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Football: Dykes hopes Bears’ newcomers — especially on defense — begin to benefit from experience under fire

Cal’s inflated offensive statistics aren’t the team’s only staggering numbers.

Here’s another: Forty-one players have made their major-college football debuts for the Bears this season. Compare that to an established program such as Stanford, which has had to introduce just 17 newcomers to game action this fall.

For the Bears, it’s been a matter of necessity after last season, when more than 40 players with potential eligibility departed the program early. That included non-seniors who transferred, entered the NFL draft, retired for medical reasons or were dismissed from the program.

As a result, it’s been hard to tell this season’s players without a scorecard, especially in the defensive secondary. Nine of Cal’s 15 defensive backs are first-timers, which helps explain why the Bears rank last nationally in passing yards allowed.

While the Bears rank second nationally in scoring at 50 points per game, the defense has struggled, allowing 164 points over three Pac-12 games.

“Defensively, we don’t have that depth and experience,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “Some of those guys have played well, that’s the exciting thing. Some others are still learning how to play and gaining experience.”

Dykes isn’t worried he’ll have to wait until next season to see improvement from those young players. “I expect those guys to keep getting better and better every week,” he said.

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Football: Trevor Davis honored by Pac-12

UPDATED

Cal junior Trevor Davis has been voted Pac-12 special teams player of the week after his record-setting kickoff return performance at Washington State.

Davis, a transfer from Hawaii who prepped at Alhambra HS in Martinez, returned kickoffs 100 and 98 yards in the third quarter of the Bears; 60-59 win. He became the first Cal player to return two kickoffs for TDs in the same game and, in fact, tied the school record set by Deltha O’Neal for most career TDs on kickoffs.

Davis also caught a pair of touchdown passes, including a 51-yarder to give Cal the lead for good with 3:18 left.

WSU quarterback Connor Halliday, who set an FBS record with 734 passing yards, beat out Cal’s Jared Goff for offensive player of the week honors. Goff set a Cal record with 527 passing yards and also threw five touchdowns.

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Davis also was named the CBSSports.com Specialist of the Week, Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week and California Muscle-Milk Student-Athlete of the Week. He is also a nominee for the VEGAS SEVEN Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Pac-12 Player of the Week to be determined by fan voting and announced Wednesday.

Goff was a co-recipient of the College Football Performance Awards National Performer of the Week award and also shared the CFPA’s Quarterback Performer of the Week, both for the second consecutive week.

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Football: Khalfani Muhammad has thumb injury; Dykes says running back should play against Washington

Cal coach Sonny Dykes told reporters Sunday night that sophomore running back Khalfani Muhammad came out of the Washington State game because of a thumb injury.

Dykes said Muhammad will be evaluated further, adding he doesn’t think the injury is serious and he expects Muhammad to be available to play in Saturday’s home game against Washington.

None of the other Cal players who briefly left the WSU game — defensive Mustafa Jalil, defensive end Brennan Scarlett and defensive backs Cedric Dozier and Cameron Walker — all are fine.

Dykes said he expects junior safety Stefan McClure — who has missed the past three games with a calf injury — to practice on Tuesday, with the expectation he will be ready for Washington.

Dykes was vague on the nature of the injury that prompted the Bears to leave safety Avery Sebastian at home last weekend. He said Sebastian’s performance in practice late last week suggested he wouldn’t be able to play.

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Football: A few more post-WSU notes

Odds and ends from Saturday night’s 4 hour, 4 minute game at Washington State:

– Jared Goff’s five TD passes give him 22 for five games this season. A year ago, he had 18 in 12 starts.

– With 40 career TD passes in just 17 games, Goff is tied for eighth on Cal’s career list. He shares the spot with current Cal radio analyst Mike Pawlawski.

– Goff’s career passing yardage total is now 5,364, which lifts him to 10th on the Bears’ all-time list. Next up: Aaron Rodgers with 5,469 yards in 2003 and ’04.

– Goff’s 527 passing yards eclipsed his school record of 504, which he accomplished last Oct. 5 — one year ago today — against Washington State. That’s 1,031 yards in two games vs. the Cougars.

