UCLA, Thompson-Robinson Run Cal Ragged: Bears lose to the Bruins, 35-28 in the season finale

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA– Turnovers, and a porous run defense spelled doom in Cal’s season finale against UCLA.

And in there, engaged to the end, trying to navigate the hosts through a portal to overcome a late deficit was Joe Starkey, on his final call as the voice of Golden Bears football.

All for naught, and on this rare Friday afternoon of football, not a bonanza.

The Bears embraced their opportunity to soften a rough season with consecutive wins at its conclusion but couldn’t seal the deal. Cal led 21-10 before halftime and regained a 28-27 lead with 11:16 remaining. But UCLA’s 352 yards rushing on a relentless 64 attempts simply wore Cal down.

“It was a heartbreaking loss. We had plenty of opportunities,” coach Justin Wilcox said.

After both aforementioned leads, UCLA simply looked to senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson along with their run game to get back into the game and got quick results.

With just 58 seconds to work with before halftime, Thompson-Robinson led the Bruins on a five-play touchdown drive to get within 21-17. The fifth-year senior handled the final 19 yards on an aborted pass play that ended with him motoring to the end zone.

Trailing by one in the fourth quarter, the Bruins needed ten plays to take the lead for good, with half of the plays either a Thompson-Robinson run or completed pass. The ensuing two-point conversion–a Thompson-Robinson pass to Jake Bobo–gave the Bruins a 35-28 lead with 7:53 remaining.

“We were a little frustrated, a little teed off. We’re a lot better football team than that,” Thompson-Robinson said of the two deficits the visitors faced. “But again, the resiliency and ability to fix those things. We’ve got a bunch of smart football players out on that field.”

The Bears saw success throwing on the Bruins along the boundaries to their productive receivers, Jeremiah Hunter and J. Michael Sturdivant. Hunter had a big afternoon with eight catches, 153 yards, and two scores. Conversely, Cal couldn’t sustain its success passing with a subpar 3 of 10 on third down conversions.

“We knew it was a game of third downs, then taking some shots,” Wilcox said in commending his interim play calling team that directed the offense to a 361-yard output.

The Bruins dwarfed that with their 541-yard total and a significant edge in time of possession. If nothing else, that differential paved the way for a very, tired final seven minutes for the Bears in which they failed to threaten UCLA’s lead. When Cal regained possession with two minutes left, they ran just four plays and saw freshman Jaydn Ott fumble after gaining enough yardage for a first down.

The Bruins recovered and ran out the clock, forcing the Bears to exhaust their remaining two timeouts.

Cal finished 4-8 with just two Pac-12 victories in nine opportunities. That means changes are inevitable beyond those made during the season as Wilcox tried everything to pump up his lackluster offense without success.

“You’ve got to look at the positives,” senior safety Daniel Scott said. “We played a lot of close games. It’s just the small details that cost us some games.”

Jack Plummer’s decision to return or not will likely be the first of numerous ones that will hopefully result in the program getting back on track. If Plummer does return, he’ll be challenged by sophomore quarterback Kai Millner.

Starkey concluded a stellar, 48-year run as the radio voice of Cal football that began in 1975. For years, Starkey assumed the arduous task of broadcasting Cal and 49ers football each weekend, which finally took its toll. Still, the versatile broadcaster kept both teams going, as he was at the mike for all five 49ers’ Super Bowl victories.

“Very emotional. I’ve been there for a very long time,” Starkey, 81, said after leaving the microphone for the last time. “We’ve gone to some wonderful places. I’ve done college games, for God’s sake, for Cal in Tokyo and Australia. What a way to spend a life.”

“Play Better Football”: Frustrated Cal can’t keep up with No. 9 USC in 41-35 loss

By Morris Phillips

Justin Wilcox has had enough of close games, narrow losses and explaining the shortcomings to the media after games.

