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Cal Football

Tuesday Cal Football Notebook

November 7, 2023

With three games remaining, there is still enough time for California’s football team to salvage what has to this point been a mostly disappointing season. In order for that to happen, however, the Bears have to be nearly perfect the rest of the way.

There is no margin for error, either.

In order to become bowl eligible, Cal has to win out. That quest begins Saturday at Memorial Stadium when the Bears host Washington State, another Pac-12 team that has fallen on hard times.

While Cal (3-6) is riding a four-game losing streak, the Cougars (4-5) have dropped five straight after winning their first four. Both teams have a chance at playing in the postseason with a late-season surge. For the Bears, playing in a bowl game would relieve a lot of the sting of all that’s happened this season.

It’s a message that head coach Justin Wilcox and his staff have continued to preach to the players in practices while prepping to play Washington State.

“We do talk about that, and that is a goal,” Wilcox said Tuesday. “The only way to accomplish that is to go 1-0 this week. We know we have a challenge this weekend in Washington State, so we’re going to have to play really well. In order to do that and accomplish one of our goals, we have to have a great week of practice. Now we just have to go out and perform on Saturday.”

The Bears haven’t played in the postseason since defeating Illinois in the Redbox Bowl in 2019. Cal has won 13 games since then and have not received a bowl invitation.

That could change if the Bears beat Washington State, Stanford and UCLA in the final three games. None of the three are in the AP Top 25, which should offer a break after Cal’s previous four games were all against ranked opponents.

History, however, suggests it will be an uphill climb for Wilcox and his troops.

The Bears have lost three of four to Washington State, the lone win coming in 2019. Cal has won the Big Game against Stanford each of the past two seasons and in three of the last four. But UCLA has had Cal’s number, taking three in a row and five of the last six.

Knowing that they have to their final three games to become bowl eligible certainly raises the stakes over the final month but Wilcox is trying to keep his players from putting too much pressure on themselves to make it happen.

“We’re always seeking perfection but I have yet to see a perfect game,” Wilcox said. “We understand there’s going to be mistakes. We do not want to play tight and anxious. We want to play aggressive and fast and with great technique and fundamentals.

“Those are facts, that’s what it is. We’re not going to hide from that but we’re also not going to go out there and be afraid to make a mistake. We have to stay aggressive. We have to be prepared. Then we have to go out and execute it on Saturday.”

Despite dropping four straight games amid a series of setbacks on both sides of the ball, Wilcox is encouraged by how the Bears have stayed engaged in what’s happening with the team and have maintained a strong work ethic.

“Practice and meetings are a good indicator of the character of the team, and they’ve done a really good job week in and week out coming in and working really hard,” Wilcox said. “We’ve had some adversity along the way. I would have expected us to maybe finish a couple of those games better than we did. But I appreciate the work ethic and the commitment that the guys show with how they approach practice and meetings and competing on the field.”

Still, Cal needs to be better down the stretch in order to extend the season. That means better execution in all three phases, particularly on defense where the Bears have had issues with tackling and with stopping teams on third downs.

The bad news is that the Bears will be without running back Jaivian Thomas, who was carted off the field in Oregon last week after absorbing a hard tackle that left him motionless on the field.

Thomas was taken to a local hospital but has since returned to Berkeley, although no determination has been made when he might be able to play again.

“We’re glad to say that Jaivian’s doing well,” Wilcox said. “That was a scary moment up there. We appreciate all the help and care that he got while he was up in Eugene. He is back home and doing well. All the tests that he’s undergone have been positive.”

Thomas’ absence trims an already thin running back depth chart for Cal. While Jadyn Ott remains the Bears’ No. 1 option, backup Isaiah Infanse is wearing a walking boot and is week to week. If he’s unable to go, Justin Williams-Thomas and Ashton Stredick will have to pick up the slack.

Quarterback Sam Jackson V is also hurting and is day to day, meaning Ben Finley could be the backup to Fernando Mendoza this week against Washington State.

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