Hibernate? No, More Like Dominate: Bears end season on high note, beat Illini 35-20 in Redbox Bowl

By Morris Phillips

SANTA CLARA, CA–The Illini moved the ball, but the Bears moved the needle, making the majority of the big plays in their 35-20 Redbox Bowl victory over Illinois on Monday at Levi’s Stadium.

The Bears captured their first Bowl victory since the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force, and won eight games in a season for the first time in the last four seasons. Most importantly, they seized momentum heading into what should be a promising 2020 season.

“We talked in the locker room about the 2020 team,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “The expectations should continue to rise. There’s no reason why we can’t expect more of ourselves.”

Cal could return as many as 18 starters in 2020, 10 of those on offense. Chase Garbers previewed the upcoming season with an outstanding performance against Illinois, completing 21 of 31 for 272 yards and four scores, and a rushing touchdown as well. The Bears went as Garbers did in 2019, and the month-long break leading up to Monday’s contest allowed the redshirt sophomore to be healthy and effective, as the Cal offense kept the pressure on Illinois throughout.

Garbers was named the game’s offensive MVP, another honor for the quarterback who scored the winning touchdown in the final minute that broke Cal’s lengthy losing streak to Stanford.

“We knew there would be a lot of opportunities out there,” Garbers said. “The receivers did a great job running the right routes and catching the ball. I just had to put the ball where it’s supposed to be.”

The key play of the game may have come with 25 seconds remaining before halftime, and Cal clinging to a 14-10 lead. On the previous, third down play, Garbers was stuffed at the three-yard line, setting up a fourth down decision.

The Bears elected to go for it, passing on a field goal attempt that could have established a seven-point, halftime lead. Instead, Garbers found Christopher Brown Jr. on a swing pass that put Cal up 11.

The vaunted Cal defense had struggled to that point, allowing scores on Illinois’ first two possessions. But the defense stiffened from that point, allowing just one score–a fourth quarter, Reggie Corbin touchdown run–in the second half with Cal ahead comfortably at that point, 35-13.

All-American linebacker Evan Weaver finished the game with nine tackles, falling short in his bid to break the NCAA record for tackles in a season. Weaver finished with 182, short of Texas Tech’s Lawrence Flugence’s total of 193 established in 2002.

The Bears were outgained in total yards 450-395, but they came up with the big plays, like Zeandae Johnson’s sack and strip of quarterback Brandon Peters that ended Illinois’ initial possession of the second half.  Brown contributed Cal’s lengthiest gainer, a 54-yard run in the first half, but Cal’s scoring plays were all executed in the red zone. Garbers threw touchdown passes covering just 2, 3, 4 and 6 yards.

“Our offensive staff did a great job putting a game plan together and trying to dial it up,” said Wilcox, giving a respectful nod to outgoing offensive coordinator, Beau Baldwin and offensive line coach, Steve Greatwood, who announced his retirement in the days leading up to the game. Baldwin previously was announced as the new head coach at Cal Poly.

The Bears open the 2020 season in Las Vegas against UNLV on August 29 in Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Raiders and the Rebels.

 

Cal’s Comfort Zone: Bears at home in the Redbox Bowl in more ways than one

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Last year the Cal Bears played awful and were the brunt of jokes. This year, they seem to have the hang of this bowl season thing. Team captain Jake Curhan showed as much, by setting ground rules for the Redbox Bowl press conference at the outset.

“Before we begin real quick: Nikko, Cam and I are really excited to join our teammates on Alcatraz, so respectfully we’re going to be pretty efficient with our answers, and we would appreciate the same from you guys. Thanks.”

A year ago in Phoenix at the Cheez-It Bowl, the Bears were one-half of a turnover fest, throwing five interceptions in a 10-7 overtime loss to TCU that left the Chase Field crowd and the television audience shaking their collective heads. The Horned Frogs kicked in four interceptions of their own in a game that no one wanted to win–in regulation–leaving the decision to an overtime period that brought out social media trolls in droves.

This bowl season, the Bears are in their backyard, playing good football coming in, and looking healthy for Monday’s kickoff at Levi’s Stadium against Big Ten opponent Illinois. A matchup of Cal’s vaunted defense against a team that lost it last two while scoring just 10 points in each game seems favorable.

Coach Justin Wilcox knows turnovers can’t litter the landscape at Levi’s. Illinois (6-6) thrives on them, using seven turnovers to upset Wisconsin and win at Michigan State in their two marquee wins.

“You go into a game playing with great ball security. So we want to play with really, good habits,” Wilcox said. “Possessions will be a premium in this game.”

