freshman.

A paperwork error was the cause for him being deemed a non-qualifier, McKinley said. According to a text from Contra Costa College coach Alonzo Carter, “the (NCAA) clearinghouse didn’t calculate his summer school grades from his 11th grade summer school.”

Once the mistake was discovered, he was cleared to enroll. He said he will arrive at UCLA on Tuesday.

“I want to play with the best,” said McKinley, who has four years to play three seasons. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

McKinley said that in addition to UCLA, he also considered Arizona State, Oklahoma, Missouri, USC, Oregon and Cal before signing with the Bruins. He said UCLA had been his number one school since he took an unofficial visit in the summer.

McKinley was rated a four-star defensive end in the JC ranks by rivals.com.

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Football: Fast starts, red zone improvement key 2-0 record

Through two games, the Cal football team has repaired two areas of its game that consistently torpedoed the Bears a year ago.

Chronically poor starters a year ago, the Bears have been quick out of the gate in their wins over Northwestern and Sacramento State, scoring on long drives to open both games, then steadily adding to their lead.

That’s because Cal has efficiently taken advantage of its opportunities in the red zone. They have crossed the opponent’s 20-yard line 11 times, scoring every time and converting touchdowns on eight of them.

That’s in stark contrast to a year ago when the Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 in red zone efficiency, converting 72 percent overall, including just 48.8 percent for TDs.

“Those are things that just come down to execution,” said coach Sonny Dykes, whose Bears (2-0) have a bye this week before visiting Arizona on Sept. 20 to open Pac-12 play.

“A lot of it, particularly at the beginning of the game, is having some focus coming out of the locker room. That’s just maturity, guys just understanding the importance of it.”

Cal, outscored 335-146 in the first half last season, held halftime leads of 31-7 and 45-7 against Northwestern and Sac State, respectively.

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Cal’s Sept. 20 game at Arizona has been set for a 7 p.m. PT kickoff. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.,

 

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Football: Cal vs. Sac State game thread

Click here to read my game story and see staff photographer Kristopher Skinner’s photo slideshow.

*****

FINAL: Cal 55, Sac State 14. The Bears, at 2-0, have exceeded their victory total of all last season. They will enjoy a bye week before opening Pac-12 play at Arizona on Sept. 20. Sac State is 1-1. Cal finished with 579 yards to 302 for the Hornets. Cal used 75 players, including five quarterbacks. Sac State finished with 302 total yards, but had just 15 net yards on its first eight possessions before coach Sonny Dykes pulled his first team.

END OF THIRD QUARTER: Cal 55, Sac State 14. After Griffin Piatt’s interception in the end zone prevented the Hornets from creeper closer than 48-14, Sonny Dykes returned his first offense to the field. They needed just three plays to cover 80 yards, as Goff passed 55 yards to Trevor Davis, then fired a 12-yard TD pass to Chris Harper. Goff, who is surely finished for the day, is 17 for 22 for 229 yards with four TDs. He has seven TDs in two games this season. Cal’s yardage edge through three quarters: 507-266. One stat the Bears can’t be happy about: 10 penalties for 100 yards.

HALFTIME: Cal 45, Sacramento State 7: The Hornets avoided the shutout by scoring off Cal’s second defense in the final minute of the half. Some quick numbers: Cal with 398 yards to 82 for Sac State. Rush: Cal 152 yards, Sac St minus-12. Cal has 19 first downs to 9 for the visitors. Goff is 15 for 20 for 162 yards and 3 TDs. Rubenzer is 3 for 4 for 84 yards and a TD, and has rushed 6 times for 34 yards and another score. Lasco has 8 carries for a career-best 89 yards.  Sacks for the Bears: Scarlett, Barr & freshman Devante Downs. I would expect we would see Goff for one more offensive series (at the most) and that senior Austin Hinder gets some serious chance to play the rest of the rest. Also look for those freshmen RBs Tre Watson and Vic Enwere.

END OF FIRST QTR: Cal 28, Sac State 0. Well, that was decisive. Three TD passes for Jared Goff — who has six after five quarters this season — and one by freshman Luke Rubenzer. Goff is 8 for 11 for 76 yards, Rubenzer 2 for 2 for 73 yards. Sac State QB Garrett Safron is 3 for 9 for 31 yards. Cal has 197 yards to 26 for Sac State. First downs are 9 to 3. Average yards per play 8.2 yards for Cal, 1.6 yards for Sac. The Hornets have some defensive issues.

