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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Football: Bears roar to victory in season opener

Not even the spectacular Grambling State marching band could rescue its football team Saturday against Cal.

The Golden Bears rang up a school-record 52 first-half points and rolled to a 73-14 victory in their season opener in front of 60,606 delighted fans at Memorial Stadium.

The crowd was entertained at halftime by the “World Famed Tiger Marching Band” after watching the Bears hit all the right notes in the first half. Jared Goff threw three touchdown passes to Kenny Lawler and the defense scored on interception returns by Cameron Walker and Devante Downs.

Goff assembled his 13th career 300-yard passing game in the first half alone, then watched the rest from the sideline as the Bears easily dispatched their Football Championship Subdivision foe from Louisiana.

“I think we just wanted to go out there and be sharp,” Goff said. “In almost all facets, we were pretty sharp on almost every drive.”

Two seasons removed from a 1-11 debut under coach Sonny Dykes, the Bears had their second-highest point total in a game since 1937, exceeded only by the 86 points they scored against Pacific in the 1991 opener.

The Bears’ defense, which surrendered a Pac-12-worst 39.8 points per game last season, fell short of racking up the school’s first shutout since a 28-0 win over Arizona in 2005. Grambling scored twice after Cal led 66-0 early in the fourth quarter.

Still, it was a breakthrough day for the defense that had not produced a touchdown in Dykes’ first two seasons.

“The sign of a good defensive football team is when they can create havoc,” said Dykes of a unit that intercepted four passes and had three sacks.

“Hopefully, it’s the first step of our defense getting on the same level as our offense,” Walker said. “We’ve been talked bad about since I got here. It’s finally time to get rid of that and make forward strides.”

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Football: Cal vs. Grambling game thread

FINAL: Cal 73, Grambling State 14.

The Bears finish with their second-highest point total in a game since 1937, exceeded only by the 86 points they scored against Pacific in 1991.

Chase Forrest was 10 for 17 for 162 yards, including a 63-yard TD pass to Bug Rivera, nephew to former Cal star linebacker and Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

Halftime: Cal 52, Grambling State 0.

It’s the most points the Bears have EVER scored in any half of football, eclipsing the 51 they rang up against Pacific in 1991. Cal won that one 86-24.

Jared Goff at halftime: 24 for 32 for 309 yards and three touchdowns — all of them to Kenny Lawler — covering 3, 19 and 16 yards. Three of the eight passes Goff did not complete — including his one interception — were dropped or deflected by his own receivers.

Redshirt freshman Chase Forrest has started the third quarter. As expected, Goff is done for the afternoon.

Interception returns for touchdowns of 14 yards by Cameron Walker and 8 yards by Devante Downs.

TD runs of 4 yards by Daniel Lasco and 2 yards by Vic Enwere. And a 20-yard field goal by Matt Anderson.

Cal has not shut out an opponent since a 28-0 won over Arizona on Oct. 1, 2005 — nearly 10 years and 120 games ago.

Total yards at half: Cal 415, Grambling 128.

First downs: Cal 19, Grambling 9.

Halftime marching band score: Grambling in a rout.

Attendance: 60,606. And they’re loving all of this — the weather, the score, the bands.


Football: Cal vs. Grambling State game facts


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.


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.