– Goff owns five of the top six single-game passing marks by a Cal quarterback.

– Cal’s 164 points over the past three games, while impressive, is nowhere close to a school record. The Bears had slightly higher totals for three-game stretches twice in 1922, and in 1920 scored 294 points in a span of three outings when they defeated the Mare Island Marines 88-0, St. Mary’s 127-0 and Nevada 79-7.

– The WSU game featured a combined total of 1,401 passing yards by Goff and Connor Halliday. The two attempted 123 passes without an interception.

– The Cougars set a school record with 812 yards of total offense — and lost.

– Cal’s secondary has been picked on by a specific opposing wideout each of the past three weeks. Arizona’s Cayleb Jones had 13 catches for 186 yards and three TDs. Colorado’s Nelson Spruce totaled 19 catches for 176 yards and three TDs. And WSU’s Vince Mayle grabbed 11 passes for 263 yards and a TD. That’s 43 receptions for 625 yards and five touchdowns from three players.

– The Bears already have scored 250 points this season — just 26 fewer than they had all of 2013.

– Whatever improvements it appeared Cal had made on defense early this season, the numbers are now fairly gruesome. They have allowed 202 points in five games — 40.4 ppg — ranking them 119th out of 125 FBS teams. Cal is last nationally in passing yardage allowed, by a margin of 82 yards per game above the next-worst team.

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Football: Even after another wild victory, Bears have serious issues to fix before Washington pays a visit Saturday

Where does the Cal football team stand after scoring 164 points and allowing that same total in its first three Pac-12 Conference games?

Believe it or not, in first place in the Pac-12 North.

“We’ll start worrying about who’s in what place at the end of the season.” coach Sonny Dykes said after Cal’s 60-59 win at Washington State on Saturday night in an offensive epic that stretched on to 11:41 p.m.

At that moment, WSU’s Quentin Breshears missed wide right on a 19-yard field goal that would have reversed the outcome.

The Bears, who survived an NCAA record-breaking passing game from Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday, embraced the good fortune while continuing to distance themselves from last season’s 1-11 nightmare.

“It was kind of like the football gods were on our side,” said Cal quarterback Jared Goff, who broke his own school record with 527 yards and five touchdowns, the game-winner a 51-yarder to Trevor Davis with 3:18 left.

A third straight high-octane performance gives the Bears (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) their best start since 2008 and equals their victory total of the past two seasons combined.

It also earned them six votes Sunday in the latest AP Top-25 poll.

But Cal has chronic flaws it must address before Saturday’s home game against Washington and a subsequent gauntlet of matchups against the Pac-12’s best teams.

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Football: Cal-WSU game thread

Here is my game story from late Saturday night. As you might imagine, things got a little hectic in the second half, so my apologies I was unable to update the blog through after halftime:

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This one wasn’t just crazy, it was ridiculous.

Cal, which had been part of games the previous two weeks that produced 209 total points, contributed to a new level of football insanity Saturday night at Washington State.

The Bears and Cougars combined for eight touchdowns in the first 13 minutes of the third quarter before Cal emerged from the statistical orgy with a 60-59 victory in front of 30,020 fans at Martin Stadium.

The victory wasn’t assured until WSU’s Quentin Breshears missed wide right on a 19-yard field goal – essentially a PAT – with 15 seconds left.

“It was kind of like the football gods are on our side,” Cal quarterback Jared Goff said.

Goff, who broke his own single-game Cal record with 527 yards, put the Bears ahead to stay with his fifth touchdown pass of the night, a 51-yarder to Trevor Davis with 3:18 left. Cal’s try for a two-point conversion failed.

The victory allowed the Bears (4-1, 2-1 in Pac-12) to match their victory total of the past two seasons combined and made them 4-1 for the first time since 2008. It also lifted them into sole possession of the Pac-12 North Division lead.

“We’ll start worrying about who’s in what place at the end of the season.” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said, alluding to the fact the Bears have seven games to play, starting next Saturday at home against Washington.

