Football: Cal holds off WSU, 34-28

Safety Damariay Drew’s pass interception with 3½ minutes left helped No. 24 Cal stay unbeaten on Saturday with a shaky 34-28 victory over Washington State in front of 42,042 fans at Memorial Stadium.

Jared Goff completed two third-down passes on the ensuing possession and the Bears (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) went on to equal their best start since 1950. They hadn’t been 5-0 since 2007 and will need to win on the road against No. 10 Utah next Saturday to reach 6-0 for the first time since the Pappy Waldorf era.

A year after outlasting the Cougars (2-2, 0-1) in a back-and-forth 60-59 marathon in Pullman, Washington, the Bears used seven sacks and three takeaways to overcome an uneven performance by the offense.

Drew, who did not attend Cal a year after an assault charge for an on-campus incident in the spring of 2014, stepped in front of WSU receiver Tyler Baker to pick off Luke Falk’s pass at the 10-yard line with 3:29 left.

The Cougars got the ball back at their own 20-yard line with 12 seconds left, but their comeback ran out of time.

Goff passed for 390 yards and four touchdowns, becoming the school’s career leader in that category with 68. Kenny Lawler caught two of the TDs, giving him 22 for his career.

But the Bears’ run game was erratic and Cal turned the ball over twice.

The Bears took a 34-28 lead into the fourth quarter after an action-packed third period.

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Football: Cal vs. WSU facts

RECORDS: Cal 4-0, 1-0 Pac-12; Washington State 2-1, 0-0.

KICKOFF: Saturday, 1 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.

TV/RADIO: Pac-12 Networks/810-AM

SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads 45-26-5. The Bears have won nine of the past 10 meetings, including 60-59 at Pullman, Wash., last season.

STORYLINES: The No. 24 Bears try to improve to 5-0, which would match their best start since 1950, when Cal opened 9-0. The Bears have started 5-0 six times over the past 65 seasons, most recently in 2007. A win sends the Bears into the toughest stretch of their schedule, beginning Oct. 10 at Utah. . . . Cal & WSU played one of the craziest games in the country last season, with the Bears surviving an NCAA-record passing performance by WSU quarterback Connor Halliday to win when the Cougars missed a 19-yard field goal in the final seconds.

INJURY UPDATE: Cal: RB Daniel Lasco (hip), DE DeVante Wilson (foot) and Saf Griffin Piatt (knee) will play; OT Brian Farley (ankle) is questionable. Washington State: DB Isaac Dotson (concussion) is probable; WR C.J. Dimry (undisclosed), Saf Suli Hameed (undisclosed), DE T.J. Fehoko (undisclosed) and K Matt Abramo (undisclosed) are out.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cal quarterback Jared Goff vs. WSU cornerback Marcellus Pippins. The two first met three years ago in the North Coast Section Division III championship game, won 31-28 by Goff’s Marin Catholic High in a rainstorm. Pippins, who has one of WSU’s two interceptions this season, was part of an El Cerrito High secondary that helped limit Goff to 110 passing yards. But Goff also ran for 77 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown.

STATS THAT MATTER: Goff’s next touchdown pass will the 65th of his career, breaking the record he currently shares with Kyle Boller (1999-2002) for most in school history. . . . Cal enters the game as the NCAA leader in takeaways with 14. . . . Cal & WSU combined for 1,401 yards of total offense last season, including 1,261 through the air. The game featured eight touchdowns in the third quarter alone. . . . Cal’s most recent win as a ranked team came more than six years ago, on Sept. 19, 2009 against Minnesota.


Football: Improved Cal pass defense faces test in WSU

One year after allowing 42 touchdown passes – the most ever surrendered by a Football Bowl Subdivision team – the Cal defense has assembled this startling statistic:

Through four games, the No. 24 Bears have as many interception returns for touchdowns (2) as touchdown passes allowed.

The challenge will be substantially tougher Saturday when the Bears (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) take on Washington State (2-1, 0-0) at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is 1 p.m.

After facing a series of opponents with immature passing games, Cal gets a look at one of the nation’s most prolific air attacks. A year ago, in a 60-59 Cal win, Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday threw six touchdowns and set an NCAA single-game record with 734 passing yards.

“This is going to be the real true test of how well we can defend the pass,” senior safety Stefan McClure added. “It’s been exciting to see how confident this group has been. I’m eager to see how we’re going to match up and how we’re going to respond to the challenge.”

“They’re as good as anyone in the country throwing the football,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said.

The Bears are aiming for their first 5-0 start since 2007 after posting road wins at Texas and Washington. The schedule ramps up considerably beginning next week, when Cal plays consecutive games against Utah, UCLA, USC and Oregon – three of them on the road.

