Cal believes defense is much improved
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) In Sonny Dykes' two previous seasons at California, the Golden Bears piled up points behind their high-octane offense only to see that offset by a defense that couldn't keep opponents out of the end zone.
That doesn't appear to be the case this year.
While Cal's offense is still the strength of the team, the defense definitely looked improved across the board in a season-opening 73-14 win over Grambling State.
The Bears forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns in their most impressive performance in more than four years.
Dykes, whose Air Bear offense leads the country in passing after one week, said the negative talk surrounding his team's defense actually turned into a positive.
''I think it's made them more hungry and made them more determined than they have been,'' Dykes said. ''There is a sense of purpose. They made some plays, scored two defensive touchdowns, got a bunch of turnovers, really played fast. All those things were very encouraging and things to build on.''
Cal gave up only 297 yards to Grambling, most of it coming in the second half. Both of the Tigers' touchdowns came in the fourth quarter.
Beyond that, the Bears were stellar in their season-opening win and built some much-needed momentum heading into this week's game against San Diego State.
Aztecs coach Rocky Long noted Cal's improvement on defense and plans to counter that with a methodical, ball-control approach that he hopes will also limit the Bears' opportunities on offense.
''Our offense is kind of built for games like this,'' Long said. ''If we can run the ball and get first downs, their offense has a really hard time scoring when they're sitting on the bench. So if our offense can control the ball and keep it away from them . then you have a chance to keep the score down.''
Here are some things to watch when San Diego State visits Cal:
FAST START: The Bears scored 35 points in the first quarter against Grambling State to tie a school record and had 52 by halftime. Dykes credits a change in practice schedule for the fast start. Instead of having a full practice Thursday and a walkthrough Friday, Cal switched up and has a light workout on Thursday followed by a 45-minute practice the day before games.
''I think it results in the offense coming out and being a little bit sharper on Saturday,'' Dykes said. ''I thought there might be a little resistance to it at first just because it's something different. From talking to the guys, they actually liked it.''
OLD FRIENDS: This is the first game between Cal and San Diego State in nearly 20 years after the two teams played four times from 1993-96. The Aztecs have just eight wins against Pac-12 schools, their last coming in 2011.
PUMPING UP PELPHREY: Junior running back Donnel Pumphrey is looking to bounce back after his sluggish start in San Diego State's 37-3 win over San Diego last week. Pumphrey, who set school records for rushing yards and touchdowns as a sophomore, was held to 65 yards on 20 carries, ending his streak of five consecutive 100-yard games.
HEISMAN WATCH: Cal junior quarterback Jared Goff is closing in on the school records for career passing yards and touchdowns, both of which he should get easily in the coming weeks as long as he stays healthy. Goff is also a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy, an honor no Bears player has ever earned. Running back Chuck Muncie came the closest, finishing runner-up to Archie Manning in 1975.
AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org