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Football: Cal-Washington game thread

The nation’s second-highest scoring offense could not find the end zone Saturday until it didn’t matter.

Cal, which entered the day averaging 50 points a game, was shut out in the first half and never threatened Washington in a 31-7 defeat before 44,449 fans at Memorial Stadium.

But none of the Bears, starting with coach Sonny Dykes, was willing to say that Cal was in over its head against a higher-level foe after starting the season 4-1.

“I thought it was more us than it was our opponent today,” Dykes said. “I want to give Washington credit — they played very well and had a good game plan. But we need to own that (loss) more than to say we played somebody better.”

The Bears had scored no fewer than 45 points in their four previous games, but UW’s defense took away quarterback Jared Goff’s ability to throw the ball downfield, and the offense rarely found any rhythm.

“Hold them to seven points?” first-year UW coach Chris Petersen said. “I didn’t think that would happen.”

Tied for first in the Pac-12 North when the day began, the Bears (4-2, 2-2) looked overmatched against the Huskies (5-1, 1-1), who won for the sixth straight time in the series. Goff was sacked four times and the Bears fumbled five times, losing three of them.

“It was us,” running back Daniel Lasco said. “Everybody was saying we can score 50 points easily. I feel like a lot of people bought into it, and they didn’t realize how hard it is to win a football game.”

“We might have gotten a little complacent,” Goff agreed. “We have full confidence in ourselves. We have UCLA this week … go get them.”

Click here to read the rest of this story.

One-time Cal commit Shaq Thompson turned the game in Washington’s direction with one play.

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Basketball: Martin says Bird `has chance to be great’

New Cal coach Cuonzo Martin has no-nonsense expectations for sophomore guard Jabari Bird.

“I think he has a chance to be a great player,” Martin said.

Bird arrived at his father’s alma mater last season with glittering credentials. The 6-foot-6 guard was a McDonald’s All-American at Salesian High and coach Mike Montgomery’s most decorated recruit.

Over his first six games, Bird averaged 14.3 points and looked the part of future star.

Then he sprained an ankle in late December. He missed four games, and struggled to regain his rhythm and confidence. Over his first 16 games after returning, Bird scored four points or fewer in 11 of them.

The postseason arrived in the nick of time for Bird.

He scored 50 points in three NIT games, including games of 20 against Arkansas and 19 against SMU. Bird shot 15 for 21 in those last two games, and was 5 for 9 from 3-point range.

Bird said his strong finish sent him into the offseason feeling good about himself.

“It was a huge help for me, boosting my confidence a lot,” Bird said. “It reminded me that I can still play at this level. It did a lot for my confidence coming into my second year. I just need to build on it.”

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Football: Cal vs. Washington game facts

Cal vs. Washington

KICKOFF: Saturday, 3 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.

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

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

SERIES HISTORY: Washington leads 51-38-4. Washington won 41-17 in 2013 and has won five in a row in the series.

STORYLINES: With a win, the Bears would move within a single victory of being bowl eligible. Since 1980, only one of nine Cal teams that started the season 4-1 or better has failed to reach a bowl game. That was the 1998 squad that finished 5-6. . . . For the first time in four weeks, Cal faces a team that doesn’t appear determined to exploit the Bears’ defensive secondary woes. Arizona, Colorado and Washington State combined for 1,709 passing yards and 18 TD passes against the Bears. By comparison, UW averages 48 rushing attempts per game and ranks last in the Pac-12 at 162.6 passing yards per game. . . . UW’s Marcus Peters, a junior from McClymonds-Oakland, is expected to return to the starting lineup after sitting out the Illinois game for a sideline outburst and then the first three defensive series vs. Stanford for unspecified reasons. Regarded as one of the nation’s top cornerbacks, Peters has three interceptions this season and 11 for his career.

INJURY UPDATE: Cal: RB Khalfani Muhammad (thumb) and WR Darius Powe (shoulder) are probable; S Stefan McClure (calf) is questionable; LB Edward Tandy (concussion) is out. Washington: S Kevin King (illness) is probable; OT Ben Riva (knee) is questionable.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cal’s offense vs. Washington LB Shaq Thompson. A one-time Cal recruiting commit from Sacramento, Thompson has developed into a game-changing star for the Huskies. The 6-foot-1, 228-pound junior has forced three fumbles, recovered two, intercepted a pass and shares the team lead with four touchdowns, including one as a running back. “He’s kind of all over the place,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “He’s always around the ball.”