From the California coach’s perspective, his guys are capable. Add to that, the USC coaching staff admitted the Trojans play left them vulnerable to a loss Saturday night, and they were fortunate to escape with a 41-35 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

That left Wilcox to issue terse, brief responses and basically ignore a critical sequence before halftime in which Jeremiah Hunter was blatantly held while running a deep pattern. That caused Jake Plummer to overthrow his pass to Hunter that was picked off by USC’s Caleb Bullock. Three plays later the Trojans were in the end zone, and in possession of their first, two-score lead of the night, 20-7 heading into halftime.

“I can’t really talk about the officials,” Wilcox said. “We needed something more at the end of the first half.

“We need to play better football so we can win some of these games.”

The Bears were playing better football, forcing the high-octane USC offense to punt four times before halftime. Down just 13-7 approaching the half, Cal found itself in a winnable game without–to that juncture–having exploited the Trojans’ less than stellar defense.

Bullock’s critical interception, accelerated the pace, and allowed quarterback Caleb Williams to find his stride. Williams’ 39-yard pass play to Tahj Washington set the Trojans up at Cal’s 7-yard line, and they punched it in on the next play when Williams hooked up with Michael Jackson III on a diving catch in the end zone.

Cal’s three-and-out to start the second half simply increased the pressure on the defense that had held up so well early. Four plays later, the Cal defense broke when Jackson caught a short pass, slipped linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo and was off to the races. Jackson’s 59-yard scoring play put USC up 27-7.

The 20-point margin forced Cal to take chances in the pass game, and that approach worked with the Trojans’ defense finally showing its warts. After a scoreless, second quarter that essentially decided the outcome, Jack Plummer made the game competitive with a passing performance that would see him throw for 406 yards and three scores.

The Bears got within 34-21 with 12:56 remaining when Plummer connected with Mavin Anderson on a 47-yard pass play. Four minutes later, Hunter’s three-yard touchdown catch had Cal down 34-27.

Jackson was the catalyst again on USC’s ensuing drive. His 29-yard catch, and 19-yard run put the hosts in Cal territory. Four plays later Williams found Lake McRee for a two-yard touchdown pass that put the game out of reach at 41-27 with 5:34 remaining.

After a slow start, Williams finished with 26 completions for 360 yards and four touchdowns. For the No. 9 Trojans, who harbor championship aspirations, Williams was the good news.

Really disappointing,” USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “It’s a 60-minute football game. That’s not new. The nice thing is we sit here today as frustrated as we are and it’s after a win.”

“If you’re winning, you’re doing more good than bad, right?” head coach Lincoln Riley said. “We just got to continue to do more good. And we gotta continue to eliminate some of the bad football that has held us back from playing our best.”

The Bears have suffered one score losses to Notre Dame, Colorado, Washington and USC. Their last win: September 24 over Arizona. Five, consecutive losses frame Wilcox’s frustration.

“Execute at a higher level move the ball and put it in the end zone, get people off the field. Yeah, we know USC is a great team, phenomenal talent, top speed. But the evidence.. you got to show them on the tape,” Wilcox said.

The Bears (3-6, 1-5) travel to Corvallis Saturday to face Oregon State (6-3, 3-3) who undoubtedly will fall from the national rankings after their narrow 24-21 loss to the Huskies on Friday.

Nix For Six: Oregon QB starts slow, then shreds Cal in 42-24 win

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–It’s the story thus far of Cal’s season, and their four-game losing streak: spotty play, and the inability to sustain momentum.

“There’s some things that happened at the end of the first half and start of the second that if we would have performed a bit better, then we could have made that game very competitive,” coach Justin Wilcox said.

Cal’s 42-24 loss to Oregon saw Cal stop the high-scoring Ducks early, handing them their first, scoreless opening quarter in six games, but not backing that effort with a significant lead they could protect. Instead Cal’s brief 10-7 advantage evaporated and quarterback Bo Nix emerged.

Nix led the Ducks on a pair of touchdown drives before halftime, another in the third, and another to start the fourth quarter. Within that stretch, the Bears went without points on five, straight possessions and found themselves trailing 35-10 with 12:19 remaining.

