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Bears Fall in Utah, 34-14

October 14, 2023
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RICE-ECCLES STADIUM - In a game much closer than the final score indicated, the Bears went down to defeat to 15th-ranked Utah, 34-14.

The game turned on several critical plays, all of which combined to deny the Bears their first road win over a ranked team in several seasons.

“You’re exactly right,” head coach Justin Wilcox said after the game. “End of the half, we have the ball, we’re moving it. We throw a deep ball and we don’t make a play on it that could’ve been a touchdown. We punt, we have them backed down on third down, he scrambles and we miss maybe five or seven tackles on the play on 3rd-and-5. Then we miss a tackle later on 4th-and-2  then we get a roughing penalty and they end up scoring.

“We come out in the start of the second half and they throw a fade on third down -not on the near sideline- down the field and get a completion. Not a high-percentage throw. We hold them to the field goal then we get the ball back and go sack, fumble, touchdown. So the end of the half and the start of the second half then late in the game where we have 7:50 with an opportunity to get a field goal and make it a one-possession game.

“We don’t connect on the field goal so We miss it then we have a mis-fit in basically a zero (defensive alignment and it goes for 76 so the entire complexion changes. If we can find a way to get points on that drive, we kick the ball off and play traditional defense, get a stop then you get the ball back with a chance to tie. So there’s just 4 or 5 plays in the game that just totally swing it. We didn’t capitalize on the momentum opportunities, we didn’t play through the hard times with the perseverance that’s needed.”

The game also saw critical injuries to QB Fernando Mendoza, defensive tackle Nate Burrell, MLB Blake Antzoulatos and more in the physical contest. Mendoza went down in the third quarter after being hit in the knee but returned for a couple plays in a later drive before exiting for good in the fourth quarter. The redshirt frosh QB went 10-17 for 149 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception in the Bears’ loss. Cal receivers were led by junior receiver Taj Davis with 7 catches for 93 yards and a TD and Cal rushers were led by Jaydn Ott with 46 yards on 8 carries as well as 2 receptions for 48 yards and a TD on the day.

The way the game started summarized the Bears’ special teams woes this season, with returner Lu-Magia Hearns fielding the kickoff in the end zone and only managing a 14-yard return, despite a holding penalty that pushed the Bears back to the 7. The Bears were whistled for two other penalties to push them back further toward the goal line but punter Lachlan Wilson bailed the Bears out with a booming 60-yard punt to the Utah 29.

After stopping Utah on the next possession, Mendoza engineered an impressive drive, completing a 21-yard pass to receiver Taj Davis followed by a pass to running back Jaydn Ott on a wheel route that the speedy Ott took to the house for a 48-yard TD to put the Bears up 7-0 with 5:41 left in the quarter before a stunned Utah crowd.

The Bears kept Utah off the board on the next possession after the Utes drove to the Cal 15 and kicker Cole Becker missed from 33 to close out the quarter.

Taking over at their 20, the Bears advanced to midfield on completions to Davis, receiver Trond Grizzell and freshman running back Javian Thomas before an errant Mendoza pass was tipped and intercepted by Utah linebacker Barton Landon. The Utes capitalized, driving 48 yards in 10 plays to tie the game at 7 on a Ja’Quinden Jackson 3-yard run up the middle for the score with 7:56 left in the half.

The Bears had the chance to retake the lead in the next possession when Mendoza threw a perfectly-placed deep ball to receiver Mavin Anderson who was blazing down the sideline but the ball went through Anderson’s hands and the Bears punted a play later.

The Utes closed out the half in dominant fashion, driving 89 yards in 15 plays to go ahead 14-7 on a 1-yard wildcat run by running back Sione Vaki who took the snap directly on the score.

Utah took the second half kickoff and extended their lead, driving 70 yards in 8 plays till the Bears’ defense stiffened and Utah settled for a 23-yard Cole Becker field goal to go up 17-7 with 10:35 left in the quarter. 

X / Cal Football

Disaster struck on the first play of next drive as Utah defensive end Jonah Elliss drove untouched by tackle Barrett Miller like he wasn’t there, delivering a crushing blow to the back of Mendoza, forcing a fumble recovered on the Cal 13 by safety Cole Bishop at the Cal 13. 3 plays later, Utes QB Bryson Barnes found paydirt on a 4-yard keeper, extending their lead to 24-7 just 5:49 into the quarter.

After 24 straight Utah points, the Bears finally got things rolling again, putting together an impressive 6-play, 65-yard TD drive. The drive was keyed by a 15-yard completion to tight end Jack Endries, a clutch 13-yard 3rd down Mendoza run and an NFL-like 24-yard Mendoza TD pass to Davis in double coverage to narrow the Utah lead to 24-14 after the Mateen Bhaghani extra point with 4:21 left in the quarter.