For now, the Cougars passing game provides challenge enough.

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Football: What we learned about Cal in Seattle

With its 30-24 road win over Washington, Cal is 4-0 — two-thirds the way to bowl eligibility with home games ahead against the Pac-12 North’s weakest teams: Washington State and Oregon State.

So what should we now think about Cal?

Will the Bears ascend to the Top-25? Should they?

Should our expectations for Cal be raised? Given Oregon’s stunning 62-20 home loss to Utah, could the Bears actually aspire to dueling Stanford for Pac-12 North supremacy?

OK, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The Bears are unbeaten, but imperfect. Let’s examine what’s working and what still needs work as Cal has completed the first third of the regular season:

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Football: Cal holds off UW, improves to 4-0

After Cal opened the Pac-12 Conference with a 30-24 win over Washington – its first victory here in 10 years – no one in the Bears’ locker room was splitting hairs.

“There’s going to be tens of hundreds of things we could have done better,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “We’re not worried about that now.”

In front of 61,066 fans on Saturday, the Bears reversed ages of bad fortune in Husky Stadium, where they had won just three times in 16 tries since 1976. They also:

— Improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2007

— Won on the road for the second straight week

— And opened conference play with a victory for the first time since ’08.

Coach Sonny Dykes acknowledged the dropped passes, kickoff coverage issues and red-zone failures. He also saluted his team for generating five turnovers, five sacks and delivering a 3-for-3 effort on field goals.

“We hung in there. We didn’t play great . . . but I thought the defense played lights-out,” he said.

Defensive end Kyle Kragen, who had 2½ sacks, forced a fumble and broke up a pass, said the Bears’ growing belief was unshaken even after they squandered most of the 27-7 lead they built early in the third quarter.

“Just the general sentiment is we’re going to get the job done somehow, no matter what bad stuff happens,” he said.

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Football: Kenny Lawler is Cal’s touchdown maker

Cal linebacker Michael Barton fondly calls teammate Kenny Lawler “a circus freak.”

When the Bears unfold their big-top offensive show at Washington on Saturday in the Pac-12 Conference opener for both teams, Lawler will be center stage.

The 6-foot-3 junior receiver, equipped with long arms and hands that fill triple-XL gloves, has become one of the league’s most dangerous red-zone targets for a team averaging 51 points.

There are six Pac-12 players on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. They have combined for eight touchdown receptions this season. Lawler, who inexplicably isn’t on the list (yet), has five TDs all by himself to share the NCAA lead.

Cal (3-0) feels it has a score to settle with the Huskies (2-1), who squelched the high-scoring Bears 31-7 in Berkeley last season. “We have a little vendetta,” Lawler said.

Despite losing four defensive players taken in the first two rounds of last spring’s NFL draft, the Huskies continue to excel on that side of the ball. UW ranks first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (11.0 points per game) and total defense (267.7 yards per game) and has yet to give up a touchdown pass.

Still, Washington defensive backs coach Jimmy Lakes said Lawler is very much on the Huskies’ radar. “He’s a very, very talented receiver,” Lakes told reporters in Seattle. “He attacks the ball in the air and goes and gets it. Very aggressive. It’s almost a DB mentality as a wide receiver.

“He’s going to be hard to cover.”

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Football: Cal vs. Washington facts

RECORDS: Cal 3-0; Washington 2-1.

KICKOFF: Saturday, 2 p.m. at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

TV/RADIO: Pac-12 Networks/810-AM

SERIES HISTORY: Washington leads 52-38-4. The Huskies won 31-7 last season and have won the past six meetings. Cal’s most recent win in Seattle was a 56-17 victory in 2005.

STORYLINES: The Bears can be 4-0 for the first time since 2007 with a win in their Pac-12 opener. . . A victory moves the Bears within two victories of being eligible for their first bowl game since 2011. . . . The game shapes up as a duel between the Cal offense (51.0 ppg) and the UW defense (11.0 ppg). No team handcuffed the Bears’ offensively in 2014 as effectively as UW. . . .Cal running back Daniel Lasco, who ran for 1,115 yards last season, is a game-time decision. Safety Damariay Drew (foot) will start. . . . Nine players with Bay Area roots are on the UW depth chart, including defensive starters Travis Feeney of Richmond and Kevin King of San Leandro.