Wilcox lifted Garbers after throwing his third interception against TCU. That put the ball in Chase Forrest’s hands, and he threw two more picks, including the most damaging one in overtime. Forrest was thrust into the fire, seeing his first, significant time in his five-year Berkeley career. This season, Garbers is in control, throwing just three picks in 184 pass attempts. More importantly, Garbers has rounded into a winner, posting a 6-0 record this year and 12-2 in his career when he starts and finishes the game.

Besides a healthy Garbers, the Bears (7-5) have regained their health and depth on the offensive line, and they figure to cover for their one significant, personnel omission, injured safety Ashtyn Davis, by utilizing their secondary depth, the team’s most impressive unit.

Wilcox said Elijah Hicks will see time at safety against Illinois, with the possibility that corner Cameron Bynum will also see time there as well.

Illinois received good news on the injury front when quarterback Brandon Peters was cleared for action after suffering a concussion against Iowa, which forced the Michigan transfer to miss the Illini’s season-ending loss to Northwestern. Of course, Peters will have his hands full dealing with Cal’s All-American linebacker Evan Weaver and fellow linebacker Cameron Goode, who is coming off two of the most impressive outings of his Cal career.

“His body’s changed, as you probably noticed he gained 25-30 pounds. I think that helped him to be to sustain the season and be able to withstand the rigors of a full season. He’s worked hard at that. And I still think Cam’s best football is front of him. He’s a talented kid,” Wilcox said of Goode.

 

Cal Dumps UCLA 28-18, awaits their bowl destination with a seventh win

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.

Return Of The Axe: Garbers, Cal responds late to capture the 122th Big Game, 24-20

By Morris Phillips

STANFORD — Chase Garbers began the week as a question mark, unable to practice, and an unlikely participant in the Big Game against Stanford.

He ended the week, standing tall in the end zone after scrambling 17 yards for the winning score as Cal shocked Stanford, 24-20, with two touchdowns in the game’s final eight minutes.

“To make some of the throws that he made on the last drive and then the scramble for the touchdown, those are huge plays,” coach Justin Wilcox said of Garbers. “And I think people are going to be talking about that drive for a while.”

With Cal facing the possibility of a tenth consecutive loss to their Bay Area rival, Garbers and receiver Nikko Remigio stepped up, firmly planting their names on the face of the rivalry. Garbers started the day tentatively, throwing instead of taking an opportunity to run for a first down in the second period. He finished the Big Game as a duel threat, throwing for 285 yards, and running 13 times for 72 yards as well.

Remigio finished with nine catches for career-best 157 yards. With 7:44 remaining, and Stanford leading 17-10 while holding Cal scoreless in the second half to that point, Remigio broke free in front of the goal post and caught a 17-yard, game-tying touchdown from Garbers. Then on Garbers game-winning touchdown, Remigio’s block on Stanford safety Jonathan McGill near the goal line created space for the quarterback to score.

Ironically, Remigio had a pair of second quarter drops against USC the previous week that helped the Trojans break open a close game and go on to a 41-17 victory over Cal. On Saturday, Remigio had the best game of his career.

“Nikko did a great job,” Garbers said. “He was missing a couple of games due to injury, but he played one of his best games I’ve ever seen him play today. And awesome to have a wideout like him who is so versatile.”

Stanford’s Davis Mills played well enough to be the game’s hero, by completing 26 of 35 passes for 283 yards in place of the Cardinal’s injured K.J. Costello. But two interceptions in the third quarter hurt Mills’ effort, including the first career interception by Cal’s Daniel Scott.

Both teams came into the game with numerous injuries, and Stanford reportedly played with 25 players unavailable. But the game was competitive throughout, and well played, with Davis’ interceptions the only turnovers for either team. Both teams avoided penalties as well, committing just four each.

The win gave the Bears (6-5, 3-5) bowl eligibility for the second, consecutive year with one game remaining next weekend at UCLA. The loss insures that Stanford will finish with a losing record for the first time in 10 years. The Cardinal had made bowl appearances in each of those 10 seasons.

Stanford completes their season with a home game against No. 16 Notre Dame next weekend.

Cal fans stormed the field after the game surrounding the Axe–the game’s signature prize–as well as enthusiastically greeting the players. Evan Weaver, Cal’s record-breaking linebacker, was congratulated by his father, and Remigio got emotional when meeting his family.

“I was sitting there crying like a baby,” Remigio said. “It was an indescribable experience.”

Garbers also had the chaotic scene create an indelible memory for him as well.

“I saw a bunch of people rushing the field and a lot of people jumping. I was trying not to get knocked over. But it was awesome to see the Cal fans get up on the field and celebrate with us because it really means a lot to them and us,” Garbers said.

