Cal starts fast, but sees North Carolina rally late in narrow 24-17 win

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — Undoubtedly the California Golden Bears got a break in their sun-drenched opener against the North Carolina Tar Heels, but did they take advantage of it?

The Tar Heels were rocked by suspensions of 13 players including starting quarterback Chazz Surratt and defensive lineman Malik Carney due to improper benefits derived from the sale of team-issued Air Jordan tennis shoes. That created one obvious mismatch with junior quarterback Nathan Elliott facing the fastidiously prepared Golden Bears’ defense.

But while Elliott struggled until the end of the third quarter, the Bears did little outside two, early touchdowns that put the game out of reach. Down 24-3, North Carolina came up with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to turn the final minutes anxious.

After the game, UNC’s early, offensive struggles and Cal’s uneven defense late stood out, but the Tar Heels four turnovers trumped both happenings in explaining how this one was won.

“Unfortunately, we turned the ball over four times today, and if you turn the ball over like we did, you’re going to have a hard time winning football games,” UNC coach Larry Fedora admitted. “You can still be in the game, but you’re going to have a hard time winning the football game. They didn’t turn it over and we turned it over four times.”

Elliott managed just one UNC first down before halftime, and three interceptions put the Tar Heels at a huge disadvantage on the scoreboard, trailing 17-0 at the break. With the Carolina receivers unable to create separation, and the Cal secondary jumping routes, Elliott found third downs to be disastrous.

Jaylinn Hawkins snatched Elliott’s overthrow late in the first quarter and that set up Cal’s first touchdown, Patrick Laird’s three-yard run three plays later.

Defensive end Cameron Goode joined the party in the second quarter going 23 yards with Elliott’s errant throw to give Cal a 14-0 lead.

Two other interceptions bogged down UNC’s offense that converted just one of their first 13 third down opportunities. Elliott finished 15 of 35 for 137 yards. Thirteen UNC penalties spoke to the team’s disjointed play given the numerous suspensions. But Cal never pulled away, as the Tar Heels crowded the line of scrimmage and dared Cal quarterback Ross Bowers to throw.

“We forced them to go to their quick game really the whole second half,” Fedora said. “I thought our guys played extremely well. The only other thing I would have liked to see from them would be a couple takeaways, but they played their hearts out. We were aggressive, we tackled. I thought we played really well on defense.”

The Bears head to LaVell Edwards Stadium to take on the BYU Cougars on Saturday, September 8 at 7:15 pm PDT.

Cal loses to UCLA on late field goal, bowl hopes dashed as well


California wide receiver Jordan Veasy, top, makes a touchdown catch as UCLA defensive back Darnay Holmes defends during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Los Angeles. UCLA won 30-27. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

By Morris Phillips

There’s no tougher way to lose a ballgame. Trailing all night, the Cal Bears got even with UCLA briefly in the third quarter, and then again with 2:20 remaining. But the Bruins put together one last drive against Cal’s depleted defense, resulting in J.J. Molson’s 37-yard, game-winning field goal with eight seconds remaining.

Game over and season over for the Bears. The heart breaking 30-27 decision left the Bears (5-7, 2-7) a game short of bowl eligibility. In a season in which the Bears were tabbed to fare much worse, they surprised and came just short of gaining far more.

“It really hurts among the team, especially the guys who walked off the field in their last football game,” Coach Justin Wilcox said. “There’s not a lot you can say that makes them feel a lot better. I talked to them about how much we appreciate them for everything that they’ve done. I’ve got to do a better job of helping us moving forward. All of our coaches and support staff do. Our guys came to compete every week. We just didn’t play good enough football today in a lot of ways to win the game.”

On Friday night at the cavernous Rose Bowl, Cal’s penalties and their inability to finish drives with touchdowns stood out. But so did the physical nature of their defense and Patrick Laird running the football. Laird finished with 178 yards rushing on 32 carries, and helped the Bears overcome a 27-17, fourth quarter deficit with his powerful running.

But in the end, the Bears couldn’t come up with a couple more plays, or overcome their mistakes.

“We were moving the ball well at times; we just didn’t capitalize in the red zone,” Wilcox said. “I wish it was one thing. Penalties definitely showed up, third-down conversions. We were settling for field goals. It’s hard in this conference to win games making field goals all day.”

