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Cal football season review: How good a quality win was Grambling State?

As we look back on the 2015 season, we experienced both highs and lows as we cheered on our Golden Bears. A dominating performance by Cal against an overmatched Grambling State team was certainly one of the high points. But just how meaningful was this victory? Let’s get a feel as we break down Grambling State’s performance this season.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports


This year's Grambling State University football team was able to build upon a 7-5 record from a season ago, going undefeated in conference play before losing in the SWAC Championship to Alcorn State University. They would end the season with a 9-3 record as the 24th ranked team in the FCS.


This year's Grambling State offense proved to be potent, averaging a prolific 41.3 points per game to end the season as the 16th ranked FCS team in terms of total offense even when you include a 14 point effort against Cal to start the season. The Tigers gained an average of 455.2 yards per game behind a balanced offensive approach led by senior QB Johnathan Williams who threw for an average of 263.3 yards per game and totaled an FCS-leading 39 passing TDs over the course of the season.

Junior RB Jestin Kelly and sophomore RB Martez Carter would split carries yielding an impressive 4.9 yards per carry and almost 200 yards per game on the ground. Their receivers were a productive group led by junior WR Chad Williams with a 1,012 yard season, and their offensive line provided solid protection only surrendering 1.67 sacks per game and 5.33 tackles for loss per game. Furthermore, they scored on 87.5% of their trips into the red zone including touchdowns 68.75% of the time.

The flaw for this GSU offense was its inability to protect the ball as they would finish the season with a FCS-leading 37 turnovers, 3 more than the next-worst team. Otherwise, this was a prolific unit both on the ground and in the air.

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In stark contrast to the offense, the defense ended the season as the 110th ranked defense in the FCS, struggling to keep opponents from scoring. Even with a top 10 ranking in defensive categories like sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers forced, they still surrendered on average 33.3 points per game and 454.8 yards per game.

While their run defense was mediocre, allowing 150.1 yards per game, it was their pass defense that proved to be their downfall as they allowed 304.8 yards per game, which was good for dead-last in the FCS. If not for their strong defense in the red zone where they only allowed opponents to score 67.2% of the time, and their ability to force turnovers with 32 takeaways on the year, it could have turned out significantly worse for the 2015 GSU defense.

Special Teams

The 2015 Tigers special teams unit was middle-of-the-pack in most categories including kick return defense, kick return, and punt return. However, one area that they noticeably struggled in was punting as they averaged only 32.53 yards per punt. They were able to mitigate the poor punting by limiting opponents to a respectable 3.91 yards per punt return. Even when taking into consideration the poor punting, the GSU special units still put in a solid performance over the course of the season.

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As we look back on this game, this win in many ways provided an accurate representation of the season as a whole for Cal. Just like other games over the course of the season in which Cal was either more talented or more experienced than their opponent, Cal was able to stay in the driver's seat throughout the course of the game.

Nevertheless, this GSU Tigers team proved to be a quality FCS win, one with a prolific offense that the Cal defense was able to completely shut down for three quarters as they forced four interceptions from Johnathan Williams. Based on the manner in which the Cal defense was able to shut down the potent Tigers offense while the Cal offense was able to maintain focus and continue to score against a poor defense, I would count this as a quality victory for our Golden Bears.