Well, that’s one way to make a good first impression. The Cal football team’s 73-14 win over Grambling State on Saturday showed everyone essentially what they were already expecting: Man alive can this offense score.
But while the final score was quite the statement, it doesn’t hold much muster, because the win came against a team that, as good as it is in the FCS, just doesn’t match up to the tough FBS teams the Bears will be facing the rest of their season, especially in a tight, competitive Pac-12.
The Grambling State defense allowed 656 offensive yards — 471 passing yards and 185 rushing yards — which just isn’t going to happen against top-caliber teams such as Stanford (although, after an embarrassing loss to Northwestern, maybe Stanford’s defense isn’t quite as good as I’ve been giving it credit for). Last season, Stanford ranked third overall in total defense and gave up a hair more than 282 yards a game. In last year’s Big Game, the Cardinal held the high-flying Cal offense to just 17 points despite giving up more than 400 yards — the Bears averaged 38.2 points a game in 2014.
So, basically, the big win over Grambling State, as fun and as dominant as it was, means next to nothing. It was fun to watch Jared Goff come in and pick apart a defense, but when he starts playing against some of the top teams in the country, who can say if he’ll have as easy of a time. The combination of Goff and wide receiver Kenny Lawler — who, with his three touchdowns Saturday moved to tie Keenan Allen for seventh on Cal’s all-time touchdown receptions list — looked fantastic, but it won’t be that easy with guys marking Lawler more tightly and putting heaps more pressure on Goff.
Heck, even the defense looked really good. The Bears had a shutout going into the fourth quarter, and two defensive turnovers were returned for points on the board — the first time that’s happened since Sonny Dykes was handed the reins. Against a high-flying offense such as Oregon, which averaged 547 total offensive yards last year (good for third in the FBS), can the Bears’ defense still step up and make the big plays?
There are a whole host of questions remaining.
Even Dykes admitted postgame that the big win needed to be taken with a grain of salt.
“At the end of the day, Grambling State has got some good players — there’s no doubt about that,” Dykes said. “At the same time, you have to be able to put it in perspective, and we’ve talked to our team about that — understanding that the competition is going to do nothing but get better, and we’ve talked about that.”
Dykes also mentioned that Cal would have its hands full in Saturday’s game against San Diego State. The Aztecs have a good, not great, offense — so the Cal defense won’t have to go up against some of the league’s best so early in the season — but the Aztecs finished 16th overall in the FBS last season. San Diego State allowed an average of 332.5 yards a game, which could give Goff and the rest of the Bear Raid offense a bit of a test, especially because the Aztecs’ passing defense was the 10th best in the country in 2014.
This means that for the rest of the season, Cal — as good as it was against Grambling State — can’t afford to make more of the same kind of stupid mistakes. Seven minutes into the new season, the Bears had already sloppily turned the ball over twice on an interception that bounced right out of Bryce Treggs’ hands and a fumble by Vic Enwere on the Tigers’ 1-yard line. It could be early season jitters, but that’s the kind of thing that can’t happen deep in the season with bowl game contention on the line.
But still, the Bears’ win was a darn exciting one to watch. Cal looked good. Really good. Against a team that didn’t offer up much in terms of a litmus test, however, it’ll be nice to see what other tests the Bears will face this season.