Cal comes closer, but leaves more disappointed after eighth straight Big Game loss

November 18, 2017: Stanford Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello (3) is sacked during a NCAA Football game between the California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal at the Stanford Stadium in Stanford, California. Valerie Shoaps/CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

By Morris Phillips

The losses to Stanford–now eight and counting–are difficult enough to process for the Cal Bears. But the latest one, both close and winnable, hurt that much more.

Stanford squeezed past Cal, 17-14, in the 120th Big Game Saturday night, and this time it was a hard fought ball game essentially decided when Ross Bowers was intercepted by Ben Edwards on a deep pass attempt to Jeremiah Hawkins that would have setup Cal with first-and-goal with 7:25 remaining. Stanford would go on a lengthy drive and exhaust the clock, winning by only three, when six of the previous seven Big Games were won by the Cardinal by at least 13 points.

“We played to win and we had our opportunities and that’s why this one hurts so much,” coach Justin Wilcox said of his Bears. “There’s a few plays here or there, both sides of the ball, that could have changed the outcome of that game.”

Undeniably, Wilcox had the Bears well prepared. Cal neutralized Heisman trophy candidate Bryce Love, fed standout Stanford defensive lineman Harrison Phillips a steady diet of double teams, and played efficiently and methodically on offense with Ross Bowers and feature back Patrick Laird. But in the end 14 points wasn’t enough for Cal to lead at any point, or impact a scoreless, fourth quarter.

“We knew each and every possession would be so critical. And we had some opportunities to get some stops in the first half and, obviously, the fourth quarter got to be able to get off the field there and get the offense the ball back,” Wilcox said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love our guys and the way they compete. They played hard, played their butts off, and we just needed another play here or there, and we didn’t quite have it.”

A missed 47-yard Matt Anderson field goal before halftime stood out because the ball careened backwards off the cross bar, but this time Cal had numerous chances when previous Big Games in the Stanford streak were basically decided by halftime. That Cal failed to secure bowl eligibility with a win made the proceedings that more agonizing.

“We just needed another play here or there,” Wilcox said.

The Bears finish the regular season at UCLA on Friday with a chance to even their record (5-6, 2-6). Stanford finishes their regular season at home against Notre Dame on Saturday. The Cardinal (8-3, 7-2) can qualify for the Pac-12 Championship Game on December 1 if Washington defeats Washington State on Saturday.

Gritty Bears turn Senior Day into satisfying victory celebration 37-23

Nov 4 2017 – Berkeley CA, U.S.A. California running back Patrick Laird (28) game stats 33 carriers for 216 yards and 1 touchdown break away from OSU defenders down the sideline during the NCAA Football game between Oregon State Beavers and the California Golden Bears 37-23 win at California Memorial Stadium. Thurman James / CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–After a satisfying Senior Day win over Oregon State at Memorial Stadium, James Looney made his and his teammates’ intentions clear. The Bears have some unfinished business in their remaining games.

“We gotta get one more, get to bowling. We want to get two more, get the Axe for sure,” Looney said with teammate Raymond Davison III joining him in the postgame presser and giving his tacit approval of Looney’s bold statement.

One year after allowing 40 points per game, finishing 5-7, and enduring an oddly timed coaching change, the Bears have bold intentions to post a winning record in the face of prognosticators that felt Cal was capable of winning just two games in 2017.

Instead the Bears are 5-5 leading into their final two contests at Stanford and at UCLA, two opponents that lost this weekend while the Bears picked up a critical 37-23 win over OSU. A bye week comes first, a coveted break ahead of Cal trying to break a six-game losing streak to rival Stanford.

“It’s great to be in a position to earn ourselves another game,”  said quarterback Ross Bowers, who led Cal with 24 of 30 passing for 259 yards and two touchdowns. “This bye week is going to be huge for us. We can get in the mindset that ‘it’s just a bye week,’ but we have to get significantly better in whatever the little things are and then get ready for our next game.”

On Saturday, the Bears showed the persistence against OSU that was clearly lacking in the previous week’s disappointing loss at Colorado.  After the Beavers struck first with an option pass play to Ryan Nall for a touchdown less than four minutes in, Cal responded with consecutive scoring drives for a 17-7, second quarter lead, and then a 20-13, halftime advantage.

