As we slide in another win for Cal against the FCS, I always am left wondering. What do these games actually mean in the end? Do they portend future tidings of success or prophecies of doom a la Maggy the Frog? Or is Lyle Lanley trying to tell you there's nothing on earth like a genuine, bona fide, electrified, six-car monorail?
Let's go through the history books and examine a decade of cupcake scheduling.
2005: Cal 41, Sacramento State 3. The one where Nate Longshore got hurt. I don't really remember anything else other than Joe Ayoob and Steve Levy going 2-17 and being like, "Well, not every year can be 2004 unless Phil Knight is your best friend". File this under pain (but also very pertinent).
2006: Cal 42, Portland State 16. This was the score at halftime. No one scored any points in the second half! That Cal team knew how to put on the clamps and knew how good it was (and that there was a bit of a dropoff to the backups). What a special group. I miss that team. File this under first rout of many.
2007-08: We skipped the FCS! We actually did that! File this under "tough schedules have no correlation to on-field success."
2009: Cal 59, Eastern Washington 7. Just as Eastern Washington was starting to show their FCS title mettle, Cal came in and laid the smack down. This was one of the most frustrating Cal teams because they could be dominant but rarely were. This was one of the times they played up to their standards. File this under the Many Faced God.
2010: Cal 52, UC Davis 3. Pretty dominant performance that saw Keenan Allen come out and the Cal defense lay down the clamps with Clancy Pendergast. There were no signs of the full-on Tedford decline, and I still believe Cal wins seven games if Riley doesn't get injured and it's a moderately successful season. File this under misleading.
2011: Cal 63, Presbyterian 12. No FCS team really wanted to pay out that year for whatever reason, so we ended up with the Blue Hose. I remember people making a lot of fun of this game before and after because of how little it meant to anything else. The Bears were exceptionally average that year and never were that good offensively again that season. File this under irrelevant.
2012: Cal 50, Southern Utah 31. The beginning of the end. After laying an egg against Nevada, Cal was in a three point game before finally letting lose in the 4th quarter, and even then it's hard to say you feel comfortable with this victory. And then the next week we nearly beat undefeated Ohio State! Late era Tedford was perplexing. File this under pertinent.
2013: Cal 37, Portland State 30. They saw Andy Buh and the Golden Bears wailed. There were red flags everywhere in this game. A Portland State team that never beats anyone in the Pac-12 (until yesterday!) taking an early 20-10 lead, amassing hundreds of yards through the air, Cal only taking the lead late in the second half and trading punts to the end. It is very scary how close we were to an 0-12 season. Few coaches survive 0-12. File this under telling.
2014: Cal 55, Sacramento State 14. The story of our early season foibles: Cal looked like a really good team for a quarter or two, then looked like the team that was getting used to the whole "winning football games". Cal got out hot, put Sac State away early, and never looked back. File this under foreshadowing.
For the most part, Cal vs. FCS has generally been a good predictor of how the season was going to go (with the notable exceptions being 2009 to 2011, when our team ended up being schizophrenic, which I guess could also be a sign, but not as notable).
So what do we make of 73-14, the most impressive win of the whole lot? Ten points (for our ten touchdowns).
J. Goff pass,to B. Treggs for 50 yds for a 1ST down http://t.co/Js304icvMe
— Cal Sports Now (@CalSportsNow) September 5, 2015
1) Grambling isn't a bad FCS football team (they went 7-5 last year, even if they did get blanked by Houston), so that is a pretty remarkable scoreline to put up. I'd even venture to say that aside from Eastern Washington, they're the best FCS team we've actually played. So being up 52-0 at halftime and not letting up in the second half is a good sign. Very good.
We took care of business in a big way. I am happy about that. We also showed some, if not red, then slightly pink flags. Let's wait & see.
— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) September 6, 2015
2) Cal could have easily broken 80. The Bears turned the ball over three times, twice when they were about to score touchdowns. It's a scary thought to think Cal left points on the field, but that is exactly what happened.
