By Morris Phillips
This time the concern wasn’t a slow start, or an overconfident finish. The Bears survived the heat, and the early, Eastern time zone kickoff and played with the lead throughout.
But in a game this close, something had to set the Bears apart, it may have been how they caught their second wind, and smoothly transitioned into the second half. A 14-13 halftime score grew to a 28-13 Cal lead in a matter of minutes, enough for the Bears to hold on for a 28-20 victory over Ole Miss, the first time a Pac-12 school has gone to SEC country and emerged with a win since Oregon won at Tennessee in 2010.
“We talked about some things schematically on both sides, but it was really a matter of execution,” head coach Justin Wilcox said. “I think it’s a little bit over stated, but the offense came out and had a great drive, and the defense got a couple three-and-outs back-to-back. But the middle of the game, second, and third quarters, the defense played better.”
Cal’s defense forced three, empty Mississippi possessions in the third quarter. Still trailing by 15, the Rebels put together a 14-play drive, but saw that squandered when Luke Logan missed a 29-yard field goal with 9:30 remaining.
Chase Garbers keyed the Cal attack with 357 yards passing and four touchdowns. Garbers threw a pick with Cal leading 14-10 in the second quarter. That was his first turnover since the opener against UC Davis, and it allowed the Rebels to climb closer with a second quarter field goal. But Garbers responded, throwing touchdowns less than three minutes apart in the third quarter.
The Bears operated for the most part without a power running attack with Christopher Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy combining for 20 carries and fewer than 60 yards rushing. But Garbers made the offensive imbalance less noticeable by completing nearly half of his 24 completions for more than 10 yards, and completing passes to nine teammates in the process.
Wilcox eluded to the total, roster effort in assessing the win afterwards. The head coach also hinted to injuries mounted throughout the roster, an issue that the Bears overcame by contributions from numerous players.
“The guys who are banged up, we have to work to get healthy, and these other guys have to keep growing with the reps they are getting,” Wilcox said.
Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral led an attack that amassed 525 yards in offense and didn’t commit a turnover. But the Rebels lost Corral in the fourth quarter to a rib injury, and couldn’t realize a game-changing play. With backup John Rhys Plumlee seeing the first action of his college career, the Rebels pulled within 28-20. But a game-ending drive to possibly tie the game died on the one-yard line when Elijah Moore caught a pass and was stopped at the one-yard line, then on the next play, Plumlee’s rush up the middle was stuffed by Cal’s Evan Weaver.
Weaver came up with 22 tackles, bettering his career-best effort at Washington two weeks ago. Weaver has made at least 10 tackles 11 times in his Cal career. Mississippi’s fast start that netted 10 points on their first three possessions, frequently targeted Cal’s outside backers, who were integrating some new pieces. But the unit held up in subsequent Ole Miss possessions, keeping Cal from being forced to make schematic changes.
“The young guys know what they’re doing,” Weaver said. “They’ve been through camp, they’ve been here a few years. They got in and played great. They did a great job. A few miscues like I said, but nothing we can’t fix with film.”
The Bears attempt to realize a 5-0 start to the season on Friday when Arizona State visits Berkeley in a 7:30 pm start.