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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:

*****

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).

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Football: Lasco embraces challenge of helping carry Bears

Running back Daniel Lasco no longer wears soccer shin guards on his forearms, but the physical style he avoided as a pee-wee player did not truly emerge until he was challenged by his coaches at Cal.

Lasco, who gained 200 yards rushing and receiving last week against Colorado and was featured on SportsCenter’s top-10 plays, is ready to deliver more for the Bears (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) at Washington State (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday night.

The Bears would like to control the ball and keep their defense off the field against the pass-happy Cougars. Lasco and the run game can help make that happen. “Having the weight of the team on my shoulders in certain situations gives me more momentum to go out and make plays,” he said.

On the strength of back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances — the first two his Cal career — Lasco already has 347 rushing yards in four games. A year ago, dragged down by nagging injuries and a gruesome 1-11 season, Lasco totaled just 317 yards on the ground.

Cal’s coaches made sure everyone on the offense knew the running game wasn’t up to snuff.

“The coaches were very upset, talking about getting new people here to take over the running back position because the running backs they had weren’t good enough. They were absolutely serious,” Lasco said.

“They weren’t pointing at me, but I took it as if they were sitting right in front of me and looking deep into my eyes and saying, ‘You’re not good enough.’ In my heart, that’s how it felt, and I agreed with them.”

Click here to read the rest of this story.

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Football notebook: WSU’s defense provides own test

Lost among the gaudy offensive numbers piled up by the Washington State offense is the revelation that the Cougars are playing pretty solid defense these days.

Last week, after Utah scored touchdowns on interception and a kickoff returns to help forge a 21-0 lead, the Cougars allowed the Utes just one second-half field goal in a 28-27 road comeback.

The week before, in a 38-31 loss to second-ranked Oregon, the Cougars sacked quarterback Marcus Mariota seven times.

“I don’t think anyone’s done that to him, ever,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, whose Bears (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) visit the Cougars (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday night.

“They try to rip the quarterback’s head off on every play,” Cal offensive line coach Zach Yenser said of WSU’s defensive front.

Dykes called the Cougars’ defensive line without question the strength of the defense.

“It’s a big group, a physical group,” he said. “They have some pass rushers that have enough speed coming off the edge they can cause a lot of problems for you.”

Cal guard Chris Borrayo watched tape of the WSU-Oregon game and the Cougs got his attention. “The drive where they had nearly three sacks in a row was eye-opening,” he said.

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Basketball: With first practice set for Friday, Cuonzo Martin says of the Bears — `We could be really good’

New Cal coach Cuonzo Martin begins practice with his team Friday, but he’s already excited and encouraged by the Bears’ potential.

“I like this team,” he said this week. “If we can stay healthy, we could be really good.”

*****

Fans can see the Bears for the first time Saturday in an open practice starting at 1 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. The first 250 fans will get free T-shirts, fans will have the chance to win Cal gear including signed basketballs, and players and coaches will be available after for autographs and photos.

*****

Martin said he’s been impressed by the way his players have gone to work in the offseason since his hiring last spring.

“They’ve done a great job. It’s one of the best groups of guys I’ve ever been around,” he said. “They do what you ask them to do, work at a high level, come in and get the extra hours in. That’s what separates programs.”

That work also has created a team chemistry Martin believes will strengthen the club.

“They have a great passion for each other. Rarely have I been around a group of guys that want to see the next guy be successful like these guys.”

One of the team’s early questions is who replaces Justin Cobbs at point guard. Martin knows it won’t be easy, but there are three candidates in junior Tyrone Wallace, sophomore Sam Singer and freshman Brandon Chauca.

Martin said the Bears likely will play small at times, with the 6-foot-6 Wallace sliding to the power forward spot. But he also believes 7-1 freshman center Kingsley Okoroh, 6-8 junior Christian Behrens and 6-6 senior transfer Dwight Tarwater will get the chance to pair with senior power forward David Kravish.

Here is Martin’s quick evaluation of each scholarship player eligible to play this season:

* David Kravish, 6-10 senior forward: No longer the 205-pounder who arrived in Berkeley in the fall of 2011, Kravish has added nearly 20 pounds of muscle since last season and now weighs 240.

“It’s functional weight. He’s bigger, stronger, faster,” said Martin, adding that Kravish is now the clear team leader. “No question about it. On and off the court,  he way he carries himself, he’s one of those guys you want to model yourself after.”

Kravish has been a solid, dependable, understated player for three years. Martin thinks he can be more than that. “I expect him to be a great player. He’s on that path. He’s a guy who plays both ends of the floor and he plays hard.”

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Field hockey: With no place to practice or play, frustrated Cal players arm themselves with legal team

My story on the Cal women’s field hockey team — without a place to practice or play games on campus this year — ran in all our editions and on our website today. Three members of the team have hired a law firm to register their complaints to the university administration, with a Title IX lawsuit one of the options.

Click here to read the story.