California’s defense has given up plenty of points the past few seasons. The Golden Bears got to enjoy scoring some of their own for a change.
Cameron Walker and Devante Downs each returned interceptions for scores to help back a three-touchdown performance from Jared Goff as Cal opened the season with a 73-14 win over Grambling State on Saturday.
“Hopefully it’s just the first step of our defense getting on the same level as our offense nationally,” Walker said. “We’ve been talked bad about since I’ve been here the past three years. It’s finally time to get rid of that.”
The Bears allowed the second-most points in the nation the past two years under coach Sonny Dykes but showed signs of improvement against the lower-division Tigers by recording four interceptions and three sacks in the first half and not allowing points until the fourth quarter.
That kind of performance will be needed if Cal wants to improve on its six total wins in Dykes’ first two years.
“The sign of a good defensive football team is when they can create havoc,” Dykes said. “Our guys are running to the football, they’re creating turnovers. They’re playing opportunistic football. When the ball was in the air, our guys made plays on the ball.”
Goff threw for 309 yards before sitting the entire second half and connected with Kenny Lawler for three scores. The Bears broke out to a 52-0 halftime lead with the highest-scoring half in modern school history. They finished with the second-most points in modern history to the 86 they scored against Pacific in 1991.
Johnathan Williams threw four interceptions in the first half against the Tigers, who have been outscored 185-20 in their last three meetings against schools from Power Five conferences.
Martez Carter scored on a 90-yard run in the fourth quarter and Nicholas Peoples added two interceptions for the Tigers.
“We knew coming in that we had to play flawless and we also had to take advantage of their mistakes, too,” Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs said. “We did neither. And anytime you do neither then you get what you saw.”
This one was never close despite Cal turning the ball over twice on the first three drives on a deflected interception by Goff and a fumble near the goal line by Vic Enwere. The Bears still managed to score 35 points in the first quarter in a dominating start to the season.
Cal completed passes to 13 receivers and got touchdown runs from Enwere, Daniel Lasco, Tre Watson and Jeffrey Coprich.
Williams threw as many interceptions as completed passes in the first quarter. Walker took one back 14 yards for a score and Downs took another back 8 yards as Cal returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a game for the first time since 2008 against UCLA.
Goff had two of his three TD passes to Lawler in between those returns and put up his usual big numbers despite playing only a half.
“In almost all facets, except for those two plays, we were pretty sharp on every play,” Goff said. “You just want to be as sharp as you can.”
It was a tough trip for the Tigers, whose flight to California was delayed several hours Friday, leading them to cancel their scheduled walkthrough and practice.
One of the big highlights was the halftime performance of the The World Famed Tiger Marching Band. The crowd of 60,606 was riveted by the performance and many left as soon as halftime ended.