As have all of Cal victims this season, Oregon State got a heavy dose of running back Patrick Laird, who finished with 214 yards rushing on 33 carries. Laird’s big day served as the perfect counterpoint to Nall’s 224-yard rushing performance last season in the Bears’ most disappointing loss of 2016. Nall, OSU’s talented, big back had never surpassed 200 yards in a game before or after his breakout against Cal, that featured a trio of big, back breaking runs. This time, the improved Bears’ defense held Nall to 89 yards rushing and receiving combined, and limited his big plays to the 26-yard touchdown that gave OSU their only lead.

“We were going to be committed to stopping the run and we played a lot of heavy-run fronts,” Coach Justin Wilcox said of his team’s approach to stopping Nall. “He [Ryan Nall] hit some runs and he is going to earn some.”

Meanwhile, Laird was merely consistent, handling the ball on a career-high 33 carries along with six pass receptions, none of which went for more than 20 yards. Laird kept the chains moving on a day in which the Bears had 10 possessions, none of which concluded with a punt.

The Bears scored on three consecutive possessions again in the second half, extending their lead to 37-20 with 10:30 remaining.

Bears suffer a stampede of offense in lopsided loss at Colorado

Handlers guide team mascot Ralphie on to the field as Colorado Buffaloes hosts California Golden Bears in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

By Morris Phillips

Everytime Colorado pushed, Cal failed to push back.

In falling to Colorado 44-28 on Saturday, the Golden Bears allowed 40+ points in regulation for the first time in nine games under new, defensive-minded coach Justin Wilcox. As Colorado broke numerous plays of at least 20 yards, the steel-jawed Wilcox could be seen seething along the California sideline.

“It’s very disappointing. We didn’t play well,” Wilcox conceded. “In the first  half, they threw the ball over our heads. We weren’t  winning one-on-one battles in the passing game, we were  missing tackles. You can’t do that and win. You can’t beat  anybody doing that.”

Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez came up with a huge bounce back performance after being benched last week in Colorado’s 28-0 loss at Washington State that was played in gusty winds. Montez took over early, throwing two touchdown passes and running for a third score to lead Colorado to an early, second quarter, 21-7 lead.

As they did in their previous game against Arizona, the Bears responded offensively, but couldn’t stop the Buffaloes. Colorado produced scores on their final five drives of the first half to lead 27-14, as Montez put up the majority of the yardage in his 20 for 26, 353-yard passing performance.

“We couldn’t hit  the deep ball,” Montez said. “Then this week in practice, we really kind of  focused on it and we knew we need to get serious if we  want to be a legitimate force on offense. We need to be  able to throw the deep ball consistently. We were hitting  them in practice real well and it carried over to the game.”

Ross Bowers did his part to keep the Bears within range of the Buffaloes, throwing for 359 yards and two scores. But once Cal fell behind, Bowers was subjected to a heavy rush, leading to a 100-yard interception return by Colorado’s Nick Fisher that put the Buffaloes up 44-21 with 2:34 remaining.

The Bears had a pair of 100-yard receivers in Kanawai Noa and Jordan Veasy. The Cal running game never got untracked, but Patrick Laird led there with 52 yards on 13 carries.

Cal fell to 4-5 on the season and failed to win a conference road game for the 11th, consecutive game. In order to gain bowl eligibility, the Bears will have to beat Oregon State in their final home game next Saturday, and win at least one of their final two games at Stanford and at UCLA.

“We have to execute our game  plan better and this falls on us players,” Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk said. “No matter what  coach calls, it is on us to execute the game plan. You can’t  give up big plays and expect to win games. We just have to  bounce back and continue working we will get there. We  have a good opponent next week, so 24-hour rule. It stings  and it hurts but we have to look past it and get ready for next week.”

Cal’s big comeback short circuits in double overtime against Arizona

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, right, stiff-arms California cornerback Marloshawn Franklin Jr., second from right, during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–After overcoming adversity voluminous enough to pen a short novel, Coach Justin Wilcox elected to hand his own club one last helping of adversity, a two-point conversion attempt to win or lose on the final play of an exhausting, two overtime game.