Not Here, Not Tonight: Slovis, Trojans overwhelm Bears in 41-17 win

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The USC Trojans dealt with adversity early, then seamlessly eased into cruise control, whipping the Cal Bears 41-17 Saturday night.

Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis threw 406 yards and four touchdowns in a game that was tied 10-10 late in the second quarter, but quickly turned for the Trojans at that point.  Slovis connected with Michael Pittman Jr. for a 33-yard touchdown pass 43 seconds prior to halftime. Then on the opening drive of the second half Slovis hooked up with Drake London for an 8-yard score that made it 24-10.

That sequence highlighted the theme for the evening: Cal’s highly-regarded secondary was no match for the Trojans’ receivers and the crafty Slovis.

“Credit the wideouts,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “They did an elite job when they got in one-on-one situations, making big plays for the kid. When you have four touchdowns and zero interceptions, that’s a hell of a day.”

Slovis repeatedly bought time in and out of the pocket in order to make big plays downfield. London, Pittman and Amon-Ra St. Brown each had pass plays for 45 yards or more. USC would go on to reel off 31 consecutive points, turning the game into a rout.

“Our guys wanted to compete against them. I love that about them,” said head coach Justin Wilcox. “But you have to give them credit. The matchups are as tough as it’s been. I’ve seen great receivers in this league, but not a collection like that.”

While USC made highlight reel plays, the Bears struggled to keep their best players on the field. First, Christopher Brown was lost for the evening when USC’s Michael Rector delivered a vicious hit as the Bears were driving. Upon further review, Rector was hit with a targeting penalty and ejected from the game.

Chase Garbers returned to action after missing five games, and appeared sharp, as well as afforded snaps to ease into a competitive ballgame. But that scenario ended abruptly when the sophomore quarterback injured his shoulder in the second quarter and did not return.

Reserve inside linebacker Evan Tattersall was injured during a punt coverage play in which he was pushed backwards and suffered an apparent neck injury. Tattersall remained down on the field for several minutes and was taken to a local hospital. After the game, Wilcox reported that Tattersall had movement in all of his extremities and was expected to be released from the hospital.

On defense, senior safety Ashtyn Davis suffered a knee injury and did not finish the game.

The Bears have not defeated USC in Berkeley since 2003. They remain one win from Bowl eligibility with games remaining at Stanford and at UCLA.

The 122nd Big Game is up first next Saturday at 1pm.

With Garbers lost to injury, ASU seizes an opportunity with big 24-17 upset win over No. 15 Cal

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — By the numbers, Friday Night Lights in the Pac-12 conference has been pretty predictable.

Fifteen games, 13 wins for the home team.

But if you throw a veteran coach with the pedigree of Herm Edwards into the mix, the task of going on the road–against a good team–on a short week gains some clarity.

It did for Arizona State, and the task became even clearer when Cal quarterback Chase Garbers was felled with a shoulder injury.

“We forced them to throw the ball. We had to put our best guys on their guys and go cover them,” Edwards said.

“We’re playing the 15th ranked team on the road. You can’t be afraid to win. We had nothing to lose. The pressure was on them.”

In a tight ballgame that was tied after each of the first three quarters, the Sun Devils didn’t flinch. With the exception of the opening drive of the second half, the Cal running game was shut down. Garbers kept the Bears churning, throwing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Treveon Clark, but he was finished before halftime after he was tripped up and fell hard on shoulder.

The wopening drive of the second half provided momentum for Cal. They ran the ball on all 12 plays, played at a faster pace, and took a 14-7 lead on Christopher Brown Jr.’s 1-yard run.

But Arizona State answered right back, first with a big kickoff return from Brandon Aiyuk that was aided by a 15-yard penalty on Jose Ogunbanjo for grabbing Aiyuk’s face mask. Seven plays later, the Sun Devils were tied again after Benjamin Eno’s touchdown run.

Ogunbanjo gained some redemption when he recovered ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels fumble forced by linebacker Cameron Goode. That set up the Bears at the ASU 30-yard line with 11:58 remaining. But the Bears did little offensively, settling for Greg Thomas’ 47-yard field goal.

The field goal and the 17-14 lead would be Cal’s final push of the evening. Behind the running of Benjamin, ASU responded, turning a 15-play drive into a 21-17 lead with 6:16 remaining. Benjamin challenged himself and his offensive mates on the sideline prior to the drive.

“They don’t have their starting quarterback,” Benjamin told his teammates. “We have to take advantage of it.”

The Sun Devils registered back-to-back road upsets of ranked teams in nearly 15 years by beating the Bears, and No. 18 Michigan State two weeks ago. Edwards declared that being the visitor took the pressure off his team in both cases.

