Cal football welcomes Sacramento State for first home game of season

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When the Cal football team welcomes Sacramento State to Memorial Stadium on Saturday for its first home game of the season, it’ll have a chance to do something that it hasn’t done since October of 2012: win two consecutive football games.

The last time the Bears were able to string together two straight wins, their head coach was Jeff Tedford and their quarterback was Zach Maynard. At that time, current head coach Sonny Dykes was at Louisiana Tech and current quarterback Jared Goff was playing football several miles northwest at Marin Catholic High School.

Two years later, Dykes and Goff probably won’t have any difficulty securing their second win of the season. Still, despite Sacramento State being an FCS team, Dykes knows that the Hornets’ quarterback, Garrett Safron, is a threat to Cal’s defense — a unit that played relatively well last week against Northwestern but still has plenty to prove after a disastrous 2013 campaign.

“You put the tape on, and it becomes obvious immediately, he’s very experienced,” Dykes said of Safron. “You can see that just by the way he handles himself, the way he moves in the pocket. The ball is always out on time, he anticipates throws very well, he has great touch, he can drill balls in there when they need to be drilled in … He’s mobile enough to be a problem.”

Against Incarnate Word last week, Safron lit up the opposing secondary to the tune of 251 passing yards and five touchdowns. And, while Cal should be able to slow down Sacramento State’s offense, the Bears only barely pulled out a win against Portland State — another FCS school — last season.

“We get 12 games to play, and these guys work 320 days a year for these opportunities,” Dykes said. “Every game is a big deal.”

Perhaps more important for Cal is finding solutions to problems that arose last week against Northwestern. Despite the win, the Bears nearly choked away a 24-point lead, dropping a few crucial passes late in the game and struggling with running the ball all day long.

The team’s best rusher was backup quarterback Luke Rubenzer, who entered the game sporadically for Goff and led the team with 48 rushing yards. Cal’s four running backs — Khalfani Muhammad, Daniel Lasco, Tre Watson and Vic Enwere — collectively ran for 67 yards and averaged fewer than three yards per carry.

As far as throwing the ball, the starter behind center, Goff, should be able to pick apart Sacramento State’s secondary with relative ease. But for Rubenzer, this game is an opportunity for him to hone the passing aspect of his game. When the freshman was asked to throw the ball last weekend, he struggled, completing just two of five passes and tossing one interception.

That’s where the value in games against FCS opponents ultimately lies: in seeing how backups fare in the waning quarters of a blowout. Cal should handle Sacramento State with relative ease. But if the Bears find themselves in a close game in the second half, it will only serve as a missed opportunity for Rubenzer and others.

Sean Wagner-McGough covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @seanjwagner.