By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–The 624 yards of offense amassed by Arizona and Cal before halftime on Saturday turned out to be an appetizer.
Jadyn Ott, with his 274 yards rushing and three touchdowns, was the fully satisfying buffet spread across the breadth of the afternoon in the Bears’ 49-31 homecoming win in their Pac-12 opener.
Ott, the freshman who didn’t impact Cal’s narrow loss to Notre Dame, announced himself with a 73-yard score on Cal’s second offensive play. In the third quarter, he was powerful and elusive on an 18-yard run and score. Then in the fourth quarter with Cal looking to finish off the Wildcats, Ott again turned on the speed in a 72-yard touchdown jaunt.
Ott’s 274-yards rushing stands as the most by an FBS player this season, and the third most in Cal history, trailing Jahvid Best (311 yards, 2009) and Jerry Drew (283, 1954).
“We’ve been talking about it for a long time. You’ve seen it in flashes. We saw it a bunch today. He’s a dynamic guy and has the ability to take it to the house from a lot of spots,” coach Justin Wilcox said.
“Every time I touch the ball, I feel like I’m going to score,” Ott said. “That’s my mentality.”
Despite Ott’s breakaway run early, Cal was on its collective heels at the half, trailing 24-21 and unable to stop UA’s Jayden de Laura, who would finish with 401 yards passing.
Wilcox’s trademark halftime adjustments normally consist of cleaning up defensive assignments. But in a game that belonged to playmakers on both sides, Cal leaned heavily on its running game and a rotating cast of offensive linemen as much as benefitting from a turnover in a third quarter that turned the game around.
After forcing a punt on Arizona’s initial drive of the third quarter, Cal regained the lead with an eight-play 87-yard drive capped off by Keleki Latu’s 3-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-one. Quarterback Jack Plummer leaned on his tight ends on the drive with Latu’s two catches and two big gainers from Elijah Mojarro.
An Arizona three-and-out was followed by Cal’s five-play drive that put them up 35-24. Ott finished the drive with a run that saw him slowed by three Wildcat defenders before breaking free to score from 18 yards out.
With the third quarter drawing to a close, linebacker Orin Patu broke free and dislodged the football from a scrambling de Laura, and Miles Jernigan pounced on it to set up Cal at their 32-yard line.
Six plays later, Plummer connected with Jeremiah Hunter for a 37-yard pass and score and Cal had an insurmountable 42-24 lead with 14:53 remaining.
“We couldn’t stop the run and when you can’t stop the run, you run into the issues of you have to try to press,” coach Jedd Fisch said. “I think we started to press there at the end and started turning the ball over in the fourth quarter. That’s what cost us.”
Led by Ott, Cal totaled 354 yards on the ground, the biggest chunk of their 599 yards in total offense. That along with a 3-0 advantage in turnovers allowed the Bears to turn the tide, an overcome Arizona’s 536 yards in offense.
“In the first half, we didn’t tackle well, we didn’t rush, we didn’t cover anybody. It was bad,” Wilcox said.
Numerous players saw their first significant time on the field as Cal Bears, and they made the most of it. Sioape Vitikani, a 335-pound freshman came up with seal block that sprung Ott for his first touchdown run. T.J. Sessions, a Montana State transfer helped break Ott free on his third quarter score.
For Arizona, freshman Tetairoa McMillan came up with an outstanding catch in the end zone despite Cal’s Isaiah Young being in position to make a play. Sophomore Dorian Singer came up with a one-handed catch along the sideline in what was otherwise a rough, fourth quarter for Arizona.
The Bears travel to Pullman, WA next Saturday to face Washington State. The Cougars took a 27-15 lead into the fourth quarter over Oregon on Saturday only to see the No.15 Ducks rally to win 44-41, and saddle the Cougars with their first loss after a 3-0 start.