Deflating? You bet, especially for Cal fans inside Memorial Stadium that gained a charge from Cal’s encouraging, first 25 minutes of play. But this was hardly surprising. The Ducks, winners of seven straight, are jelling under new coach Dan Lanning, and they own this series. Oregon has won 12 of 14 since 2009.

Lanning’s remarks after the game reflected the dominance. The former Georgia defensive coordinator didn’t expend a bunch of words crediting Cal. Instead, his focus was clearly on what his club needs to clean up with their unspoken goal of remaining in the National title hunt.

“At times we really had it and at times we didn’t,” Lanning said. “(We) struggled a little bit times at times in the red area, gave up some big pass plays that we don’t want to see on defense. I think all around there’s moments of improvement for our team. I think our guys are hungry to improve.”

Nix stood as the biggest difference between the clubs with his 27 of 35, 412-yard afternoon. The Auburn transfer had three touchdown passes and ran for three more scores. That combination of passing yardage and touchdowns put Nix in rare company with the deceased Dwayne Haskins and current 49er Brock Purdy as the only FBS quarterbacks to throw for at least 400 yards and three touchdowns along with three rushing touchdowns in the last ten seasons.

“I didn’t play my best today, but fortunately the guys around me played really good to still put up some points,” said Nix, with his mind on a pair of interceptions he threw that ultimately didn’t damage his team at all.

The Bears haven’t beaten a team ranked in the top ten nationally since 2017, and the numbers revealed the distance they’ll need to cover to again pull of that feat. No. 8 Oreon put up 586 yards in total offense and 42 points, which is two touchdowns more than Cal had allowed in the six, previous games this season.

Freshman Kai Millner replaced Jack Plummer in the fourth quarter, and the redshirt freshman led Cal to a pair of respectability-grabbing touchdowns in the game’s final five minutes. Plummer didn’t play poorly with 214 yards passing and the touchdown pass to J. Michael Sturdivant that gave Cal its lead. But with the game’s outcome decided, Wilcox opted to get Millner valuable experience.

Sturdivant and Jeremiah Hunter were Cal’s bright spots with a combined 11 catches, and their ability to outduel Oregon’s secondary for a pair of lengthy pass completions. Given their success, Hunter’s words after the game confirming that the Cal locker room remains unified holds significance. Hunter also echoed Wilcox regarding Cal’s inconsistent play.

“We have to have a game where–like coach said–both sides of the ball come together and play their best,” Hunter said. “We haven’t done that yet.”

The Bears visit USC on Saturday night with the No. 10 Trojans giving them a second, consecutive, top ten opponent.

Good, Bad And All That’s Between: Bears’ effectiveness wanes then surges in 28-21 loss to Washington

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–At some point, the Cal Bears went from hanging around to hanging touchdowns.

And at some point, the Washington Huskies went from being lulled to sleep to no lull at all.

Cal’s 28-21 loss to the visiting Huskies was a strange affair. But college football games often are strange. Only winning makes them more familiar.

Cal’s biggest misgiving on a Saturday night in which their offensive showed up late, and their defense departed early? It’s okay to be fashionably late if you can fashion together a win.

“We played some good football in stretches in the game, but we lost so that sucks obviously,” said linebacker Jackson Sirmon, who led Cal with 11 tackles.

“I thought our players gave us everything they had,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “In the first half we didn’t get quite enough going on offense. In the second half, we needed one more stop… somewhere. And we didn’t get it done. They’re a good team. That’s the bottom line.”

The Huskies piled up the yardage as their offense has done all season with an average of 528 yards per game coming in. But in a 245-yard first half, Washington came away with just two field goals and a 6-0 lead. Quarterback Michael Penix saw a couple of his early passes dropped. A curious decision by Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer to attempt a field goal when his offense faced a 4th-and-3 at Cal’s 18-yard line preceded Peyton Henry’s second field goal.

