By Morris Phillips
With a record-number of bowl eligible teams populating the FBS, Cal needed to go one step further to insure they will have one of the coveted 78 spots.
So beating UCLA in their regular season finale wasn’t icing on the cake, it was essential.
After spotting the Bruins a 7-0, first quarter lead, the Bears shut the door, methodically wearing down UCLA in a 28-18 victory. The Bears finish with a 7-5 regular-season record for the second, consecutive winning season, an achievement they haven’t had since 2009.
“Getting seven wins–be in position to win a bowl game–and have a chance to play somebody really good at a great location is really exciting,” said coach Justin Wilcox.
The Bears once again dealt with the scheduling oddity of finishing their season against someone other than Stanford. After winning the Big Game in dramatic fashion last Saturday–breaking a nine-game losing streak to the Cardinal–the Bears looked focused, and ready to play, no easy feat given the circumstances playing on the road on the holiday weekend.
The game time temperature was decidedly un-Southern California like 49 degrees, and drizzle was present throughout. With UCLA suffering through a fourth, consecutive losing season, the attendance suffered with fewer than 40,000 fans in the cavernous Rose Bowl.
“I think we came out and imposed our will on them. We had that mindset during practice all week,” said Chase Garbers, who made a second straight start after missing the previous four games with a shoulder injury. Garbers overcame a slow start, completing 17 of 29 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown. His one-yard run in the second quarter gave the Bears a 14-7 lead they would not relinquish.
Christopher Brown Jr. ran for 111 yards and two scores, putting the starting back over 100 yards for the first time since the season opener against UC Davis. Brown’s second score, a 10-yard run, put the game away with 2:33 remaining and Cal clinging to a 3-point lead at that juncture.
Record-setting linebacker Evan Weaver lead a Cal defense that shut down the Bruins, registering six sacks, and limiting UCLA to 58 yards rushing on 35 attempts. Weaver had nine solo tackles, allowing him to pass Cal great Hardy Nickerson as the all-time, season-leader in tackles with 173.
UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson kept his team in it by completing 23 of 39 passes for 271 yards, but five sacks took their toll. Thompson-Robinson failed to finish the game, getting knocked out in the fourth quarter, one week after he was unable to finish the game against USC.
The Bears (7-5, 4-5) will wait until December 8, after the completion of the conference championship games, to find out their bowl destination. Their likely landing spots are the Cheez-It Bowl at Chase Field in Phoenix, or the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.