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Bears Rally to Roll Aggies, 34-13

September 3, 2022
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(BERKELEY, CALIF)  First games of a football season usually leave more questions unanswered than solved. This was no exception.

In front of a crowd generously reported at 34,984 (perhaps next time they should count the FILLED seats), the California Golden Bears opened the 2022 football season with a 34-13 win over FCS neighbor UC Davis.

A look at the final stats tells you that Cal outgained the Aggies 415 to 387 – not much of a margin. The game turned on a pair of turnovers created by the Cal defense, one a 39-yard pick-6 by Craig Woodson just 40 seconds into the second half that stretched a tenuous 10-point halftime lead to 17; the other, a spectacular play by Jeremiah Earby, who came halfway across the field and flew in front of Aggie receiver CJ Hutton, wide open on a wheel route, to steal a touchdown away from Davis and give the Golden Bears the ball at their two-yard line.

One hopes the first quarter was just rust, cobwebs and jitters – for certain, if Cal wants to be competitive in the Pac-12 (10? 8? 6?) this year, they cannot sustain starts like this one. The first quarter consisted of a three-and-out with a sack; another three-and-out with another sack, and an interception on a bobbled Jeremiah Hunter reception attempt. The score at the time was 7-0 Davis, but the game was not as close as that would suggest…the yardage was 91 to minus-1, Cal got their only first down on the final play of the quarter, and in general, the offensive line looked like they had just been introduced to each other in warmups. Bears’ head coach Justin Wilcox said, “We played the quarter in our end zone”, and that was only barely an exaggeration.

But one quarter is not a game. The second quarter was, to those who had not yet dialed 988 to discuss their mental health, the tonic everyone was desperately seeking.

The Golden Bears outscored the Aggies 17-0 in the quarter, rolling up 206 total yards of offense while holding Davis to 95. Jack Plummer, whose first quarter was beyond forgettable (0-for-2 with an interception) became exactly who we thought he would be, posting 12-for-14 results for 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The second quarter featured Ott, who became Cal’s first true freshman to debut with a 100-yard game since 2019 and the first freshman to debut with more than 100 yards since Shane Vereen in 2008. He also had the most total yards by a freshman since Keenan Allen had 158 yards from scrimmage (38 rushing, 120 receiving) in his Cal debut against UC Davis in 2010. He’s going to be fun to watch. His self-description was, “I’ve got a little bit of speed and hit the hole quickly.” That might be the most self-effacing description we will hear this year. Ott juked, spun, and generally dazzled his way to 104 yards on 17 carries rushing and added 26 yards and a touchdown on a pair of pass receptions, including his second quarter TD. Ott was targeted three times in the game.
Plummer went to his favorite targets, Jeremiah Hunter (nine targets, six receptions, 78 yards and a touchdown) and J Michael Sturdivant (four targets, four catches, 55 yards) on the game-tying drive.

The next time they had the ball, Plummer hit Sturdivant for 28 yards on a near-pick by graduate transfer linebacker Jayce Smalley. Sturdivant came away with the ball and a significant gain to put the Bears in Aggie territory. He hit Hunter on a pretty play, a look-off to the right and then a quick throwback to his left for 27 yards, with Hunter barely getting a foot down inbounds. The play was reviewed and was a catch. Ott scored the touchdown on an 8-yard flat pass that left Davis LB Cam Trimble grasping at air after Ott showed a “little bit of speed.” Ott’s ability to turn the edge, defeat the defenders’ angle and score showed the type of juice not seen in a Cal running back in years.

One genuine positive to come from the quarter was the final possession. Cal took over at their own 34 with 36 seconds and three timeouts remaining, and again Ott was the hero, breaking a pair of tackles for an 18-yard first down to put the Bears in position for a 32-yard field goal by Dario Longhetto, who looked solid all day. 17-7 at the half.

Woodson’s pick-6 on the second play of the second half seemed to set the tone, stretching the lead to 24-7. For all of 10 seconds. Walter Payton list running back Ulonzo Gilliam, Jr. took advantage of a short field after a PAT penalty left Cal kicking off from their own 20, and burst 60 yards around right end, streaking down the sideline for a touchdown to tighten the score. The Aggies missed the extra point, and it was 24-13. Gilliam became Davis’ all-time program leader in all-purpose yards on the day, but Cal did a good job holding him in check most of the time. He averaged about 4 yards per carry, excluding the 60-yard bolt to the house.

