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Football: Cal-Northwesten game thread

FINAL SCORE: Cal 31, Northwestern 24. OK, you may now exhale.

Click here to read my game story. And my notebook, focusing on freshman Luke Rubenzer.

END OF 3RD QUARTER: Cal 31, Northwestern 21. Well, at 31-7 it looked like the only way the Bears could lose this game was by giving NU some help. And they did just that, when Goff’s pass went off the hands of Lasco and was picked off by LB Collin Ellis. You remember him, right? He had two INTs for TDs against the Bears last year. The Wildcats cashed in on the next play with a nice trick play: QB Trevor Siemian throws a lateral pass to WR Jayme Taylor, who then throws back to Siemian for the TD. That got the Wildcats within 10 points with 2:06 left in the 3rd Q. Cal has responded nicely so far, moving from its own 12 to the NU35, where it will have a first-and-10 when the fourth quarter begins.

HALFTIME: Cal 24, Northwestern 7. Goff was 12 for 18 for 186 yards with three TDs, one each to Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler and Trevor Davis. Cal has a 270-153 edge in total yards, a 14-7 edge in first downs. Hasn’t all been perfect: Cal’s four running backs have combined for 47 yards on 12 carries, just under 4 yards per. Rubenzer ran 9 times for 38 yards, but hasn’t played since being picked off on a pass he should have thrown out of bounds. Cal has held the lead for 23 minutes, 42 seconds — 14 minutes longer than the Bears were ahead of FBS teams all last season. Just one penalty vs. Cal — 5 yards for offsides on a kickoff. And the defense? Cal gave up a staggering 335 points in the first half a year ago, but allowed the Wildcats just one score in six possessions.

END OF 1ST QUARTER: Cal 14, Northwestern 0. Yep, it’s true. Goff threw TD passes of 1 yard to Bryce Treggs and 7 yards to Kenny Lawler and the defense got a stop on a fourth-and-one at its own 22 to snuff NU’s only possession of the game. The revelation has been the contributions of freshman QB Luke Rubenzer, on the field for at least 10 plays. He has run the ball eight times for 36 yards and completed 1 of 2 passes for 9 yards.

*****

Greetings from Ryan Field at Evanston, Ill.

It’s warm, humid, with scattered clouds. But the locals don’t think it will rain. We’ll see.

Will provide periodic updates all afternoon. Or follow me on Twitter at @JeffFaraudo

BTW: All present and accounted for on the Cal roster. DBs Darius White (shoulder) and Avery Sebastian (quad) both dressed and warming up, although still not convinced either will play.

 

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Football: Cal-Northwestern facts

CAL AT NORTHWESTERN

KICKOFF: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. at Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois.

2013 RECORDS: Cal 1-11, 0-9 in Pac-12; Northwestern 5-7, 1-7 in Big Ten.

SERIES HISTORY: Northwestern leads 2-0, including a 44-30 win at Berkeley in 2013. The Wildcats also beat Cal 20-14 on Jan. 1, 1948 in the Rose Bowl.

STORYLINES: Both teams are eager to demonstrate they are much improved after disappointing performances a year ago. Sonny Dykes suffered through the worst debut season of any Cal coach in history, but the Wildcats were only marginally better. They lost their first seven conference games and their five wins came over teams who scored a total of 11 wins over FBS teams last season. They averaged 40.2 points in the wins, 16.0 in their defeats. … For Cal, improvement is expected everywhere, but especially with a defense that allowed 45.9 points per game and on offense in the red-zone, where the Bears converted just 21 of 43 chances for touchdowns.

INJURY UPDATE: Cal: MLB Nathan Broussard (knee), Saf Quentin Tartabull (knee) and RB Jeffrey Coprich (foot) are out; CB Darius White (shoulder) and Saf Avery Sebastian (quad) are questionable; Northwestern: WR Christian Jones (knee) and DT Sean McEvilly (foot) are out.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cal’s offensive line vs. Northwestern’s defensive front. The Bears have been working and talking about running the ball since last season ended. Now we find out if it clicks. The Bears believe they have gotten tougher and stronger. That will be tested against a front four that averages better than 6-foot-4, 289 pounds per man. The Bears netted just 93 rushing yards vs. NU last year, forcing them to throw a school-record 64 passes.