“When it’s a one-score game, you’re comfortable being uncomfortable,” Edwards said of his team’s mindset.

Afterwards, the Bears pointed to their lack of effort as the difference in the game.

“Can’t play very well and can’t win games when you’re not even making the simple plays, and we didn’t today. That was it,” said linebacker and defensive leader Evan Weaver.

The Bears failed to move to 5-0 for the first time since 2015. They travel to Oregon next week for a meeting with the No. 13 Ducks.

Garbers enjoys his best game, Cal improves to 4-0 with 28-20 win over Ole Miss

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.

Cutting It Close: Bears happy to be 3-0, but not happy with narrow, 23-16 win over North Texas

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — Winning is what it’s all about, but this early in the season, improvement is almost as important.

The Cal Bears jumped to a 20-0 lead over Conference USA opponent North Texas, which was exactly what they wanted after falling behind 10-0 in each of their previous wins.

But after punts on four, consecutive second half possessions, the Bears had to sweat out a final possession by North Texas with the Mean Green having a chance to win it with a touchdown.

“We have to play a lot better,” quarterback Chase Garbers said. “It starts with me. I just have to put ball in the right spot. Everywhere else we just have to execute better.”

Garbers may have given himself a harsh assessment, but he was a big factor in the win, carrying the ball a career-high 18 times for 70 yards. Where Garbers didn’t necessarily get it done was in the pass game, where he completed just 9 of 22 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.

And the Bears managed just 17 first downs and 278 yards of total offense. Not enough to extend their second quarter lead, and not enough to put North Texas away early.

“Our guys play hard and the effort’s really good. Now the level of execution’s gotta match that for us to do what we want to do,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “We’re not there yet.”

Defensively, the Bears did what they intended for the majority of the game. North Texas senior quarterback Mason Fine threw for two scores, but both came in the second half, and a critical interception by Cal’s Traveon Beck was sandwiched in between the scores. Fine threw for 210 yards, but misfired on 19 of his 40 pass attempts.

“You have to credit Cal,” Fine said. “They did a great job defensively, mixed it up and didn’t let us drive it. They made the plays.”

Cal went the final three quarters scoring just three points, and while they flatlined offensively, injuries may have played a critical role. Christopher Brown Jr., Cameron Goode, Tevin Paul, Ben Hawk Shrider and Chinedu Udeogu all suffered in-game injuries and didn’t finish. Brown, the Bears’ most, productive offensive player thus far rushed for just 47 yards on 13 carries.

The Bears travel to Oxford, Mississippi on Saturday for a date with Ole Miss.

Cal Stays Cool: Bears shake off early adversity and deficit, squeeze past UC Davis, 27-13

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — Coach Justin Wilcox hates it when his club loses the turnover battle, linebacker Evan Weaver–ever the perfectionist–never minces words when assessing the Bears’ defense, and running back Christopher Brown Jr.–a new voice in the mix–was simply doing what he was taught to do, in impacting the Cal football record book in just his first, collegiate start on Saturday.

If you’re keeping score that’s one positive, and two negatives, for the Bears on the occasion of their 2019 opener. But that positive–Brown’s 197 yards rushing, setting the record for a Cal running back in his first start–was significant enough to carry the Bears past UC Davis, 27-13 at Memorial Stadium.

Brown bludgeoned the Aggies for four quarters, carrying the ball 36 times as the Bears overcame an early 10-0 deficit and methodically wore down UC Davis in the opener for both teams. Brown’s 5-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, broke a 13-13 tie, and gave Cal a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“That’s what we expect of him,” Wilcox said of Brown. “He’s a big, physical guy and this is his type of game–give it to him and let him break tackles. He’s a hard guy to bring down. It was great to see him out there.”

The 230-pound Brown played sparingly as a freshman in 2018. But with Patrick Laird departed, he’s stepped into the feature back role flawlessly. And his preparation–as he and Wilcox noted after the game–couldn’t have been more effective. Fourteen of his 36 carries came in the fourth quarter, and none went for more than 26 yards. Throughout, Brown was a tireless nightmare for the Aggie defense, which eventually wore down in the final minutes.

“My plan was to follow my coaches’ rules,” Brown said after he easily surpassed Jahvid Best’s first start in 2008 totaling 111 yards rushing. “We have been doing the same thing all of camp and the plan was not to change anything from practice. The same as we have been doing all along meaning going through eye progression, reading the correct gaps, doing what Coach (Nicholas) Edwards teaches us to do day-by-day.”