STATS THAT MATTER: Cal quarterback Jared Goff, No. 2 nationally in pass efficiency rating at 188.45, is coming off a school-record 527-yard performance at WSU. Goff needs just 87 passing yards to move ahead of Aaron Rodgers into ninth on Cal’s career list . . . Washington ranks second nationally in turnover margin at plus-2.2 per game. The Huskies have 12 takeaways and just one giveaway, a lost fumble. . . . First-year UW coach Chris Petersen, who won 92 games in eight seasons at Boise State, leads all active FBS coaches with a career winning percentage of .885.

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Football: Bears focusing on UW, not the bowl math

Cal fans may be doing the postseason math, but quarterback Jared Goff said worrying about a bowl game in October is not on the Golden Bears’ to-do list.

“People talk about it outside our locker room, but we’re not concerned with that at all,” said Goff, who will lead the Bears (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) against Washington (4-1, 0-1) on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

“We know six (wins) is most of the time a bowl berth, but we’re not thinking of that at all. That’s something an immature team would do. I think we’re so far past that. We’re so much more disciplined than we were before.”

While Old Blues have the luxury of scanning the schedule of seven remaining games and trying to earmark two that will make Cal bowl eligible, coach Sonny Dykes said his team has done a good job of avoiding that distraction.

“Way too early,” he said. “The big thing we’ve tried to preach from Day 1 is the process. To me, if you start talking about who’s in first place or how many games to this or that, you start to destroy the process. The good thing is I haven’t heard one player talking about it.”

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Basketball: Watching my first practice . . . in a while

Saw my first Cal basketball practice with Cuonzo Martin as coach on Thursday afternoon.

It was fast-paced, organized, intense and upbeat.

In fairness, I’m not sure how this compares to the way things were under Mike Montgomery because, frankly, we were never allowed to observe his practices.

“It’s more business-like,” sophomore guard Jabari Bird said. “Guys aren’t playing around as much. It’s more focused in there. It’s a really good approach because we approach our practice like it’s a game.”

Asked what Martin is like as a practice coach, Bird said, “Really focused. He pays attention to all the details. You can’t hide from anything. He’s going to see everything you do on the court, whether it’s good or bad. It’s good for us.”

Martin, who came to Cal last spring from Tennessee, said he’s pleased with the way his new team has adjusted.

“It’s been smooth,” he said. “The guys have done a great working and competing and picking up what we’re trying to do. They have been very receptive. The guys want to be great.”

Martin is particularly happy with senior forward David Kravish, who appears to have added 10 or 15 pounds of upper-body muscle to his frame, now listed as 6-foot-10.

“David Kravish has been such a tremendous leader. He’s made our job a lot easier,” Martin said.

The Bears open their exhibition schedule on Friday, Oct. 31 – three weeks from today – against Cal State East Bay. They make their regular-season debut on Nov. 14 against Alcorn State at Haas Pavilion as part of the 2K Classic.

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Football: Maximo Espitia reinstated, available for UW

Cal coach Sonny Dykes, who suspended Maximo Espitia for the season for a team rules violation on August 4, confirmed Thursday after practice that the junior linebacker has been reinstated and is available to possibly play Saturday against Washington.

“It was for a year and it was going to be based on some conditions for him to get released. Quite frankly, we didn’t know if it was going to work,” Dykes said. “He did everything we asked him to and then some, so we reduced the suspension. That’s the way it played out.”

The decision to reinstate Espitia, Dykes said, was made by the athletic department.

Dykes reiterated that Espitia’s suspension was not because of a legal or academic issue.

Back in August, Dykes described the situation as “pretty serious,” and said his return to the team was not automatic.

Dykes said Espitia, from Salem, Oregon, has been conditioning in the weight room for the past month and is in good shape.

“He’ll play Saturday,” Dykes said. “I don’t know how big a role he’ll have. He’ll have a role on special teams for sure. We’ll see how it plays out.”