*****

A beautiful late morning at Memorial Stadium. A smallish crowd so far, with the players about to take the field for the opening kickoff.

Cal wins the coin toss, elects to receive the opening kickoff.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffFaraudo

 

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Football: Cal vs. Sacramento State facts

CAL vs. SACRAMENTO STATE

KICKOFF: Saturday, noon at Memorial Stadium, Berkeley.

TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 810-AM.

RECORDS: Cal 1-0, 0-0 in Pac-12; Sacramento State 1-0, 0-0 in Big Sky.

SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads 1-0. The Bears beat the Hornets 41-3 in 2005.

STORYLINES: Cal tries to avoid a letdown against an FCS-level team and build on its 31-24 opening win at Northwestern. A victory would double the Bears’ win total of a year ago and provide nice momentum headed into a bye week. … Sac State has had some success against the Pac-12, with a 30-28 win at Colorado in 2012 and a 29-28 overtime win at Oregon State in 2011. Last season, the Hornets were mashed 55-0 at Arizona State. … The Bears hope to ramp up their ground game after getting just 77 rushing yards from their running backs against NU. … The Hornets are coached by Jody Sears, originally hired as defensive coordinator after last season, then promoted after head coach Marshall Sperber stepped down in April amid an inquiry into possible recruiting violations. Sears was 4-19 the past two seasons as head coach at Weber State.

INJURY UPDATE: Cal: MLB Nathan Broussard (knee), Saf Quentin Tartabull (knee), RB Jeffrey Coprich (foot) and DE Harrison Wilfley (finger) are out; CB Darius White (shoulder) and Saf Avery Sebastian (quad) are questionable; Sacramento State: None reported.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cal quarterback Luke Rubenzer vs. Sac State middle linebacker Darnell Sankey. Coming off the bench, Rubenzer stunned Northwestern with a game-high 48 rushing yards, three times negotiating first downs. He won’t have the element of surprise against the Hornets, who are likely to use 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior Sankey, a San Jose native, to track Rubenzer when he enters the game. Sankey had 10 tackles, forced a fumble and return an interception 59 yards for a TD last week against Incarnate Word.

STATS THAT MATTER: Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff’s three touchdown passes at Northwestern marked the seventh time in 13 career games he’s thrown multiple TD in a game. … Cal can start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2011. … Cal has averaged 49 points in its seven games against FCS opponents. … The Pac-12 has a combined record of 94-11 against FCS teams since 1978, when the NCAA began differentiating between what were then called Division I and I-AA programs.

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Football: Bears won’t take Sacto St for granted

Cal, which faces Sacramento State on Saturday in its home opener, is 7-0 all-time vs. Football Championship Subdivision opponents.

Coach Sonny Dykes knows the matchup might prompt yawns from some fans, but dismissed the suggestion this amounts to an automatic victory.

“They obviously haven’t coached in many of these games,” Dykes said. “These teams have won too many times to even go into it.”

Sacramento State has accounted for two of three wins by FCS teams over the Pac-12 in the past three seasons, and it was only a year ago that schools formerly classified as Division I-AA enjoyed their most startling weekend at the expense of the bigger Football Bowl Subdivision programs.

Seven FCS teams took down FBS opponents during opening week last season, including these three:

• Eastern Washington became only the third FCS team to upset a Top-25 team with its 49-45 win at Oregon State.

• McNeese State’s 53-21 rout of South Florida represented the most points ever scored by an FCS team against an FBS foe.

• North Dakota State solidified its status as the little program every FBS program should avoid with a 24-21 win over defending Big 12 co-champion Kansas State. Iowa State didn’t get the message in time to avoid a 34-14 loss last Saturday, extending the Bison’s streak to five seasons featuring an FBS victory.

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Cal’s scores against FCS teams:

2013: d. Portland State 37-30

2012: d. Southern Utah 50-31

2011: d. Presbyterian 63-12

2010: d. UC Davis 52-3

2009: d. Eastern Washington 59-7

2006: d. Portland State 42-16

2005: d. Sacramento State 41-3