In a game where the Bears trailed Arizona by two touchdowns in the third quarter, the final play would be Cal’s only chance to steal one they seemingly had lost much earlier.

But Wilcox’s gamble failed when Ross Bowers pass to Jordan Duncan was broken up by the Wildcats’ Colin Schooler underneath the goalpost, allowing Arizona to escape with a 45-44 victory. Pegged with an agonizing loss, the Bears could at least claim unity in support of Wilcox’s uncommon choice.

“I felt like that was the best choice for us to win,” Wilcox said. “In the end, we didn’t play well enough–especially on defense–to win the game.”

Bowers supported Wilcox’s choice, saying that his indecision–thinking he could run for the conversion before hastily throwing flat footed to Duncan in the back of the end zone–was the real reason Wilcox and the Bears weren’t gutsy winners.

Vic Enwere, whose second and third efforts on a fourth down touchdown run prior to the game’s final play, appreciated the decision as well, saying “that says he has confidence in us. I appreciate that.”

Wilcox explained that his defense’s gassed play in the first two overtimes greatly influenced the decision to go for the win, and forgo a third overtime. After Cal scored first in the extra period, Arizona’s Zach Green rumbled 25 yards to tie it on the Wildcats’ initial, offensive play.

The Bears then allowed a second score in just two plays, as brilliant Arizona signal caller Khalil Tate bought time rolling to his right before finding Bryce Wolma near the goal line for a 45-38 lead.

For Wilcox, the lightning scores were enough. Already Cal had overcome the loss of defensive playmaker Devante Downs, lost for the remainder of the season due to injury, and survived the Wildcats’ run game that produced 345 yards in regulation. How could Cal bring an end to the evening for Tate, and steal the win?

Don’t expose his defense one more time, Wilcox reasoned.

Tate, the instant Heisman candidate, would top 700 yards rushing over a three-game stretch after hanging 137 against Cal. His 76-yard run to break the 7-7, second quarter tie was simply ridiculous, and as advertised. First Tate scrambled to his right, but quickly circled back to his left with linebacker Alex Funches seemingly in position to close. But Tate ran past Funches and headed downfield like a blur with four Cal defenders in his vapor trail as he crossed the goal line. How Tate blew past four defenders needed no explanation. In the two, previous weeks, Tate ran for touchdowns from 71 an 75 yards and four, other shorter distances. This second quarter run was merely the capper.

“He’s a really good player, really fast, really explosive,” said linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk. “We missed a couple of plays on him and he made us pay for it. Credit to Arizona. Credit to him.”

While Tate was his own wave of adversity, it was just a slice of what Cal was forced to digest Saturday night. Starting left tackle Patrick Mekari, the starter for Cal’s first seven games, was declared a late scratch, necessitating a shuffling of the line before kickoff.

Still Cal started fast, determined to impact the scoreboard first, they marched for a touchdown on their opening drive. Patrick Laird capped it with the clever run of Bowers’ Statue of Liberty handoff. The opening drive saw the Bears counter their tendencies, and keep the Wildcats’ defense off balance.

But Arizona recovered, first avoiding a huge fumble by way of a replay that captured Wolma’s catch and fumble came after he was down. Instead of Cal being in position to increase their lead to double digits, Arizona responded with a game-tying drive.

Tate’s big run would follow, then three Cal penalties would aid in a third Arizona touchdown drive at the outset of the second quarter. Cal trailed 21-7 with 11:20 remaining in the second quarter.

In the third quarter Tate was at it again, buying time with his feet before finding Shun Brown for a 56-yard scoring pass. Once again, Cal trailed by two touchdowns, 28-14 with 7:22 remaining in the third.

Offensively, the Bears were stingy with ball possession, running 35 more plays than the Cats, but without the string of big plays compiled by Arizona.  All four Cal touchdown drives in regulation consumed at least 11 plays.

Kicker Matt Anderson capped Cal’s comeback with a 52-yard field goal to tie with 3:22 remaining. The kick came after Wilcox initially chose to attempt a conversion on 4th-and-4. After a timeout, Wilcox reversed, and put his faith in Anderson.

With the loss, Cal falls to 4-4, 1-4.  They travel to Colorado next Saturday where an 11 a.m. kickoff with the Buffaloes awaits them.