A conservative Huskies offense? Yes, in part. Previously DeBoer had attempted fourth down conversions 19 times in seven games, making them one of the most, aggressive attacks in the nation. But with Cal sputtering on offense–just 83 yards in the first half–Washington took what it was easily afforded.

The Bears announced after the game that standout, offensive tackle Michael Cindric will miss the remainder of the season saying only that he’ll require surgery in advance of next season. His absence prompted a second, reshuffling of Cal’s offensive line in less than a month. That essentially cost Cal’s offense early as they rushed for just five yards and saw Jack Plummer take a pair of damaging sacks that killed Cal drives.

Plummer gamely came out firing in the second half, marching Cal to a 7-6 lead after he connected with J. Michael Sturdivant on a 8-yard touchdown pass. Immediately, Plummer had Jadyn Ott and Mason Starling (starting in place of the injured Jeremiah Hunter) engaged as well.

Five minutes into the second half, the Bears had the lead and momentum. The Huskies were left to answer for their porous, secondary that was thrown on repeatedly in losses to UCLA and Arizona State. And they responded behind Penix, the national leader in passing yardage.

Washington’s 11-play drive capped by Cameron Davis’ 6-yard run to the end zone, and the ensuing two-point conversion with Penix throwing to Ja’Lynn Polk restored a 14-7 lead for the visitors.

Penix would add a pair of touchdown passes early in the fourth. His 36-yard completion to Richard Newton put the Huskies in control, leading 28-14 with 10:19 remaining.

Down two touchdowns, Cal didn’t go away. They put together a 12-play drive that was crystallized by Mavin Anderson’s leaping, touchdown catch on 4th-and-7. Anderson also contributed a 34-yard catch on the drive that brought Cal within 28-21 with 6:11 remaining.

Plummer finished 21 of 34, 245 yards passing and three touchdowns. But his last gasp attempt at a game-tying score died with an incomplete pass at the Washington 42-yard line with 28 seconds left.

“There’s a lot of belief, and we keep fighting,” DeBoer said of his Huskies (6-2). “And most importantly, we just need to keep getting better. And when you really try to narrow it down, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. Just get better”

The Bears (3-4) face another high-scoring opponent in Oregon on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

Emotional Stampede: Winless Colorado stuns Cal in OT, 20-13

By Morris Phillips

Re-energized and inspired by an injured teammate’s recovery, Colorado was a force to be reckoned with for the Cal Bears.

It didn’t matter that the Buffs were allowing an average of 38 points per game, they held Cal scoreless in an eye-opening, first half.

Then Colorado withstood a back-and-forth fourth quarter, and scored the only touchdown of overtime, a 22-yard pass from J.T. Shrout to Montana Lemonious-Craig to win 20-13.

“This is all about their response, their resolve,” interim coach Mike Sanford said. “The stuff that I said here 10 days ago, everyone thought I was crazy when I talked about what an unbelievable group of resilient fighters that we have in our locker room. I think everybody had a chance to see that on full display today.”

From 0-5 to winning a sixth game in front of a raucous, home crowd that stormed the field after Cal’s Jake Plummer’s last pass attempt in the end zone fell incomplete doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Throughout, the Bears couldn’t sustain anything offensively, and they looked nothing like the team that put up 49 points on Arizona three games ago.

“It’s very hard to win at this level scoring one touchdown,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “You’ve got to put the ball in the end zone, and credit to them. They did it more than we did.”

Plummer’s pass to Mason Starling on first down in overtime appeared to be caught to pull call within an extra point of getting Cal even, but fast-closing safety Trevor Woods ripped the ball loose.

“I saw the ball lobbed in there, and he didn’t really make an effort to go get it,” Woods said. “I punched it as hard as I could.”

Plummer finished 29 for 52 passing for 262 yards and one interception where he overthrew a deep ball down the middle. While Plummer was mildly effective, the Cal run game suffered a miserable afternoon with only 35 yards rushing and one, lengthy run of 22 yards from Jadyn Ott.