“I just recognized the man coverage," Davis said of his TD catch. "The defender in front of me, he literally yelled that he was man, like I got him. So when I saw that there was no safety in the middle of the field, I did a quick release. Fernando threw an amazing ball, right over the DB's head for a touchdown."

The beleaguered Bears defense stepped up on the next series, stopping the Utes on downs on a thunderous Kaleb Elarms-Orr hit on QB Barnes with Cal taking over on Cal 32.

Mendoza started the next drive hitting a pair of 10-yard completions to tight end Jeffrey Johnson and receiver Monroe Young but on the second completion, Mendoza took a hard shot to the knee and limped off the field, with backup QB Ben Finley coming on in relief. A 13-yard Ott run, a Finley 20-yard completion to Davis and a targeting penalty assessed on a hit to TE Johnson brought the ball to the Utah 13 but the Utes’ defense stiffened and a missed 30-yard field goal attempt by Bhaghani continued the Bears’ kicking and special teams woes with 7:49 remaining in the game.

After the Utes took over at the Utah 17, disaster struck again as Vaki took the direct snap and motored untouched down the left sideline for a 72-yard touchdown on the second play of the drive to give Utah an insurmountable 31-14 lead with 6:51 remaining

Utah came into the game just eighth in rushing offense with a pedestrian 3.4 yards per carry but the Utes had their way with the Bears’ shorthanded DL, rushing for an impressive 317 yards in 54 carries, with much of the damage coming on Vaki’s final 72-yard run. Vaki led all rushers with 158 yards on 14 carries for the day. QB Barnes was 15-21 for 128 yards with no TDs or interceptions in a classic game-manager role. Barnes also rushed for 50 yards on 8 carries, several times narrowly avoiding a sack from Bears’ D that failed to compile a sack for the third game in a row.

The Bears were led on defense by nickel back Matt Littlejohn with 11 tackles along with safety Patrick McMorris and MLB Cade Uluave with nine tackles a piece.

Uluave was a revelation, coming on strong after starter Antzoulatos, who himself was filling in for injured MLB Jackson Sirmon who was lost for the year with an upper-body injury, went down with an injury. Uluave was all over the field and had one of the few Bears’ TFLs of the day.

The game was a special one for Uluave, who starred for nearby Mountain Ridge High School. He missed much of his senior season with injury last year and even moved temporarily to running back this season with the Bears’ injury issues there but he shined when he got his chance today.

“Being able to play in my home state was a great opportunity,” Uluave said after the game. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Rice-Eccles Stadium as a fan and it was really cool to be on the other side of that as a player. I’m grateful for the opportunity. Football's a game where it’s the next man up so when your number’s called, you’ve got to be ready.”

“I thought we moved the ball really well when we had the right intention and mindset,” Mendoza said. “I felt like even on that touchdown drive with the pass to Taj that no one was stopping us.

“I was really excited to see those guys score but at the end of the day, I need to do a better job.”

Mendoza noted after the game that his injuries suffered won’t keep him off the field in the coming weeks and that they weren't serious.

The Bears will have a bye this week and face USC at home in two weeks in Memorial for a chance to regroup and try to prevent the season from going off the rails.

Discussion from...

Bears Fall in Utah, 34-14

5,071 Views | 20 Replies | Last: 6 mo ago by calumnus
JB was a Chieftain
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Ready for a new voice to lead this program!
HoopDreams
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did WR Hunter play? is he injured

Nando played well but he stood in the pocket and took a huge hit on one play that was a long completion, the blind side hit on another play, and the play he hurt his leg (I didn't see it)

He can't keep getting hit like that and survive the season

OL pass rush is not getting it done
JimSox
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Hunter played. Zero catches. I don't know if they ever threw to him.
BearoutEast67
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I didn't realize that Sirmion is out for rest of season with injury. I really hope the younger OLB and ILB develop quickly.
Donate to Cal's NIL at https://calegends.com/donation/
calumnus
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JimSox said:

Hunter played. Zero catches. I don't know if they ever threw to him.


I don't think Mendoza ever targeted him. I think Finley was trying to throw to Hunter but….
heartofthebear
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This game is a study in the difference between being prepared, hence opportunistic and not being prepared.
Cal has been competitive in most games but much less opportunistic.
That's an issue of preparation and hence coaching.
Goof Ball Bear
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"So there's just 4 or 5 plays in the game that just totally swing it. We didn't capitalize on the momentum opportunities, we didn't play through the hard times with the perseverance that's needed.". You can say that about any game. The real question is why is it that we are on the wrong side of 4 or 5 plays almost EVERY game and our opponents are not? I am willing to bet you can find 4 or 5 plays in maybe 2/3 of all the games we've lost over the past 7 years that swung the game. And yes, my use of 7 years is intentional...
OneKeg
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"Overall, the Bears put up 442 yards of offense on one of the best defenses in the country,"

Huh???

https://www.espn.com/college-football/matchup/_/gameId/401524033

Cal put up 254 total yards. It was Utah who put up 445 yards.
calumnus
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OneKeg said:

"Overall, the Bears put up 442 yards of offense on one of the best defenses in the country,"

Huh???

https://www.espn.com/college-football/matchup/_/gameId/401524033

Cal put up 254 total yards. It was Utah who put up 445 yards.