Cal’s defense dominates as the Bears upset No. 8 Washington State 37-3

Oct 13 2017 – Berkeley CA, U.S.A. California running back Vic Enwere (23) carrier the 22 for 114 yards and 1 touchdown during the NCAA Football game between Washington State Cougars and the California Golden Bears 37-3 win at California Memorial Stadium. Thurman James / CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Six days after the Bears were embarrassed by the Huskies, they were nearly flawless when confronted by the Cougars.

No dramatic story arc from an old National Geographic television segment, but Pac-12 football at its topsy-turviest, Cal’s dramatic turnaround produced the biggest upset of the conference’s season to date.

Eighth-ranked WSU and Heisman candidate quarterback Luke Falk hadn’t scored fewer than 30 points in any of their six victories, but a big Cal defensive effort shutdown the Cougars as Falk was sacked nine times, and intercepted five times. The ninth sack of Falk resulted in a fumble, and scoop-and-score for Cal’s Gerran Brown as the Bears rolled 37-3.

The win was just Cal’s second over a Top-10 team in the last 40 seasons, with the other coming in 2003 against USC as Aaron Rodgers starred. But unlike 2003, this win was foreseen by no one, and surprisingly lopsided.

“We weren’t good in any aspect of the game,” WSU Coach Mike Leach admitted. “Cal outcoached and outplayed us at every position that I saw.”

Coming in, Cal was reeling having lost three straight while allowing a combined 83 points in the two, previous road losses at Oregon and Washington. Offensively, things were even worse as the Bears managed less than 100 yards total offense and no points in Seattle.

But against WSU, Cal was better schemed, and more opportunistic than their opponent, who hadn’t played a game with a ranking this high in 14 years. The biggest key undoubtedly Cal’s ability to pressure Falk when common wisdom suggested Cal’s defense, and specifically their secondary, would be overwhelmed by the Cougars’ relentless passing attack.

“We wanted to change up where the four were coming from,” coach Justin Wilcox explained. “So most of it was four-man rush during the game. It was which four guys were coming. That’s what we changed up. That’s part of how we structure our defense and the guys executed it well.”

Cal hadn’t generated nine sacks since doing so against Stanford in 2005. The five interceptions were their biggest total since picking five against Washington in 2006.

The improvement for Cal was just as dramatic offensively as quarterback Ross Bowers was sacked just twice while throwing for 259 yards and a big touchdown pass to Kyle Wells before halftime that increased Cal’s lead to 17-3. In the previous three games, Bowers was sacked 17 times.

Afterwards, Bowers described a simple approach to the game that produced dramatic results.

“Preparation during the week, taking the right steps, working smarter and just focusing on doing our job,” Bowers said.

Cal’s offense shutdown in lopsided loss to Washington 38-7

Washington’s Dante Pettis (8) is brought down near the end zone by California’s Camryn Bynum in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Seattle. Washington won 38-7. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By Morris Phillips

Cal’s offense was so meager on Saturday night at Washington, the numbers didn’t add up.


After quarterback Ross Bowers was sacked seven times, Chase Forrest once, and the Bears’ running game featuring Patrick Laird got stuffed, the Bears rushed for minus 30 yards, the third fewest number of yards rushing ever allowed by a Washington defense.

Cal’s total offense was totaled, just 93 yards, the lowest figure posted by a Bears’ offense in 18 seasons.

And after the game’s final play–a botched field goal attempt that lost 41 yards when the ball was fumbled–the Bears were declared a statistical nightmare in a 38-7 loss to the No. 5 Huskies in Seattle.

Afterwards, Coach Justin Wilcox tried to tie it all together, but couldn’t get past how poorly his Cal team played.

“That’s a really good football team,” Wilcox said. “I think we have a chance. But when you go out and play like that, you don’t give yourself a chance.”

The Bears lost for the third consecutive week after opening 3-0. And the theme in all three losses was ineffective pass protection that left Bowers flat on his back 17 times over that span. But even that didn’t absolve the quarterback of a significant portion of the blame.

“There were some things that showed up tonight that he could have done much better,” Wilcox said of Bowers. “Then we’ll see on the tape; that will paint the clearest picture, but Ross has to continue to play better.”

As do Bowers’ teammates.