“You can’t run a run play or a pass play very effectively if you don’t start up front. Generally speaking you have to block the people up front in the run and pass game and we we didn’t do a good enough job of that today, and their front got after our front.”

The high point for Cal was a third quarter touchdown pass from Plummer to J. Michael Sturdivant that saw Sturdivant calmly get his feet down in bounds after a leaping catch along the sideline. That put Cal up, 7-3.

The Buffs responded early in the fourth with a one-yard run from Anthony Hankerson that capped a six-play drive, and put Colorado up, 10-7. Cal got a field goal from Dario Longhetto to tie at 10, then with time expiring, Longhetto hit from 34 yards to tie the game, 13-13, at the end of regulation.

Buffs running back Deion Smith was injured early in the fourth quarter, and after several anxious moments, Smith was removed by a stretcher while surrounded by the entire Colorado team. When the celebration moved from the field to the locker room after the game, the team was given that much more to celebrate. Smith was up and walking.

“Deion is up and walking and I think he was emotional because he didn’t have a chance to celebrate on the field with his teammates. But he was a huge part of that victory, both in his play and more importantly, just how much this team loves him and showed their support for him.”

If Colorado’s story wasn’t improbable enough, Shrout replaced starter Owen McCown, who was hit in the mid-section, and couldn’t continue. But Shrout came on and led Colorado to it’s only touchdown in regulation, and a 10-7 lead.

The Bears (3-3) return to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on October 22 to host Washington.

Bears Blues: Cal bows out quietly in 28-9 loss at Washington State

By Morris Phillips

The question “Can the Cal Bears win one on the road?” became more burdensome as the afternoon in Pullman, Washington progressed.

As in “Can the Bears win on the road if they don’t score first, don’t get a big afternoon from Jaydn Ott, or if they score a measly fraction of the 49 points they put up on Arizona last week?”

The answer: No, no, no and no.

In losing 28-9 to Washington State, the Bears wasted a first half of solid play defensively by failing to gain any consistency on offense in either half. The Bears brief moment of competitiveness–Ott’s 2-yard touchdown run at the outset of the fourth quarter–failed to resonate when two Bears tripped over each other on a failed, two-point conversion attempt that would have trimmed their deficit to 14-11.

“We got nothing going in the run game,” coach Justin Wilcox admitted. “Pass protection wasn’t where it needed to be. We’re all gonna share in that, but we didn’t expect to be as poor as we were in those areas today, especially coming off of last week.”

The Bears have lost nine of their last 10 road games dating back to 2020.

Cal scored 49 points in racing past Arizona at home last week, but the host Cougars kept Cal from converting 11 third down opportunities resulting in nine Cal punts. Once seven Cal plays that loss yardage and four sacks of quarterback Jake Plummer were factored in Cal’s offense numbers shrank dramatically.

Ott, the freshman who gained 274 yards rushing against Arizona, was productive again, but nowhere near spectacular. On 23 touches, run and pass, Ott gained 110 yards and had double-digit gainers on the ground and through the air. Jeremiah Hunter (109 yards receiving) and J. Michael Sturdivant (six catches, 71 yards) were factors as well. But the trio’s numbers didn’t amount to much on the scoreboard.

“A couple of big plays in the air, and that was nice to see, but we gotta score more than that, everybody knows that,” Wilcox said.

FCS-transfer quarterback Cameron Ward threw for 343 yards and two scores to lead WSU despite throwing two interceptions. Ward connected with Robert Ferrel for a beautifully-timed and placed TD pass to open the third quarter that increased WSU’s lead to 14-3. In the fourth quarter Ward hit Renard Bell for a 37-yard score and a 21-9 lead.

Ward also extended plays with his feet, and that was more influential than the turnovers as the Cougars converted six, third down opportunities and two more on fourth down.

“We had three or four chances for some negative plays on them, but we just couldn’t get him on the ground,” Wilcox said of the mobile Ward.