*****

Click here to see my answers to five questions posed by Adam Jude, UW beat writer for the Seattle Times.

*****

And here for Percy Allen’s column in the Seattle Times on Cal quarterback Jared Goff, of whom longtime Cal broadcaster Joe Starkey said, “Goff is on track to becoming the best player this school has ever produced.”

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On the Cal injury front:

* Sophomore RB Khalfani Muhammad, who broke the thumb on his left hand on Saturday at Washington State, had surgery early this week and practiced Thursday while wearing a cast. “I would expect to see him on Saturday,” Muhammad said.

* Junior safety Stefan McClure, the team’s best defensive back, remains uncertain for Saturday with a calf injury. He has missed the past three games, during which the Bears’ pass defense has been lit up. “Lingered longer than I thought it would, Dykes said. “One of those things where you’ve got to be really careful. If you bring him back too quickly you could set him back. We’ll see. We’d like to have him.”

* Junior safety Avery Sebastian, a starter in the opener a year ago before sustaining an Achilles tear, is cleared to play after missing two of five games this season due to various ailments.  ”He practiced all week and actually looked the best probably today he’s looked maybe since last year,” said Dykes, who would not rule out the possibility Sebastian could start.

* Junior WR Darius Powe, who missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, is cleared and will play, Dykes said. Powe caught nine passes in Cal’s first three games, and leads the Bears with a 20.9-yard per-catch average.

* Sophomore linebacker Edward Tandy remains out with concussion symptoms.

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Football: Cal offense by the numbers

CAL OFFENSE BY THE NUMBERS

Statistics produced by Cal’s offense, which ranks No. 2 nationally at 50 points per game:

* One of just three teams in the country that have scored 50 points or more in three games; the others are Texas A&M and Ohio State.

* The Bears have 33 touchdowns and just 19 punts through five games; a year ago they totaled 32 TDs and 75 punts for the season.

* Cal is scoring a touchdown every 11.4 offensive snaps; a year ago the Bears needed an average of 32.7 plays to generate a TD.

* The Bears already have 17 offensive plays of 40 yards or more; they had 14 all of last season.

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Football: Can Bears’ offense continue to #Drop50?

Former Cal student Lawrence Ross' new T-shirt celebrates the Bears' success.

Former Cal student Lawrence Ross’ new T-shirt celebrates the Bears’ success.

Cal wide receiver/kick return specialist Trevor Davis wasn’t sure he should answer honestly when asked how many points the Golden Bears are capable of scoring in a game.

“It’s kinda crazy, the number that would pop in my head . . . it wouldn’t sound right,” Davis said. “I think we can score 70 in a game.”

Davis wasn’t offering a prediction for Saturday’s home game against Washington but was guided by a growing belief that almost anything is possible for the nation’s No. 2-scoring offense.

Can you blame him? The Bears are coming off a 60-point performance in a one-point win at Washington State during which Davis caught two touchdown passes and returned kickoffs for two more scores.

In the three weeks before that, Cal’s scoring totals were 59, 45 and 55 points. At 50 points per game, the Bears trail only Baylor (51.0) among 125 FBS teams.

What is the peak potential of the “Bear Raid” offense?

“I don’t think there’s ever a ceiling until you score every possession,” said Tony Franklin, Cal’s offensive coordinator. “It’s not (realistic), but it’s the goal. It’s what they believe they should do.”

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Football: Khalfani Muhammad has surgery on left thumb, status for Washington game still uncertain

I spoke briefly with coach Sonny Dykes as he walked off the field Wednesday after practice and he told me sophomore running back Khalfani Muhammad had surgery on his left thumb earlier this week.

He also said Muhammad, wearing a cast on his left hand on Wednesday, is expected to practice Thursday. Although it seems unlikely, Dykes was noncommittal on whether Muhammad would play when Washington visits on Saturday.

Dykes said that safety Avery Sebastian practiced and will play; safety Stefan McClure remains questionable for the Huskies.

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Adam Jude of the Seattle Times writes about Washington star linebacker Shaq Thompson, the one-time Cal recruit. Click here to read his story.

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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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