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Cal Football

Bears Blow Out Bruins 33-7 in Final Regular Season Pac-12 Game

November 25, 2023
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ROSE BOWL - The stakes could hardly be bigger for tonight’s season-ending clash with UCLA with Cal’s bowl hopes on the line and the Bears came up with a winning hand and then some in a dominating 33-7 victory in Pasadena Saturday night.

The team has often struggled in all three phases of the game this season but tonight, the Bears flipped the script and played well in every single phase of the game.

“What I know is these guys played with guts and they competed, and I’ve just got so much respect for the guys in that locker room,” head coach Justin Wilcox said after the game, “The players and the coaches, finishing the season the way we have. You have a lot of pride in seeing those guys enjoy that moment because they put so much into it. A month ago it was tough sledding. There wasn’t a lot of positivity around the program. Really, really proud of everyone in there.”

After a blowout loss to Oregon left the team at just 3-6 and on the verge of no bowl game for the fourth straight season, the staff and players were somehow able to dig deep and sweep the final three contests to punch their bowl game ticket after tonight’s win.

“I think it just speaks to the character of the guys in the room,” Wilcox said. “The players, first and foremost, because in times like that where things aren’t going well after coming off a bad loss, it’s human nature for a lot of folks to seek shelter in the storm. I didn’t see anybody doing that. They came in and we met and we did walkthroughs and the mental intensity was there. The physical intensity was there.

“We continued to coach them and hold them accountable and work on the things we felt like we needed to improve in order to win. They took that. It wasn’t finger-pointing. It wasn’t ‘Woe is me.’ The guys just played through it. It’s simple in concept, but it’s pretty hard to do sometimes. That’s why I’ve got some much respect for all those guys just because they didn’t seek shelter. They looked in the mirror, each and every one of them, and said what do I have to do to help us win. We found a way to do that to finish the season.”

The game started promisingly. After UCLA received the opening kickoff, the Bruins’ drive was seemingly halted with a ferocious Xavier Carlton hit on UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers that resulted in a fumble run back for a touchdown by Cal defensive back Lu-Magia Hearns but a review of the play deemed the play an incomplete pass due to forward motion, wiping out the 100-yard return play. Garbers however was injured on the play, forcing backup QB Dante Moore into duty.

Moore lost his early-season starting job after uneven performances and interception problems and the rust and old accuracy problems quickly reared their head with a Moore interception on his first play from scrimmage, picked off by safety Craig Woodson in the end zone for a touchback.

Taking over at the 20, the Bears put together a quick seven-play drive including a 49-yard Mendoza completion to receiver Jeremiah Hunter. After the short drive stalled, kicker Mateen Bhaghani converted a 43-yard field goal attempt to put the Bears up 3-0.

After forcing a Bruin punt, the Bears went on another quick drive, again settling for a Bhaghani field goal, this time from 36 yards to go up 6-0 to end the first quarter.

After taking over to start the second stanza, the Bruins did their best to forge a lead, driving to the Cal 20, largely on the strength of powerful running back Carson Steele’s runs. Facing fourth and three, Cal middle linebacker Cade Uluave knifed through the Bruin offensive line to slam Steele for a 3-yard loss, with the Bears taking over on downs at their 23. Uluave had yet another stellar game, leading all tacklers with 12, including a sack and two TFLs along with an impressive interception to lead the Bears’ defense.

In the next two possessions, it appeared that the Bears' fortunes were turning after their solid start. In consecutive possessions, Mendoza badly misfired on two interceptions. After keeping the Bruins off the scoreboard following the first INT, they weren't as lucky the second time as defensive end Leiatu Latu picked off an errant Mendoza throw and returned it to the Cal 8-yard line. A couple plays later, QB Moore hit receiver Logan Loya for a 5-yard TD to put the Bruins up 7-6 with 5:35 left in the half.

It was as good as it would get for the Bruins.

The Bears wasted no time reclaiming their lead as running back Jaydn Ott took the ensuing kickoff and knifed in a straight line directly through the UCLA defense for a 100-yard touchdown return to reclaim the lead, 13-7.

After trading possessions, the Bruins took over at their 18. On the first play of the drive, defensive end David Reese hammered Moore on a sack, forcing a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Brett Johnson at the UCLA 11. It was one of three Reese sacks on the day - his second 3-sack game in the past three games.

Xavier Carlton (8 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups and 1 QB hurry) and Kaleb Elarms-Orr (8 tackles, 2 QB hurries) also had big games along with Uluave and Reese on the defensive side of the ball.

After a Mendoza completion to Hunter lost three yards, the Bears wasted no time capitalizing on their strong field position as Mendoza hit Hunter at the 5 and the senior receiver bulled his way for the 13-yard touchdown to put the Bears up 20-7 to close out the half.