STATS THAT MATTER: Cal’s 14-game losing streak to FBS opponents is twice as long as the next-worst drought in school history. … The Wildcats boast a 16-game home win streak vs. nonconference opponents. … NU is 8-0 in opening games under coach Pat Fitzgerald. … Cal gave up 551 points last season, more than the Bears allowed in 97 games over 10 seasons under coach Andy Smith (1916-25). … Cal has just three starters returning on defense from this game a year ago.

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Football: Bears’ revamped defense in 1st test

After nine months of reinvention in the wake of the worst defensive season in Cal football history, the Golden Bears reboot Saturday at Northwestern.

Here’s what has changed on defense since a gruesome 63-13 loss to Stanford in the Big Game: A new coordinator, two new position coaches, the return of key players who missed last season with injuries, and the arrival of newcomers recruited to fill holes and add depth.

Will the upgrades allow the Bears to be competitive against a schedule that ESPN ranks as the third-toughest in the nation?

“I like what I see,” coach Sonny Dykes said. “I have a lot of confidence in those guys, probably a lot more than I should based on what I saw last year.”

The Bears’ 1-11 season was defined by a defense that allowed 45.9 points per game last season — second-worst in the country and a school record by a significant margin.

Dating back to the end of the 2012 season, Cal has failed to hold an opponent under 30 points for 14 consecutive games. In 11 of those games, the other team scored 40 or more.

Click here for the rest of this story.

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Football: Hanifan to be honored with Seaborg Award

Note: Been a busy week and I’m a couple days late with this. But it’s worth posting now:

Jim Hanifan, a former Cal All-American who led the nation in receiving in 1954 then went on to become an offensive line coaches in the NFL, has been chosen as the recipient of the 2014 Glenn T. Seaborg Award.

The award is named after the former University of California chancellor and 1951 Nobel Prize-winning scientist, and is presented annually to a former Cal football player for his career accomplishments who represents the honored Cal principles and traditions of excellence in academics, athletics, leadership and attitude.

Hanifan will be recognized for the honor during a ceremony during the Cal-Colorado football game on Sept. 27.

“Jim is a terrific example of a Golden Bear football player who has distinguished himself in his chosen profession at a very high level,” said Jack Hart, chair of the Seaborg Award Board of Directors.

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Football notes: Cameron Walker survives freshman nightmare, maturing at cornerback position

Among those whose health endured through last season, perhaps no Cal defensive player had a more difficult experience than Cameron Walker.

When Cal opened its 2013 season against Northwestern, the freshman cornerback was in street clothes watching from Section QQ at Memorial Stadium.

Two weeks later, he was on the field, playing safety against Ohio State.

“Out of respect for him, I’m not going to talk about last year,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, only half-joking.

Walker will be a starting cornerback Saturday when the Bears open their season at Northwestern, a year after injuries forced the coaching staff to burn his redshirt year and play him out of position.

Walker did the best he could, but sometimes the job involved being run over by a fullback or tight end boasting a 60-pound weight advantage.

“Just the physical difference from a 160-something-pound, 17-year-old to grown men out there,” Walker recalled of the physical mismatch he faced. “After this whole year, with strength and conditioning, I feel like I’m one of them now.”

Now a 180-pound sophomore, Walker is regarded as the Bears’ best corner.

“He’s much more comfortable playing that corner spot,” Dykes said. “All that experience he got last year will help him. The game will be a little more simple.”

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Football: Goff goes from timid to team captain

Running back Daniel Lasco has a vivid image of Cal quarterback Jared Goff’s demeanor in his debut game as a freshman last season against Northwestern.

“He was very timid. He had a lot on his plate. Just nervous. He was afraid to make mistakes – that was the biggest thing I saw in him,” Lasco said Tuesday as the Bears continued preparation for this season’s opener at Northwestern in Saturday.

That “timid” freshman actually acquitted himself nicely in the Bears’ 44-30 loss. Forced to pass the ball 63 times, Goff threw for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also was sacked four times and threw three interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns in the fourth quarter by linebacker Collin Ellis.

“For the first time out, I thought it was a heck of a ballgame,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “Hopefully we’re not going to put that kind of pressure on him. He’s a different player.”

“I can’t even put it in words the difference from the Jared Goff in 2013 and right now,” Lasco said.

Goff said he feels more comfortable now, and said everything on the field has slowed down. He’s nervous before every game, he said, but less so now than a year ago.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said of his debut.