3) The Cal offensive line was worrisome. They did not have a good game, particularly at tackle. Grambling does like to bring pressure with the 3-3 stack and hit the quarterback, but they were hitting Goff a lot more than I would have liked to see. There were times when there was too much pressure, there were times when the offensive tackles did not win their one-on-one assignments. We have a lot of tough defenses on our schedule, so this could be a theme.
San Diego State will be more telling. For now, let's move to yellow alert here. An offensive line that's not up to par can undo a promising season fast.
4) The Cal running backs didn't play great, but was it by design? With Grambling overloading the front, there wasn't a lot of space for the Bears to attack. The Tigers had this insane strategy that they were going to let Jared Goff beat them with cover-zero one-on-one coverage. By halftime, Goff was on pace for 600 yards passing and six touchdowns.
Still, it's odd to see every running bak not named Khalfani Muhammad not hit 25 yards rushing. Something to track going into next week, but the first act of the five running back corps was a big "I dunno." Cal was up so quickly and Grambling stayed true to their scheme, so Goff laid waste. The run blocking did look okay on occasion though.
Good downfield blocking by Cal to free up Lasco for the opening Bears touchdown pic.twitter.com/6ncFi16DKt
— Avinash Kunnath (@avinashkunnath) September 5, 2015
(I have nothing really to say about the Cal wide receivers because they are so good I take them for granted.)
5) The Cal defense was stellar. This was the standout unit of the day. Grambling had six first downs and 89 yards of offense and were 0-8 on third down conversions at halftime. Some of this was aided by poor Grambling quarterback play (Jonathan Williams was 6-18 with four interceptions at halftime). The Cal defense looked good against Sacramento State last year, so this isn't a great indicator.
6) The Cal special teams still aren't sharp. Guys were running into each other on kickoff coverage and the kickoffs were wildly inconsistent. We're going to give up a few kick return touchdowns if we don't sharpen up there. Also, Cal still refuses to treat punt returns like things they can actually advance. Punt coverage and kickoffs were generally good.
7) Cal finally has a regular depth chart again. For the first time ever in the Sonny Dykes era, Cal looked like they had reasonable depth. The Bears took advantage of every opportunity to sub. The starting defense was pretty much off the field by the second quarter and the starting offense took the second half off. 83 players saw action for the Golden Bears, and most of them had solid moments.
Great job by the Cal D-line to get the push back and stuff Grambling on 4th and short. pic.twitter.com/rn4m4XCqPH
— Avinash Kunnath (@avinashkunnath) September 5, 2015
8) Cal has competent backups on offense. The backup offense didn't stop scoring up 52-0 and even had a few explosive moments of their own. Chase Forrest managed to actually look pretty capable working with units that probably aren't ready for Pac-12 play, and they kept a decent advantage flowing. I don't really want to rely on Bug Rivera and Chad Hansen to win major football games, but it's good to see the fruits of up-tempo conditioning. Sonny commented postgame how important it was for Forrest to get reps, as he's probably already thinking about a post-Goff future.
Kanawai Noa is ready to play.
9) Cal didn't bring their A-game in many facets. You can interpret that in several ways. The Bears have a lot of work to do in certain aspects of the game. They have significant personnel issues. Or maybe they haven't even scratched the surface of their potential.
10) The things Cal fans were complaining the most about postgame were the band and the Mic Men. That is the sign of a good day.
The Grambling Band is awesome.
Grambling State band with an AWESOME shoutout to Cal with a 'California Love' performance. pic.twitter.com/Tt36Xp2dfi
— Cal Football (@CalFootball) September 5, 2015
Brief press conference notes (full videos available here)
- Jack Austin was seen after the game in crutches. Sonny Dykes mentioned that it was a foot injury, but no further word beyond that. I don't believe there were any other injuries for Cal at first glance. Stefan McClure did play, but it was very brief. Luke Rubenzer saw a lot of safety snaps.