Two TDs in 56 seconds seemed to portend a “let ‘em fly” half, but Davis was done putting points on the board.

Cal took the ensuing kickoff and reeled off a 15-play 59-yard drive that ended in a 41-yard Longhetto field goal to stretch the lead to 27-13. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Golden Bears took over after a punt, on their own 42. After a DeCarlos Brooks run of 4 yards, Plummer hit Monroe Young in stride for 36 yards, perhaps the prettiest play of the day. A Brooks power rush, moving the pile, gained four yards, and then Mavin Anderson got on the board with an 11-yard catch-and-run (mostly run) to close out the scoring.

Plummer finished the day 23-of-35 for 268 yards and three TDs with the first-quarter pick being the only real blemish, although the Aggies dropped a couple of possible interceptions. Asked to evaluate his day, Plummer said “I could be more accurate. In general, it was good to get out there and play again, but there’s room for improvement for sure.”

Keeping his WR room happy, Plummer targeted 10 different receivers, plus Ott, while compiling a 152.6 QB rating.

Not sure how much more we will know about this team after next week. UNLV rolled Idaho State, 52-21 this week, but this is a program that won three games last year and had their last winning season two decades ago. There’s a lot to clean up on both sides of the ball in the trenches; one would hope the Cal defense could put up more than two sacks against an FBS opponent (albeit a pretty good one); and the desire to see what Ott could do if the line opened up some real holes for him is strong.

The Bears will be back in action next week in game two vs. UNLV at 1 pm at Memorial Stadium. The game will once again be carried on the Pac-12 Network.

Other stories:

Bear Insider Ultimate Insider Podcast E31: 2022 Cal Offense Preview -Video & Transcript

Bear Insider Ultimate Insider Podcast E32: Cal Football Defense Preview Transcript & Video

Bear Insider Video: Cal OL Cindric, Driscoll & Coleman

UC Davis Preview

Discussion from...

Bears Rally to Roll Aggies, 34-13

3,383 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 3 mo ago by BearoutEast67
GoOskie
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Go Bears!!!
heartofthebear
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Haven't seen your name before but excellent piece of writing Michael, and I like the subtle sense of humour. But you dropped off at the end, claiming the receiver room was kept happy when their highly touted slot receiver Anderson was only targetted twice and their highly touted TE Terry was not targeted at all. Of course you are not going to get balls if you don't get open so I'm not sure what happened there. But TEs were only targeted 4 times total. That is just not enough for an offense that want to play ball control and wants to be conservative to start the season.

Also, UNLV won only 2 games last season, not 3 and went 7-6 in 2013, which is not even 1 decade ago. Also, you made the mistake in last paragraph of writing FBS when you meant FCS.

Otherwise I loved your coverage and I really appreciate the imbedded defensive stats at the end. I also appreciate the comparison with other debuts that you provided regarding Ott's day. But I am still wondering how Ott's performance compares to other performances for guys that played in the first game for which they were eligible. Was that true for Vereen? I believe Vereen didn't play until 2008, redshirting as a true frosh in 2007. I believe that K. Allen's was on opening day as a true freshman and I was at that game. But I think Ott's performance could be record setting as an RB for performances in game 1 of his true frosh season. In any case, it is probably one of the best in Cal history. And I mean, what is he, maybe 18 years old?
BearoutEast67
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I was finally able to watch the game today after returning from the Georgia- Oregon game. Reading the naysayers posts and looking at the stats, it sounded like a horrible performance by the Bears. But it actually was pretty solid. Coleman got beat around the end ONCE by a speed rusher and a blitze wasn't picked up ONCE. Coleman's foot speed seems just fine for LT and Plummer, Ott, and the WRs and TEs looked good. I'm excited about our DBs and LBs. Last minute shuffle at DL has to be digested but they will adjust. Looking forward to the UNLV game.,
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