How does he think he performed? “Not well enough to win,” Goff said.

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Football: No surprises on 1st Cal depth chart

There were no real surprises on the first Cal depth chart of the fall, released Tuesday morning.

A few things worth noting:

– Junior CB Darius White, slowed throughout fall camp by a jammed shoulder, does not appear anywhere on the depth chart, suggesting he won’t travel to Northwestern.

– Khalfani Muhammad got the nod over Daniel Lasco for the starting job at running back. But Lasco had a strong camp and the Bears intend to use three or four backs.

– Sixth-year senior Austin Clark held off newcomers Trevor Kelly and Tony Mekari for a starting job at DT, opposite Mustafa Jalil.

– As expected, Ray Davison won the SAM linebacker spot, although when the Bears go to a nickel package he is likely to come off in favor of a fifth DB.

– Darius Allensworth edged Cedric Dozier for the other starting CB slot, to be paired with Cameron Walker.

– Freshman Luke Rubenzer, who won the backup quarterback spot, is listed as “or” with senior Austin Hinder. That may mean Rubenzer might be held out (redshirted) unless he is forced to play because of an injury to Jared Goff. Or it may simply be Cal’s way of keeping Northwestern guessing about whether Rubenzer could be used as a change of pace.

Here’s the chart:

OFFENSE

QB: Jared Goff, Luke Rubenzer or Austin Hinder, Chase Forrest

RB: Khalfani Muhammad, Daniel Lasco, Tre Watson or Vic Enwere, Patrick Laird

FB: Lucus Gingold, Bradley Northnagel

LT: Steven Moore, Brian Farley, Aaron Cochran

LG: Chris Borrayo, J.D. Hinnant, Myles Bunte

C: Chris Adcock, Matt Cochran or Addison Ooms

RG: Alejandro Crosthwaite, Matt Cochran, Donovan Frazier

RT: Jordan Rigsbee, Dominic Granado, Vincent Johnson

WR (X): Trevor Davis or Chris Harper

WR (Y): Stephen Anderson or Darius Powe, Raymond Hudson

WR (H): Bryce Treggs, Matt Rockett or Bryce McGovern, Drake Whtiehurst

WR (Z): Kenny Lawler or Maurice Harris, Jack Austin

DEFENSE

DE: Brennan Scarlett, Puka Lopa, Noah Westerfield

DT: Mustafa Jalil, Trevor Kelly, Marcus Manley

DT: Austin Clark, Tony Mekari, David Davis

DE: Todd Barr, Harrison Wilfley

SAM: Raymond Davison, Jake Kearney, Arthur Waintwright

MIKE: Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson, Jr., Devante Downs

WILL: Jalen Jefferson, Edward Tandy, Hamilton Anoa’i

CB: Cameron Walker, Caleb Coleman, Trey Cheek

FS: Stefan McClure, Griffin Piatt, Avery Sebastian

SS: Michael Lowe, Cormac Craigie, David Garner

CB: Darius Allensworth, Cedric Dozier, A.J. Greathouse

SPECIALISTS

PK/KO: James Langford, Matt Anderson, Noah Beito

P: Cole Leininger, Noah Beito

SNAP: John Sherperdson, Bradley Northnagel

HLD: Bryce McGovern, Jack Austin

PR: Bryce Treggs, Trevor Davis, Chris Harper

KR: Khalfani Muhammad, Trevor Davis, Bryce Treggs

 

 

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Softball: Former Cal star Valerie Arioto up for big award

Former Cal softball star Valerie Arioto was named a finalist for the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year, it was announced Monday.

Arioto (2008-12) was selected in the team category for her achievements with Team USA over a one-year period that ended July 31.

Arioto, from Pleasanton, helped the U.S. squad to a silver-medal finish at the International Softball Federation’s World Championships in Haarlem, Netherland, batting .474 with five home runs, 14 RBIs and 12 runs scored.

Sportswoman of the Year award winners will be determined by a combination of public vote (50 percent) and the WSF’s Awards Committee’s vote (50 percent). The winners will be the two athletes – one individual sport finalist and one team sport finalist – who receive the highest combined share of a public vote and the Awards Committee vote.

Fans can visit  http://wspr.tc/VoteTeamSOY201 to cast their vote for the Sportswoman of the Year award through 11:59 p.m. ET on Sept. 8.