It was a heart-breaker for the Cougars (2-4, 1-2) and quarterback Connor Halliday, who broke the NCAA all-division single-game passing record with 734 yards. He threw six touchdowns.

Goff called the game the most fun he’s had on a football field, and his receivers agreed after the Bears, down 24-13 at the intermission, scored touchdowns on all seven of their second-half possessions.

“We always talk about going out there and scoring 60 points,” said Bryce Treggs, who caught 10 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. “We might as well go for 70. Why not?”

“Seventy-five,” chimed in Davis.

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Football: Cal defense will try to be better, not different

Cal will mix its defenses tonight against Washington State, throw in some blitzes, and hope to get a lift off the bench from cornerbacks Darius White and Joel Willis, apparently healthy at last and ready to contribute.

“You’ve got to fire all your bullets,” coach Sonny Dykes said of how the Bears will approach coach Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense.

But don’t expect an entirely new look from the Bears. There will be no surprise defensive renovation, no new tricks to throw off the Cougars.

They won’t work, Dykes said, because he has seen teams try.

During his tenure working under Leach at Texas Tech, Dykes said more than one opponent showed up on game night with a dramatic, new defensive twist.

“Anytime we saw that we always knew it was going to play into our hands,” Dykes recalled. “In some ways that’s what they want you do to, make a bunch of drastic changes and use a bunch of new coverages.

“They just do their thing. You always have to resist temptation of using a bunch of new schemes because they’re going to be really good at what they do so you better be good at what you do.”

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Football: Will Cal-WSU end before Sunday?

Are you ready for a late night?

Cal and Washington State kick off at 7:30 p.m. tonight, and when the game ends is anyone’s guess.

11 pm.? C’mon . . .later.

11:30? Maybe.

Midnight? Not out of the question, with two teams likely to throw a lot and score a lot.

Asked this week if he’s ever been part of a game that finished after midnight, Cal coach Sonny Dykes laughed.

“Oh yeah. Shoot, half our games at Texas Tech did,” he said, reflecting on his time as an assistant with the Red Raiders under current WSU coach Mike Leach.

“One year we played Texas A&M and we kicked at 9,” he said. “It was midnight at the end of the first quarter.”

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Football: Cal-Washington St. facts

Cal vs. Washington State

KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington.

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

RECORDS: Cal 3-1, 1-1 in Pac-12; Washington State 2-3, 1-1.

SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads 43-26-5. Washington State won 44-22 in 2013.

STORYLINES: Cal, which has scored 104 points in its first two Pac-12 games, likely will need to keep up the pace against the explosive Cougars, who are coming off an impressive win at Utah in which they rallied from a 21-0 deficit. . . . The Cal defense, which has allowed 99 points the past six quarters, must avoid more of the same. . . . With three victories, the Bears are halfway to being bowl eligible. But their schedule is heavily back-loaded, so this game is critical if they want that goal to remain reasonably attainable. . . . Cal coach Sonny Dykes has roots working for WSU coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech, but their offenses have different twists. The Cougs have run 313 pass plays (including 12 sacks) to just 85 designed runs. Cal is far more balanced, with 146 pass plays and 158 runs.

INJURY UPDATE: Cal: CB Joel Willis (shin) is probable; S Stefan McClure (calf) is questionable; WR Darius Powe (shoulder) and LB Edward Tandy (concussion) are out. Washington State: None reported.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cal’s offensive line vs. Washington State’s defensive line. The Bears’ offensive line has paved the way for a team scoring 47.5 points per game. That group faces a D-line that Dykes calls the strength of WSU’s defense. Two weeks ago, the Cougars had seven sacks of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who suffered just 18 sacks in 13 games last season.

STATS THAT MATTER: Cal already has 13 plays from scrimmage of at least 40 yards this season; they had 14 all last season. . . In 2013, the Bears scored 32 touchdowns. They have 25 through four games this fall. . . . The Cougars lead the nation with 2,404 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes, but rank last in the Pac-12 in rushing at 52.1 yards per game. . . . Cal ranks last in the conference in scoring defense (35.8), total defense (478.0 yards per game) and passing defense (351.2).