14 losses and counting: Cal mistakes undo upset bid against No. 5 USC

Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold (14) scrambles from California’s Alex Funches, right, and James Looney, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The list of things the Golden Bears did well on Saturday afternoon against mighty USC was lengthy, longer than any pundit who picked the Bears 12th in the Pac-12 could have envisioned.

The Bears were engaged and prepared with Justin Wilcox and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter creating an aggressive attack that had Heisman hopeful quarterback Sam Darnold on his heels. Cal’s running game was effective in both halves. Ross Bowers made some big throws. Receiver Kanawai Noa had his coming out party. Devante Downs’ play continued at an all-conference level.

And the scoreboard remained manageable through the first half, and into the scoreless third quarter.

But a missed field goal, a glut of late USC interceptions doomed the Bears, who fell 30-20, their 14th consecutive loss to the Trojans, dating back to 2004. For the Trojans, it was a second straight great escape, as they emerged 4-0 and squarely in the national title picture.

“They’ve been a rough two games but we’re 2-0 in that stretch and that’s all that matters to me, and that’s all that matters to this team,” Darnold said referencing USC’s thrilling overtime victory over Texas last week.

Darnold was pressured frequently as Cal threw all their attention towards USC’s best player, who was minus tailback Ronald Jones and receiver Steven Mitchell, Jr. Wilcox, the former USC assistant, proved his familiarity with the Trojans’ attack by shutting down the run game early. Against the pass, Wilcox masked his familiarity to the USC coaches by deftly throwing in wrinkles presumably cooked up by defensive coordinator DeRuyter, who was previously the head coach at Fresno State.

That mix proved Cal to be well-coached and prepared, but over the course of 60 minutes, the superior talent of USC turned the tide. Nothing new for the Trojans, who took control of games against Western Michigan and Texas, after uninspired play through three quarters.

Bears shut out Ole Miss in the 2nd half, move to 3-0 on the season

California quarterback Ross Bowers (3) runs against Mississippi during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The Ole Miss Rebels started fast, but ended slow, and the Cal Bears’ unheralded defense rightfully could claim authorship to their opponents’ surprising about-face.

That’s because apparently it’s not a phase, but a pattern. The line drawn in the sand by the Bears at the half is familiar. This is the third, consecutive week the Bears trailed at halftime, but won the game. According to head coach Justin Wilcox, it took a bunch of contributors to make that happen.

“I commend our players for never losing the faith and staying together, and it took so many guys,” Wilcox said. “You’re going to look throughout the stat sheet, but special teams, guys who made blocks and tackles, guys who came in and stepped up when guys got dinged and we needed everybody, that was the ultimate team win.”

Cal’s 27-16 win over favored Mississippi sets up an early-season showdown with No. 4 USC on Saturday in Berkeley. Television has endorsed the meeting of old rivals with a juicy 12:30pm start time on ABC. The Trojans barely managed to stay perfect themselves, coming up with a game-tying field goal to end regulation, and then squeezing past Texas, 27-24 in two overtimes.

So how did Cal get to this point–an unlikelihood for a team with a new coach, and so many new faces at key positions?

Under Wilcox, it’s been defense, running the ball, and a healthy slice of resilience. Quarterback Ross Bowers, who really picked it up after throwing a hurtful interception after halftime, explained.

“We just don’t flinch, whether we could be down, we could be up,” Bowers said. “This team is always prepared. We’re waiting for the adversity because that’s when we play our top game.”

Adversity was immediate for the Bears on Saturday as Mississippi exploited their size and speed at the wide receiver spots in the opening drive. Three of the Rebels’ first four plays–all passes–went for 9, 19 and 45 yards. Early in the second quarter, Mississippi’s Shea Patterson had added 71 and 72-yard touchdown passes to establish a 16-7 lead.

Down nine, the Bears’ response was three-and-outs on their two, ensuing possessions. But as things looked as if they were falling apart, Cal was actually putting them together. As Wilcox described, the strategic changes were subtle, and the contributions came from a bunch of different places.

“We played better,” Wilcox explained. “We didn’t install a new defense at halftime. We played it better. We changed up kind of what they were doing, who they were trying to isolate. A lot of the same calls, same coverages and our guys went out and executed better.”