Exactly. The article is in error. We had only 254 total yards. Against a team that "allowed only 282 on average" so we had LESS than their average not greatly more.

I can see how someone might listen to Wilcox and think the offense did great though. We showed flashes, things we've been looking for all season, but we would go to them once or twice to great effect, then never again.
MoragaBear
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Staff
They gave us a stat sheet after the game that was ridiculously off. It's corrected now.
OneKeg
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Thanks, MB.
southseasbear
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MoragaBear said:

They gave us a stat sheet after the game that was ridiculously off. It's corrected now.
More incompetence from the Athletic Department.
MoragaBear
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Staff
southseasbear said:

MoragaBear said:

They gave us a stat sheet after the game that was ridiculously off. It's corrected now.
More incompetence from the Athletic Department.
It came from Utah, not Cal
Oakbear
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MoragaBear said:

They gave us a stat sheet after the game that was ridiculously off. It's corrected now.
frankly, you should have seen that .. anyone following the game knew we didn't have that much yardage
bearsandgiants
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calumnus said:

OneKeg said:

"Overall, the Bears put up 442 yards of offense on one of the best defenses in the country,"

Huh???

https://www.espn.com/college-football/matchup/_/gameId/401524033

Cal put up 254 total yards. It was Utah who put up 445 yards.


Exactly. The article is in error. We had only 254 total yards. Against a team that "allowed only 282 on average" so we had LESS than their average not greatly more.

I can see how someone might listen to Wilcox and think the offense did great though. We showed flashes, things we've been looking for all season, but we would go to them once or twice to great effect, then never again.
We did what we did on offense despite the defense seldom getting us the ball back. Had they played even decent D, we might have had a much more productive offensive day as well.
UrsineMaximus
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Cal only had the ball for 23 minutes or so. Can't have much offense with those stats. Defense just couldn't get off of the field.
BearlyCareAnymore
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UrsineMaximus said:

Cal only had the ball for 23 minutes or so. Can't have much offense with those stats. Defense just couldn't get off of the field.
And the offense couldn't stay on it either. They certainly were much better than the defense, but they were bad. We averaged 4.6 yards per play which would rank 111 in team rankings. And we had 2 turnovers.
calumnus
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BearlyCareAnymore said:

UrsineMaximus said:

Cal only had the ball for 23 minutes or so. Can't have much offense with those stats. Defense just couldn't get off of the field.
And the offense couldn't stay on it either. They certainly were much better than the defense, but they were bad. We averaged 4.6 yards per play which would rank 111 in team rankings. And we had 2 turnovers.


Exactly. People are being ridiculous. We had 11 possessions:

7 yards PUNT
82 yards TD
22 yards INT
15 yards PUNT
1 yard END OF HALF
12 yards FUMBLE
3 yards PUNT
65 yards TD
57 yards MISSED FG
19 yards DOWNS
2 yards DOWNS

Penalties, an interception and a fumble, not enough good play calls and then losing Mendoza and bringing in Finley (plus another missed FG) held our offense to 14 points on 11 tries. There were 2.5 drives we looked really good. The majority of the time we didn't.

https://www.espn.co.uk/college-football/playbyplay/_/gameId/401524033
Goof Ball Bear
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Exactly. If our offense does more on those 11 possessions, we would have more time of possession. Teams generally trade possessions (with a few exceptions) so each team has the ball the same number of times or nearly so.
calumnus
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Goof Ball Bear said:

Exactly. If our offense does more on those 11 possessions, we would have more time of possession. Teams generally trade possessions (with a few exceptions) so each team has the ball the same number of times or nearly so.


Exactly. Utah had the ball 11 times too.

When Mendoza went out we were driving, a TD and it is a 3 pt game 21-24, with most of the 4th quarter remaining. Giving up only 24 points in 3.5 quarters is not horrible. We bring in Finley, the offense flounders for the three possessions he is in and Utah scores 10 more starting with the 72 yard TD run by Vaki at QB in the wildcat to put it away.

The key in alternating possession sports like football and basketball is offensive and defensive efficiency. How many points you score per possession and how many points you give up per possession.

Turnovers and field position are relevant, but time of possession on either side only limits the total number of possessions for BOTH teams. Only people like Mark Fox, Justin Wilcox and the lovers of plodding Midwest offenses paired with BBDB defense think slowing the game down on offense and defense equals good defense. It does give you a chance for a fluke upset over a better team, but also gives lesser teams an upset chance over you,
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