Football: Bears are 5-0 and a BIG game looms

Cal coach Sonny Dykes did his best to strike a nonchalant pose after a 34-28 victory over Washington State on Saturday kept his No. 24 Bears undefeated.

“Good win for us. On to the next one,” he said.

The next one is Saturday in Salt Lake City and it’s big enough that ESPN is marking the occasion by bringing in its GameDay program. The Bears take on No. 10 Utah, and a victory would give them their first 6-0 record since 1950.

“If we beat Utah . . . I ain’t going to say when,” said Cal wide receiver Kenny Lawler, before a sly wink of the eye. “It’s going to mean a lot when we get it.”

The Bears got to 5-0 for the first time since 2007 and improved to 2-0 in the Pac-12 on the strength of four touchdown passes from Jared Goff – two of them to Lawler – another dose of timely defense.

The nation’s worst major-college defense most of the past two seasons, Cal collected seven sacks and forced four more turnovers. Over the past two weeks, the Bears have 11 sacks and nine takeaways.

A year after escaping Pullman, Washington with a 60-59 victory, the Bears allowed the Cougars (2-2, 0-1) to score just seven second-half points before a disappointing crowd of 42,042 at Memorial Stadium.

Safety Damariay Drew, banished from campus last year after an assault incident, made the day’s biggest play when he came seemingly from nowhere to pick off Luke Falk’s pass down the middle at the 10-yard line with 3:29 left.

“I just wanted to make a play,” Drew said.

“A big-time play,” Dykes called it. “When he threw the pass, I didn’t see Damariay.”

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


Football: Kyle Kragen’s dad gave him good advice

Cal defensive end Kyle Kragen was 41/2 years old when his father, Greg Kragen, finished a 13-year NFL career as a nose tackle. Kyle can barely remember watching his dad on TV with the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 NFC Championship game, then walking off the field with him after his final game a year later.

He has more vivid memories of his dad helping to shepherd his football path.

“He said I didn’t need to play before high school to be good,” said Kyle, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. “Then I wasn’t even going to play in high school. I liked basketball. But he told me I had to play my freshman year. Thankfully, he did that.”

Cal coach Sonny Dykes is grateful.

“He has been good. He’s very tenacious — he’s a second-effort guy,” Dykes said. “He plays hard every play.”

Greg Kragen laughs at what he calls his son’s revisionist history. He didn’t play tackle football until high school and didn’t feel the need to push his son in that direction, either. “I didn’t want to be the overbearing dad,” he said with respect to Kyle’s experience.

As a freshman and sophomore at San Ramon Valley High, Kyle played linebacker and … quarterback.

“I was terrible,” he said. “I was soft, afraid of hitting. As I kept getting bigger and stronger, it was obvious I should not be playing quarterback.”

The No. 24 Bears (4-0) are well-equipped at the position with All-America candidate Jared Goff. Greg said that should provide the Bears with the same confidence he felt the first nine years of his career, when he reached three Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.

“It helps to have a great quarterback,” Greg said. “I played with John Elway. We always knew if we get the ball back we’ve got a chance. They’ve got that piece, clearly, with Goff. You’ve always got a chance.”


Football: Lasco expected to face WSU

Cal running back Daniel Lasco, who has missed the past two games with a hip muscle strain, is expected to play Saturday when the Bears face Washington State at Memorial Stadium, coach Sonny Dykes said.

“Lasco’s good. He practiced all week. I would expect him to play unless he doesn’t feel good,” Dykes said. “We’ll warm him up and see how he feels. He’s felt good all week.”

Lasco, who rushed for 1,115 yards last season, injured the hip against San Diego State on Sept. 12 after rushing for 128 yards and a touchdown.

Defensive end DeVante Wilson (foot) and safety Griffin Piatt (knee) also are expected to play. Offensive tackle Brian Farley (ankle) is questionable.


Football: Sonny Dykes’ boss thrilled by his performance, but declines to say a new contract is coming

Does Cal’s Sonny Dykes, the lowest-paid football coach in the Pac-12 Conference, deserve a raise?

Athletic director Michael Williams said Thursday he is happy with Dykes in every way.

“I just want to make it clear that Sonny is a great partner,” Williams said. “I’m really optimistic about the future. I couldn’t ask for any more from him right now.”