INJURY UPDATE: Cal: RB Daniel Lasco (hip) and DE DeVante Wilson (foot) are questionable; WR Matt Rockett (knee), WR Jack Austin (foot), Saf Griffin Piatt (knee) and LB Aisea Tongilava (toe) are out; Washington: Saf Budda Baker (ankle) and OG Jake Eldrenkamp (unknown) are questionable.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cal running game vs. Washington run defense. The Bears are coming off a 280-yard rushing game at Texas – their best performance in 27 games under coach Sonny Dykes. But the run game stalled in the fourth quarter, allowing UT to rally from 21 points down in a 45-44 Cal win. Washington, which held the Bears to 64 yards on the ground a year ago, is the Pac-12 leader in the category, allowing 93 yards per game.

STATS THAT MATTER: Quarterback Jared Goff, with 62 touchdown passes, needs three to break Kyle Boller’s Cal career record. Goff has thrown three TDs in each of the Bears’ first three games. . . . Junior Khalfani Muhammad is averaging 12.1 yards per rush. . . . Cal beat UW five straight times from 2002 through 2006, but otherwise is 1-26 overall against the Huskies since 1977, including a 19-game losing streak through 2001. . . . Cal leads the Pac-12 in turnovers gained (9) and interceptions (7).


Football: Cal survives Texas comeback, claim biggest win under coach Sonny Dykes

Quarterback Jared Goff said the Cal football team was probably lucky but ultimately deserving of its crazy 45-44 win over Texas in front of 91,568 fans at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

Darius White’s block of a PAT kick with 1:11 left made sure Sonny Dykes got the chance to enjoy a big hug afterward from his father, whose football roots in Texas sparked the Cal coach’s entry into the business.

Two years removed from a 1-11 season in Dykes’ debut, the Bears improved to 3-0 and beat the Longhorns for the first time in six tries dating back to 1959.

Asked about securing a signature victory for his program, Dykes said, “I don’t even know what that means. We’re 3-0 and if we win next week we’ll be 4-0.”

The 2015 version of Texas (1-2) is a work in progress, but the Bears took a huge step against a traditional powerhouse that had outscored Cal 155 to 28 in five previous meetings. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Bears were barely competitive against elite competition, 0-17 in games against USC, Stanford, Oregon and Ohio State.

The Bears, 3-0 for the first time since 2011, open Pac-12 play at Washington next Saturday.

Cal trailed by 10 points with 1:32 left in the first half, responded by scoring 31 straight points for a 45-24 lead entering the fourth quarter, then held on for dear life as redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard took them on a carnival ride.

“It felt a lot like Arizona last year. Luckily, it ended up like Washington State,” said Goff, referring to a fourth-quarter collapse in a loss at Tucson and a bizarre 60-59 win secured when WSU missed a short field goal at the finish.

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Football: Bears celebrate a big defensive effort

It was exactly 1,400 days earlier – when Jared Goff was 17 years old and Sonny Dykes was coaching at Louisiana Tech – since Cal’s defense held an opponent to fewer than 10 points.

“That’s the first look at the new and improved Cal defense,” Goff, the junior quarterback, said after the Bears held San Diego State scoreless on their final 13 possessions in a 35-7 win in front of 50,830 fans at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

“I look forward to a lot more of that coming up,” Goff said.

No one could have been happier – or perhaps more relieved – than Dykes, whose defense delivered its best performance during his tenure as Cal coach. In 22 games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams his first two years the Bears held just one opponent under 30 points.

“It was almost like an old-fashioned football game. I had to pinch myself,” Dykes said. “It was great to see our defense play this way. I’m really proud of those guys. It’s amazing what confidence will mean to a young person.”

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Football: Cal 35, San Diego State 7

FINAL: Cal 35, San Diego State 7.

Jared Goff three touchdowns, but the Cal defense was the star of the show in front of 50,830 fans at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

An anchor that dragged down the Bears on a weekly basis last year, the Cal defense forced two turnovers and held the Aztecs without a point on their final 13 possessions after allowing a touchdown on the game’s opening drive.

For the first time in coach Sonny Dykes’ 26 games, the Bears held an opponent to a single touchdown.

The Pac-12’s worst defense a year ago, allowing 39.8 points per game, Cal has now surrendered just 21 points in its first two games. In 2014, the Bears held just one of 11 FBS opponents under 30 points.

Goff threw one touchdown each to Darius Powe, Maurice Harris and Trevor Davis and finished with 321 yards on 17-for-24 accuracy. He moved past Kyle Boller into second place on Cal’s career passing yardage record with 8,111, but did not attempt a pass in the fourth quarter and finished 15 yards shy of equaling Troy Taylor’s 26-year-old standard.

The Bears (2-0) now head to Texas next Saturday to take on a rebuilding Longhorns program they have not beaten in five tries dating back to 1959.

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