BERKELEY -- Grambling State head coach Broderick Fobbs said on Thursday that he and his staff treat the game of football like "basketball on grass," with quarterback Johnathan Williams as the point guard.
"We want to get the ball to our receivers quickly," said Fobbs. "Basically, we want to allow them to create plays with their legs. Our quarterback is basically looked at as the point guard of our offense, and his job is to make sure we get in and out of the right plays, get the ball to the playmakers, and then let the playmakers do the work."
The style and speed of the Tigers' offense -- and at the very least, the tempo -- should be familiar to the Cal defense, because they face that kind of tempo every day.
"It varies, but part of it is it's tough to tell based on the film we have. I know at times, they go fast, and I know at times, they don't," California head coach Sonny Dykes said on Thursday. "I think it varies depending on what the situation is, and what's going on. I think we share the same philosophy. Their offense is really similar to ours. The thing that makes them a little different is that there's a little bit of an option element, in what they do offensively, that's a little bit of a pain. And, the quarterback run game is different. Their quarterback's a good runner, and a very able runner. Any time you have a guy who can run around back there and throw it, it's a pain."
Last year, the Tigers rushed for just 3.2 yards per carry as a team, with Williams serving as not only Grambling's leading passer, but leading rusher, as well, tallying 484 net yards. Junior running back Jestin Kelly rushed 97 times for 271 yards last year, and figures to be a bigger part of the offense this season for the Tigers.
"Jestin is a power back, with really good feet," Fobbs said. "He runs well, catches the ball well out of the backfield, and he's made himself a lot better, over the summer, by losing about 15 pounds, so he's a lot quicker, a lot more explosive. We talk all the time here about being bullets, not bowling balls, and that's being quick and explosive, as opposed to being just big and powerful. He's done a lot to make himself into that."
Of course, the main event will be the Grambling wide receivers. Along with Verlons' 574 yards, the Tigers also return leading pass-catcher Chester Rogers -- who hauled in 53 balls for 712 yards and four scores -- and sophomore Chad Williams, who tallied 45 catches for 572 yards as a freshman.
"I think our receiving corps, we really like it, first of all," Fobbs said. "Our guys are very athletic, they're very smart and they understand the game. We have some size out there. We have three guys that are over 6-foot-2, and then, we have some smaller guys that are really quick and athletic, and operate in space, rather well. You have to have a combination of the two, in order to be effective."
While Williams will get the lion's share of the reps for the Tigers, freshman quarterback Trevon Cherry will get two series.
"Early on in the season, my deal is always to play two quarterbacks, because -- God forbid -- you're always one play away from playing a second guy," Fobbs said. "When that second guy hasn't gotten any college snaps, it's always good to get him in there for a couple series, just to get his feet wet, get used to playing college football, and really running the offense effectively. We plan to get him a couple series, maybe one series in the second quarter, or the third series of the game, and then a series in the second half, just so he can get adjusted to the college game, the college speed, getting the play calls, calling the play, getting people lined up and running the play."
Fobbs said those changes in quarterback will not be due to Williams's performance, just his desire to get Cherry into the swing of the fast-paced offense.
Cal Player Notes
In that same vein, Dykes is going to try to find some reps for redshirt freshman backup quarterback Chase Forrest.
"I don't know; it's going to depend on the game," Dykes said. "It's always going to depend on the game, how it goes. We'd like to play him. We'd like to play him a lot as the year rolls through. We'll see how it goes."
"Jaylinn will play; he missed about 10 days there [in fall camp], and he's a little bit behind, but he's very athletic," Dykes said of Hawkins. "He's everything we thought he was going to be, and he's had a little bit of a shoulder, but he's much better now than he has been, and he'll be a full-go on Saturday. I think he'll play."
Redshirt junior Griffin Piatt (knee) will not play.
Linebacker Aisea Tongilava will also be out 3-4 weeks with a broken toe he suffered in a non-football setting.
