By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–California is looking forward after they hung on to defeat UNLV 20-14.
The Rebels and coach Marcus Arroyo are looking back, trying to understand how the numerous, second half opportunities they were afforded didn’t culminate with a touchdown that would have given them a late lead.
“We’ve got a locker room full of guys right now that are disappointed we didn’t finish that game,” Arroyo said. “You’ve got to capitalize against quality opponents.”
The Bears led 14-0 and 20-7, and at one point during the third quarter also held a sizeable advantage in time of possession, but from an offensive standpoint, they couldn’t finish off UNLV. Empty trips into the red zone and a damaging, early, second quarter interception kept the Rebels in it.
In the end, Cal’s defense pulled through when Henry Ikahihifo sacked UNLV quarterback Doug Brumfield for a loss of 13 yards with 1:03 remaining. Two plays later, Isaiah Young picked off Brumfield’s desperation, downfield pass.
While the Bears’ offense went from spirited to sputtering, their defense contained Brumfield, who threw for just 206 yards, while misfiring 15 times, and running for just 12 yards on ten attempts. Ricky White, the Rebels’ top receiver caught just one pass after the first quarter and totaled 56 yards on four catches.
Cal’s blitzing, which intensified on the final UNLV drive, not only led to the key interception, but also showed in the visitor’s penalty numbers, which saw them commit eight infractions for 101 yards.
“No. 1, is to win the game. It carries more weight than any other goal,” Wilcox said. “We also recognize where we need to get better.”
In that category, kicker Dario Longhetto converted field goals in the second and third quarters, but his miss from 43 yards with 8:06 remaining kept the game within one score.
Plummer finished 28 of 39 for 278 yards, but only two of his completions went for more than 10 yards. The first of those two saw freshman running back Jaydn Ott go 12 yards on a swing pass and leap into the end zone for a 14-0 Cal lead.
“He missed a couple, but he threw some very good balls,” Wilcox said of Plummer. “We’ve got to do things to protect him, to keep that pass rush at bay.”
The 2-0 Bears travel to South Bend, Indiana next weekend to face Notre Dame, who inexplicably lost to Marshall 26-21, their first ever loss to a team from the Sun Belt Conference. The Bears’ undefeated start will create confidence as will a match up against signal caller Ty Buchner, who has yet to throw a touchdown pass in two games, and was picked off twice by the Thundering Herd.
“They’re still a really good team,” said sixth-year defensive back Daniel Scott cautiously.