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Football: Still no definitive word on travel status of DBs Sebastian, White for opener at Northwestern

Cal has settled on 68 or 69 of the 72 players who will travel to Northwestern this weekend, but coach Sonny Dykes acknowledged that no final decision has been made on defensive backs Avery Sebastian and Darius White.

Sebastian, who tore his Achilles tendon in Cal’s opener vs. Northwestern a year ago, has struggled through fall camp with a pulled quad muscle.

“He’s not had a healthy day since I’ve been here,” first-year defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said.

Sebastian participated in Monday’s contact workout and “looked like he was able to do pretty much everything,” Dykes said.

“We’ll see what kind of week he has. Is there enough rust knocked off to feel like he can help us? Is he healthy enough to help us? Then we’ll take it from there,” Dykes said.

“I would say based on what I saw today, yes (he will travel).”

White, a JC transfer from Mississippi, was expected to be a starter at cornerback. But he jammed his left shoulder on the first day of fall camp and his recovery has been slow. He, too, could “potentially” be left home this weekend, Dykes said.

Monday was encouraging.

“We’ll see how much contact he can get and how he holds up. But he looked good,” Dykes said. “The kid’s really athletic, he can run and cover. We’ll see how he progresses.”

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Football: The Golden Bears by position

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of Cal’s 2014 football team:

QUARTERBACK: Jared Goff is entrenched as the starter after setting Cal records for passing yards in a game (504) and a season (3,508) last season as a true freshman. He wants to improve his completion percentage, maintain drives and execute better in the red-zone. Luke Rubenzer has beaten out fellow freshman Chase Forrest for the No. 2 spot, and provides the Bears a running threat at the position. But it’s not clear if Rubenzer will be taken out of his redshirt year unless injury forces him in a fulltime role.

RUNNING BACK: This should be an improved position with Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad both back from a year ago and freshmen Tre Watson and Vic Enwere adding new dimensions. Coach Sonny Dykes wants a straight-ahead power element in the run game and hopes the new depth will allow the Bears to keep a fresh man in the backfield late in games.

WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END: Cal’s receiving corps is the most talented and deepest position on the team. Led by juniors Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs, who have combined for 209 receptions in two seasons, the Bears have as many as seven established targets they can plug into the two wide and two inside receiving slots. Also back after grabbing five TD passes is Kenny Lawler. Expect a breakout season from Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The coaching staff lamented a year ago it felt like it had no more than four O-lineman it could trust. Now that number is eight or nine. The unit has improved its strength, and there is versatility which will allow players to shift positions, if needed. The only fall camp position battle was at right tackle, where Jordan Rigsbee held off JC transfer Dominic Granado. The offense will only be as good as the progress this group shows.

DEFENSIVE LINE: The return to health of junior defensive end Brennan Scarlett gives the Bears a potential big-time pass rusher. Otherwise, this remains perhaps the team’s most uncertain position group. Everyone is high on defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, but will his surgically repaired knee hold up? Are the club’s other DTs, most of them new or unproven, ready to go? It’s pretty much guesswork and a leap of faith so far. The jury is out.

LINEBACKER: The Bears took some early hits here, including the loss of projected starting middle linebacker Nathan Broussard to a season-ending knee injury for the second straight year. But Cal recruited hard here to create depth, and those numbers must translate into performance. Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson Jr., and freshman Devante Downs will all see time at the MLB position. Jalen Jefferson is set at one of the outside spots, and Ray Davison is getting lots of work on the other side.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Injuries wrecked this position group a year ago, but things seem to be coming together. Former cornerback Stefan McClure is adapting nicely at one safety and senior Michael Lowe has gotten high marks from the staff at the other spot. Avery Sebastian, coming off an Achilles tear, also is in the mix. Sophomore Cameron Walker, forced to play strong safety last season at 170 pounds, has returned to his natural corner spot, to be joined by Cedric Dozier, Darius White and Darius Allensworth.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Cal’s injury epidemic impacted special teams as hard as any area because young players not ready for prime time were called into action. The Bears expect improvement, especially in punt coverage and punt return, both of which were ghastly a year ago. James Langford, a senior transfer from Cal Poly, seemingly has won the placekicker job vacated by Vincenzo D’Amato, who converted 33 of 43 field goals the past two seasons.