But Williams stopped short of acknowledging that Dykes’ performance – including a 4-0 start to this season and repairing the program’s damaged academic profile – will soon get him a new deal.

“I don’t know what I may or may not want to be doing contract-wise,” Williams said. “Football coaches and their representatives and athletic directors are always talking. We have ongoing conversations with Sonny’s representatives.”

Alluding to the athletic department’s financial challenges, he also said, “There are contractual limitations that are beyond my control.”

But Williams said he believes Dykes is happy at Cal and encouraged by the future of his program. “Things are positive,” Williams said. “The academic showing of the football players is extraordinary. The chancellor is very excited.”

Continue Reading


Football: Where have Cal kickoff returns gone?

There were more than 1,400 yards of total offense logged by the time Cal closed out a 60-59 victory at Washington State in a marathon game that ended 19 minutes before midnight last October 4.

Just as important to the outcome for the Bears were kickoff returns for scores of 100 and 98 yards by Trevor Davis – both during a third quarter that featured eight touchdowns.

But as the No. 24 Bears (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) and Cougars (2-1, 0-0) prepare to duel again Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the kickoff return has been conspicuous by its absence for Cal.

Opponents have kicked to the Bears 17 times, but only five of those have been returned. Ten resulted in touchbacks, the other two were short kicks that were not returned. Add it up and Cal ranks last in the Pac-12 with an 18.6-yard return average.

“It’s been a weird year,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “Our sample size is too small to draw a lot of conclusions. It has to get better, just like our kick coverage.

“We’ll give it some attention this week, that’s for sure.”

Continue Reading


Football: Cal takes low-key approach to ranking

Unbeaten Cal has earned its first national ranking since 2010, but coach Sonny Dykes said the Bears won’t celebrate as they prepare for a home game Saturday against Washington State.

The Bears are No. 24 in the AP Top-25 writers poll and tied for 24th with Oregon in the coaches poll.

“It’s not something we’re going to talk about. We’re not going to hold a team meeting and say, `Hey guys, we’ve arrived,’ ” Dykes said. “But I’m happy for our players. They have worked awfully hard to be part of a program that’s recognized and appreciated, that other people respect. Polls are a part of that.”

The Bears are 4-0 for the first time since 2007 and coming off a 30-24 win at Washington in their Pac-12 opener. But linebacker Hardy Nickerson said the season is young.

“It definitely feels great to be in the position we are now. We want to keep it going,” Nickerson said. “We just have to keep preparing like we have something to prove. We haven’t done anything yet.”


On the injury front, Dykes said he expects running back Daniel Lasco, who has sat out the past two games with a strained hip muscle, to practice fully on Tuesday when the Bears next gather.

There is no update on the status of offensive tackle Brian Farley, who suffered an ankle sprain in the win at Washington. Dykes said he anticipates defensive end DeVante Wilson (foot) and defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil (sore knee) to ready to face Washington State.

Running back Khalfani Muhammad, who came off the field at one point Saturday after a big hit, is fine, Dykes said.


Dykes said he will file a report Monday to the Pac-12 office regarding the hit  that wide receiver Kenny Lawler took from UW linebacker Azeem Victor after his helmet came off during a collision with Kevin King.

Continue Reading


Football: At No. 24, Cal ranked for first time since 2010

Cal’s 30-24 win at Washington lifted the Bears into the Top-25 rankings for the first time in five years on Sunday. Cal is No. 24 in both the AP writers and coaches polls.

The Bears, off to their first 4-0 start since 2007, were last ranked in September 2010 after winning twice to open the season to secure the No. 24 spot. They dropped out after a 52-31 loss to Colin Kaepernick and Nevada.

It’s been a long, tough climb for coach Sonny Dykes’ program. The Bears were 1-11 in his debut season of 2013, but are 9-7 the past two seasons.

Cal is among five Pac-12 teams in the AP rankings, with UCLA at No. 7, Utah at No. 10, USC at No. 17 and Stanford at No. 18.

Absent from the AP Top-25 is Oregon, which fell to 2-2 after a 62-20 home loss to Utah. The Ducks are tied for 24th with Cal in the coaches poll.

UCLA is No. 10 in the coaches poll, followed by Utah at No. 12, USC at No. 16 and Stanford at No. 20.