Cal Football is back!!! Carrying a fairly high expectation (yours truly even have them at the top of the Pac in the CGB preseason power ranking) coming into the 2015 season, the California Golden Bears (1-0) will no doubts maintain (or even raise) such expectation after a tidy 73-14 victory over the Grambling State Tigers (0-1), a FCS opponent that was clearly overmatched.
With all the returning experienced players on the offense, led by junior BearRaid commander Jared Goff at quarterback, the Bears are expected by some to routinely #drop50 or even 60 this season. Yet, it was the Cal defense that starred in the beginning of this game.
Grambling State opened the game with the ball but the new and improved Cal defense quickly force them into a 3-and-out. After a poor punt, Goff marched the Bears down 41 yards in just 45 seconds as he found running back Daniel Lasco for 20 yards and then Maurice Harris for 17 yards before Lasco punch in the first Cal touchdown of the season with a 4-yard run.
The Bears defense then forced another short possession by the Grambling Tigers; however, the Cal offense showed some typical first game jitters as the Cal O-line looked very confused to allow Goff to be sacked on a play that was erased due to a Grambling penalty (facemask). On the next play, Goff's short pass to Bryce Treggs went off Treggs' hand and got intercepted by Nicholas Peoples (1st of his 2 interceptions on the day).
After another brief Grambling possession, the Bears had long drive highlighted by a 51 yards in the air perfect throw from Goff to Treggs. Unfortunately, the Bears followed that play with another hiccup when backup running back Vic Enwere (often compared to Cal alum Marshawn Lynch) fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line when he stretched his arm near the goal line. Although the video replay did appear to indicate that Enwere's butt was down before the fumble, the Pac-12 refs concluded that the ruling on the field was confirmed.
Of course, Grambling had to start their drive basically from their endzone. On a nice reaction play, Cal defensive back Cameron Walker picked the ball that bounced off the intended Grambling receiver for an easy 14 yard touchdown return. After the Cal defense picked off yet another ball in the air, this time by Darius Allensworth, to give the Cal offense another short field. Goff found Kenny Lawler for the 1st of Lawler's 3 touchdowns for the game. At this point, the Bears are already up 21-0 but there are still plenty of time left in the first quarter.
Cal special team shined when Matt Rockett blocked the Grambling punt to create yet another short field for Jared Goff and the Bear Raid. It took just two plays for Goff to find Kenny Lawler again in the endzone. To cap off the Cal scoring outbursts in the first quarter, a penalty during the return had the Tigers again starting near their endzone. Facing pressure while in the endzone, Grambling QB Jonathan Williams made a blind and ill-advised throw that was easily picked off and walked in by Cal's Devante Downs.
This 2nd defensive touchdown scored by the Cal defense was the 5th touchdown of the quarter for the Bears. The 35 points scored, in fact, tied a school record for most points in a quarter. Coincidentally, that was also scored in the 1st quarter of a game...on the first game of the season.
Cal ties school record with most points in a quarter (35), also scored 35 in first quarter of 70-22 win over Baylor Aug. 31, 2002— Cal Football Notes (@calfbnotes) September 5, 2015
Yep, that Baylor game in 2002 was the debut of former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. Bears scored the opening touchdown via a trick play and never looked back in that one.
Having a big lead after just 15 minutes of play, the Bears started to rotate in some backup players as soon as the 2nd quarter. With Grambling barely able to gain any yards, Goff found Lawler for the 3rd time in the endzone. After a pair of long runs by backup running back (and Cal track star) Khalfani Muhammad, the Bears offense stalled and had to settle for just a field goal.
The Bears then recorded their 4th interception of the half when former backup quarterback turned defensive back (due to the Bears' need there), Luke Rubenzer picked off a pass.
First career interception for Rubenzer in first career game on defense— Cal Football Notes (@calfbnotes) September 5, 2015
Cal's four interceptions tie for most in a game since four vs. UCLA in 2012— Ryan Gorcey (@RGBearTerritory) September 5, 2015
On his last drive of the game, Jared Goff methodically spread the ball around allowing Jeffry Coprich, Chad Hensen, Kanawai Noa, and Bug Rivera (nephew of Cal great and current Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera) to each gets a Cal 1st downs. The drive ended with Enwere's 2 yard run to make it 52-0 Bears at the half (Grambling had one more useless possession when they basically just ran the clock out after this TD).
In just half a game of work, Jared Goff finished his day going 24 of 32 (with a couple tipped/dropped passes) for 309 yards with 3 touchdown passes (all to Kenny Lawler) and that 1 interception. For those counting at home, that's a 3:1 TD to INT ratio, the fluke INT does make it tough for Goff to eventually achieve that mythical 9:1 ratio that Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said would equate to a Cal national title.
52 first-half points sets school record for most points in a half. 51 vs. Pacific in 1991 was previous record.— Cal Football Notes (@calfbnotes) September 5, 2015
After what is likely a great performance from the storied Grambling State Marching Band during halftime, the Bears debuted Chase Forrest at QB to start the 2nd half. Forrest actually had a very nice long throw to Bug Rivera that Rivera unfortunately could not haul in. The ball bounced off Rivera's hand and got intercepted by Nicholas Peoples again.
Chase Forrest did drive the Bears down the field for a touchdown in the next possession, punctuated by a 1 yard Coprich run. Tre Watson earned the next Cal rushing touchdown (6 yards) to put the Bears up 66-0 in the 3rd quarter.
Grambling State finally managed to make some big plays just before the 4th quarter. They drove down the field and finally got on the scoreboard in the beginning of the 4th quarter via 4 yard pass from their backup freshman quarterback Trevon Cherry to Brandon Byrdsong. With the Bears playing a bunch of even less experienced players, Tigers' Martez Carter managed a 90 yard run for the 2nd and final touchdown of the day for Grambling on their next possession.
After that missed connection that turned into an interception earlier in the second half, Chase Forrest found Bug Rivera for a long 63 yard touchdown pass to help the Bears break the 70 points threshold. Forrest made 10 of 17 pass attempts for 162 yards. He finished with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.
At the end of the day, the Bears did not set a single game scoring record (or #drop100) but this team has higher aspirations than to just rewrite the Cal record book.
73 points scored today are the second most in school modern-era history. 86 against Pacific in 1991 are the most.— Cal Football Notes (@calfbnotes) September 6, 2015
Bears will host a tougher San Diego State Aztecs next Saturday before hitting the road with a trip to Austin, Texas to play against the Texas Longhorns. Both of those are winnable games for Cal before the start of Pac-12 play. As much as it is fun to speculate just how good this Cal Football team is, we should not read too much into today's result. Bears managed to give some valuable playtime experiences to some youngsters in this one.
Nevertheless, Cal fans enjoy this victory. For at least another week, we can all imagine how the Golden Bears are not just back on the field in 2015, but possibly back to potential national prominence.