Beyond the four sacks, Jack Plummer was harassed throughout by the Washington State pass rush, and he suffered a knee injury late in the game. No report was released regarding the severity of the injury with the Bears now having two weeks to prepare for their next game at Colorado.

Plummer finished 22 of 33 for 273 yards.

“We obviously don’t want him to get hit,” offensive lineman Matthew Cindrich said. “We definitely have to look ourselves in the mirror and say what can we do to not let that happen anymore.”

Ott’s 3 TD’s, decisive third quarter lead Cal past Arizona, 49-31 in the Pac-12 opener

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.

Irish Smell Blood: Notre Dame survives Cal’s initial success, and pulls away in a 24-17 win

By Morris Phillips

Once Notre Dame minimized the negativity of an 0-2 start, a halftime deficit in game three, keeping the focus on themselves and their physical advantages, the California Bears were made to pay.

Cal’s first trip to South Bend since 1967 was far more competitive than the last, but the Fighting Irish prevailed 24-17 on the strength of a decisive, fourth quarter in which Cal was shutout.

In the end, coach Marcus Freeman was the most emotional member of the Irish’s sideline, and that was a good thing for the hosts.

“I think we we’re down three, and I just said, this isn’t going to be a repeat,” said Freeman, after his first career win, excited and nearly breathless in his post-game comments. “This isn’t going to be here we go again. We are going to change the outcome of this game. And it’s going to be by our offense going out there and doing what we have to do and executing, and then our defense when we get the opportunity we’re going to go out there and execute. And that’s what you saw. We needed that. That was a big moment for us, because I could see it on some guy’s faces, and even mine, ‘Oh, shoot, here we go again.’ It’s not here we go again.”

Cal lead 7-0, 10-7 and 17-14 when Freeman made his declaration. And from that point the second half simply didn’t go Cal’s way. The Irish’s punishing run attack found the first crack in Cal’s armor, and their defense, specifically a relentless, pass rush with seven dropping in coverage kept quarterback Jack Plummer from doing anything decisive.

Trailing 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bears drove to the Notre Dame 22, but suffered three straight incompletions followed by Isaiah Foskey’s sack of Plummer on fourth down.

Cal regained possession with 1:03 remaining and appeared cooked when Plummer was intercepted on first down. But a review of the play revealed a targeting foul on safety J.D. Bertrand that occurred before the interception and allowed Cal to retain possession.

Plummer then completed passes on four, consecutive plays to get Cal to the Notre Dame 29, but a sack, and an incomplete pass left Cal with the game’s final play from the 35. Plummer threw the ball in the end zone and saw several players tip it, including Cal’s Jeremiah Hunter, but the ball hit the ground ending the game.

“We played them down to the last play, Plummer said. “It was exciting. If we had scored there, we were going for two and try to get out of there.”

Plummer’s afternoon mirrored his team’s as a whole. The Purdue transfer finished 16 of 37 for 184 yards, with much of the production coming early and the incomplete passes late. But throughout the quarterback showed a surprising, running dynamic with 12 carries for 34 yards including a 24-yard gain in the second half. That dimension kept Cal alive at key junctures and in position to steal the game at the finish.

“We had chances to win. Too many errors. One or two more plays,” coach Justin Wilcox said.

The Bears enjoyed early success with the game’s first score, an 18-yard pass to J. Michael Sturdivant, who was wide open in the end zone behind the defense. Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne, who started in place of the injured Tyler Buchner, showed rust in the first half as did his receivers, who dropped a couple of passes.

A phantom offsides penalty on the Cal field goal coverage unit gave the Irish a second opportunity in Cal territory which they cashed in for their first score of the game. Chris Tyree’s 21-yard catch-and-run got Notre Dame even, 7-7.

At halftime, a frustrated Wilcox declined to comment on the offsides call that set up the score. Replay showed there was no movement along the Cal defensive front on the play.

The Bears open conference play on Saturday at Memorial Stadium against Arizona.

Downright Rebellious: UNLV’s late rally falls short, Cal moves to 2-0 with 20-14 win

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.