Brown’s contributions were vital with the Bears fumbling the opening kickoff, and falling behind 7-0 less than two minutes into the contest. But the adversity didn’t end there. The Bears turned it over twice in their first four possessions and punted twice. UC Davis didn’t just settle either. The Aggies ran 25 offensive plays to Cal’s 10, and capped the longest drive of the day with Max O’Rourke’s 40-yard field goal that put UC Davis up 10-0. With an upset of Stanford in their recent history, the minds of all involved started racing with UC Davis off to a roaring start.

But Wilcox remained calm and resolute which rubbed off on his football team. Afterwards, he explained.

“There wasn’t any panic. The guys stayed with it. We knew there would be some adversity in this game,” he said.

Quarterback Chase Garbers, who would bounce back to throw a pair of touchdowns to Kekoa Crawford, didn’t overplay the slow start either. Garbers finished 16 of 28 for 238 yards passing and one pick.

“The fumble off the opening kickoff was definitely a momentum swing for them, putting them in our red zone. I think that attributed to it. I think also offensively we came out too loose,” Garbers said.

Defensively, beyond the rough start, Cal held its own. The Aggies were limited to 264 yards offensively stretched across 68 plays, and they accomplished little outside of their fast start. Still, defensive leader Weaver, didn’t like what he saw, saying the Bears accomplished little of what they set out to do. Still, he promised the Bears would be far better on Saturday when they visit the Washington Huskies in Seattle.

“Going forward it’s just how we respond,” Weaver said. “Can we clean up those little mistakes?”

No O: Bears’ offense missing in ninth consecutive Big Game loss to Stanford, 23-13

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY — If you’re a California Golden Bear, only one word applies: agonizing.

After eight consecutive Big Game losses to Stanford, the Cal Bears envisioned a new day, a portal in which they could charge through and disconnect the dominance the hated Cardinal had come to possess.

Just one problem: Cal’s offense needed to provide a touchdown (or two) to wrap the whole bundle in a tidy, holiday bow. Instead, they filled Memorial Stadium with missed opportunities.

Three possessions ending in a punt to start the game, two more of those to start the second half, a pair of passes picked off in spectacular fashion by Stanford’s Paulson Adebo, a fumble and a missed field goal. Throughout, the Cal offense teased, but didn’t produce.

A lot of action between the 20’s but no finishes, which added up to six points in a 23-13 loss that felt more lopsided before and after a cosmetic Cal touchdown in the game’s final 30 seconds.

“We had a lot of missed opportunities,” said quarterback Chase Garbers. “It hurts, but we have one more game to play, so we can’t keep ourselves down on this loss. We have to focus on the next game.”

The Bears had to feel confident coming in as the gap between the teams has narrowed. The Cardinal uncharacteristically lost four of five mid-season, while the Bears entered with a stretch of four wins in five games. The Butte County fires provided an extra week of preparation, and the game was now nicely positioned as a regular season-ending home game.

But underlying the whole, comfy setup was the fact that everyone in the Bay Area with a television and access to a local newspaper knew the Cal offense is lacking, beset by defections at the receiver spots, injuries along the offensive line, and inexperience at quarterback. On Saturday, Stanford knew best and proceeded accordingly.

“We needed our defense to pick us up, which they did,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We got two red zone stops and forced them to kick two field goals early on. The second half was all about the defense. We got a lot of stops and really stifled their running game. Paulson Adebo made two unbelievable interceptions.”

The 10-0 Stanford lead earned in the game’s first 11 minutes may have been Shaw’s most significant get. Capped by Cameron Scarlett’s 46-yard touchdown dash, the early lead put the pressure squarely on the Bears while allowing the Cardinal to settle into their preferred, conservative offense approach.

For the remaining three quarters, Stanford’s offense played to its strengths, running Bryce Love and throwing the ball to leaping marvel, JJ Arcega-Whiteside. They avoided for the most part running plays in the middle of the field where Cal’s duo of Evan Weaver and Jordan Kunaszyk awaited.

Still, Cal’s defense made plays, and once again single-handedly kept the entire team within striking distance.

But that fell apart, on three consecutive Cal possessions in which Garbers’ deep ball was misthrown and picked in the end zone, Greg Thomas missed a 36-yard that would have cut Stanford’s lead to 13-9, and Adebo picked Garbers again.

That stretch left Cal trailing 23-6 with 2:27 remaining, and their seemingly game-long quest to produce one touchdown, was now a quest to produce two touchdowns and a field goal.

“We know that Stanford is a heck of a program,” Wilcox summarized. “They’ve been winning for a long time and we have a lot of respect for their coaches and the way they play. Each and every week we are trying to improve, and that means winning. At the end of the day, it means winning. That’s what it’s all about.”