Dykes said that anywhere between 8-10 true freshmen could play.
"They're starters or backups on special teams, so at least, you have a good idea of how many will play on teams, and yo ugo from there," Dykes said.
That will include freshman receiver Kanawai Noa, though he may not take the first reps on punt return.
"I think Kanawai will probably get back there on Saturday, at some point," Dykes said. "You don't want a true freshman's first college football play to be a punt return, necessarily. We'll see how the game plays out, and what happens, but he'll be back there, at some point."
How This Game Came About
"This is a game that was actually scheduled prior to me arriving at Grambling State University," Fobbs said. "It was between coach Doug Williams and coach Tedford who put that particular contest together. it's an intriguing match-up, and a good match-up, for us, because seldom are we able to get out to our fan base in the California area. Our team is excited about getting out there. We pretty much fly all over the country to play football games, but not as often do we get out to the West Coast."
For junior wide receiver Verlon Hunter -- who hauled in 30 passes for 574 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns last year -- this will not only be his first trip out to California, but his first airplane flight.
"Basically, it's business as usual for us," Fobbs said. "We're used to playing in big games. If you know anything, historically, about Grambling State University, we play all over the place in front of large crowds.
Fobbs has a long history with the University. He played for the Tigers, as did his father, Lee. Both played under the legendary Eddie Robinson. Lee now coaches running backs under his son.
"We have several games throughout the year where we play in front of 50-60-plus [thousand]. This is another one of those contests," he said. "Yes, it is an FBS opponent, who has 22 more scholarships than we have, but you can still only play with 11, and you know that the task is going to be tough, but we're up for the challenge. It gives us a measuring stick to see where we are at this particular time, because the speed of the game will be a little faster. Even though we do have speed on our team, any time you play up, the speed of the game goes up. It's going to be a really, really tough test, but it's going to be a good test that we need."
Last year, Grambling went 7-5, after a horrendous 1-11 season the year before, mired by a player walk-out due to decrepit facilities and a coaching change.
There's one player on Cal's roster who's intimately familiar with the Tigers' history, and that's freshman Brandon Singleton.
The son of Grambling alum and former NFLer Nate Singleton, Brandong grew up hearing about Robinson and the Tigers.
"They're all going to be here for that," Brandon said of his family. "It's really exciting. It feels like it's just meant to be, how things worked out, and how I'm here, and the first game of the season is against Grambling. It's a good feeling. It's nice to be able to go against his alma mater."
Singleton was born after his father's NFL career ended, but has never been back to the Grambling campus.
"I've heard a lot of stories about Coach Ed, and I haven't gone back for any games, but being in camp right now, my dad's been my lifelong coach, so he's been through all these things that I'm going through, so he gives me advice," Singleton said.
While there haven't been many stories exchanged between father and son about Nate's days at Grambling, he has passed down some of his football knowledge that he started building under Robinson.
"It's attention to detail -- he's a big guy on detail, and I think I have my foundation pretty much set," Singleton said. "He just says I have to stay focused and work on the little things, if I want to become great and go to the next level.
His father has, however, told him about how much it meant for him to go to one of the great historically Black colleges.
"He always talks about the coaching, and some of the things that he dealt with and went through, why he was at Grambling, and how that school shaped him into the guy he is today," Singleton said, "like the hardships and struggles, things that I might be going through today, like playing scout team. That really didn't define who he was, and it's something that people have got to go through. He stayed grounded, and believed in who he was, and kept working."
That was on Singleton's mind for the past week and a half, as he got his first exposure to being on the scout team.
"I'm just out here trying to get better and better every day, and if that means I'm on the scout team or on the first team, it doesn't matter; I've got to go out and perfect my craft as much as I can," Singleton said.
Grambling wasn't a real option for Singleton, as a recruit, as he had offers from the likes of Cal, Arkansas and Georgia Tech, as well as the Tigers. He had his sights set on the FBS schools.