- Sonny was happy with the defense for the most part, although he was disappointed by the long touchdown Cal gave up in the end. He liked the havoc they generated, particularly in forcing five turnovers that became 28 points.
- Dykes admitted that he wasn't too pleased with all the hits Goff took, but they knew coming in that it was a possibility given the Grambling scheme. Goff talked in the press conference about the potential of six man blitzes and how the team had to prepare for all that added pressure, but in general he did a good job getting throws out it in time.
- Goff did mention in the press conference how Cal is using a lot more timing routes this season now that he's fully into the swing of things. The Kenny Lawler touchdowns were all timing routes. On the Bryce Treggs 51 yard dime that you saw at the top of the post, Bryce was calling for the post and Jared lifted it up.
- Kenny Lawler was bromancing hard on Jared Goff. "Me and Jared, we've got a great relationship. It's a lot on the field, off the field. We have great chemistry. I know what he wants."
- Sonny talked about how important it was for Forrest to get reps, and Forrest was clearly thrilled with the opportunity. "Halftime came around & they said it was my turn to go. It felt awesome to be out there finally. I felt comfortable. It was amazing."
- Cameron Walker said his interception off the back of a Grambling wide receiver was all part of the plan.
Cal pick-six thanks to the back of a Grambling wide receiver. pic.twitter.com/lkxiQ1eAUd— Avinash Kunnath (@avinashkunnath) September 5, 2015
- Cal's 52 point half was the most points ever in any half of football.
- Cal's 35 points in the first half tied a school record set in Tedford's debut at Cal against Baylor. HydroTech's recap of that game is one to read.
- Cal forced four interceptions for the first time in the Sonny Dykes era.
- Devante Downs
- Cal had two pick-sixes yesterday. Cal hasn't had a single pick-six (or defensive touchdown for that matter) since the 2012 Southern Utah game.
- 33 defensive players registered a meaningful stat, 32 a tackle.
- Fabiano Hale was the second leading rusher for Cal with 24 yards.
Bug Rivera led the team with 92 receiving yards.
Opinions, odds and ends
- The Cal Band had an impossible act following up Grambling perfection, but they had a nice underrated Guardians of the Galaxy show that would have been fine any other day. Twist talked more about it in his post, check it.
- The Cal Mic Men were holding tryouts after the Bears salted this one away at 35-0. The new kids on the block immediately started trying to make noise on offense and the student section started yelling at them. Some traditions never change.
- The Student Section chanted 'Honey Mustard' in honor of defensive tackle David Davis. Background on the story available here.
Hardy Nickerson (@younghardy_) September 6, 2015
- Cal fans are unhappy at both, because it is hardwired in Cal fans that they must find things to complain about or the Earth spins off its axis.
- The Pac-12 is down this year. Not as down as people are making of it When the Pac-12 is down (2004, 2006, 2008 come to mind), Cal usually wins more games. I don't mind at all.
- I don't know what we'll learn from our non-conference games, win or lose. Texas looked helpless getting pulverized by Notre Dame, but they still are just a huge matchup problem between our offense and their defensive talent. San Diego State handled a similar hapless FCS foe.
- Just remember: The teams that gave Cal the most trouble the second half of last year were teams with outstanding defensive play (7-31 to Washington, 17-38 to the Farm, 2-31 at halftime to USC). A lot of teams on our schedule qualify for at least being good defensively or at least having strong talent to slow the Bear Raid down.
- I will not entertain thoughts of Cal and our dark horse Pac-12 North aspirations until after we beat a Pac-12 team. No matter how weird this division is looking right now, the Bears have proved nothing against our conference. We're 0-0 in the Pac-12 and will stay that way for three more weeks.
- That being said, if you want the games that Cal will kick themselves for losing: San Diego State, Texas, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Big Game are looking like prime candidates. That's your path to seven wins and a bowl.
- Finally, a cool postgame tradition: A Cal player directing the Cal Band after a win. This time, Vic Enwere!