The third quarter saw no new scoring for either team as the Bears took their 13-point lead into the final quarter after driving 48 yards in 10 plays to end the quarter.

A 32-yard Bhagani field goal started off the fourth quarter as the Bears extended their lead to 23-7.

After a UCLA kick return was fumbled and recovered by kicker Michael Luckhurst at the UCLA 25, the Bears quickly found paydirt again on another Mendoza to Hunter 13-yard connection just a minute later to go up 30-7.

“I just feel like it was a team effort,” Hunter said after the game. “We all had to do our job. O-Line had to hold up for us to throw the ball. I just had to do my job to win the one-on-one and Nando [Fernando Mendoza] trusts me, so that’s why I say it was a team effort. We all did our one-eleventh.”

Hunter led all receivers with 8 catches for 101 yards and two TDs in the victory. Mendoza shook off his two interceptions to go 19-for-30 for 178 yards and 2 TDs in his third career victory.

“I am really happy that my teammates were able to rally with me and were able to finish out the season with three wins,” Mendoza said after the game. “Not a lot of people believed in us, especially when we said in the interviews that we were going to burn the boats, then burn the forest, and then now burn the city. A lot of people probably thought that, hey he’s just saying that for good media presence and having a positive mindset, but everyone in that locker room really believed it and we knew that was going to happen and I’m proud that our program and our team and my teammates were able to show what we were about and now go bowling. I know it means a ton for Coach Wilcox and the whole staff, so I couldn’t be prouder.”

After taking over on downs at the Cal 46, the Bears did a masterful job chewing clock, taking nearly 8 minutes off the clock before settling for Bhaghani’s fourth field goal on a 20-yard chip shot to close out the scoring by the final margin of 33-7.

The Bears closed out their Pac-12 season 6-6/4-5 and will await their bowl game assignment and opponent, likely to be decided following next weekend’s playoff announcements, with the LA Bowl and the Independence Bowl appearing to be the two most likely destinations for the Bears’ postseason.

Discussion from...

Bears Blow Out Bruins 33-7 in Final Regular Season Pac-12 Game

5,923 Views | 8 Replies | Last: 2 mo ago by southseasbear
Cal88
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Nice work, thanks Jim!
adujan
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Great win last night - the kind of win that too often has eluded this team over the past several years.

The defense really stepped up and managed big stop after big stop, even with Steele occasionally bulldozing us.

The offense overcame two bad picks. I am not a fan of the WR bubble screen generally and was worried Mendoza would throw a pick six at some point, but Spavital was consistent in trying to get the ground game going and had some creative play calls to give Mendoza and the line some time against one of the toughest Ds we've played.

Special teams was outstanding. Field goals, a kick return, a fumbled kickoff recovery, punt downed inside the 10... might have been our most complete special teams performance in years.

I realize that being 6-6 is no reason to celebrate, but this was the toughest Pac-12 schedule I can remember (and it hurts that we should have been 8-4). The extra two weeks of practice is really important and I am glad the older kids can get to play in a bowl game again.

Go Bears!
chazzed
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As always, we appreciate the write-up.

The team outperformed everybody's expectations last night. What a glorious way to finish the Pac's regular season games.
MoragaBear
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Staff
Thanks for the shoutouts. Lord knows I've had to do these after too many horrible losses and games like these make the writing experience a total joy in comparison.

This was a really special game to be a part of. I was there with my college roommate/best man, which made it more special, too. Got to do the same with my other college roommate last week at the Big Game.

This was exactly the type of game Cal's almost always lost. I think they've lost at least their 3 prior final game bowl eligibility chances, including at least one to UCLA in Wilcox's first year IIRC. I came in telling people I didn't think Cal would win but that there was a path to it that included not making too many game-changing mistakes and not letting UCLA's WRs hurt them with multiple big plays but I never in my wildest dreams imagined a 33-7 domination, complete with 21 special teams points (4 field goals, a kick return and 3 extra points, with no misses). So satisfying on so many levels.

Then to be on the field in the last few minutes after that dominating 7-8 minute final drive, in the end zone in front of the band and big student section and feeling their utter joy was amazing. Then to be in the middle of the players' celebration and behind Reese leading the band was really fun.

If you haven't watched the postgame videos, every minute is worth a watch. Pay special attention to Wilcox and his tone and demeanor. You could tell how special this was to him and the genuine love he has for his players. So often, he comes off as dry and clinical or cliqued or frustrated but last night was just pure joy and relief.

I haven't had a chance to watch this final moments and postgame celebration video yet but when I get a few minutes in this busy weekend to really take it in, I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

On to bowl season!

Shocky1
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^ the magic of cal football
Grrrrah76
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One of Cal's best complete games and victories in a long, long time. The Bears always seem to struggle in Los Angeles, but not this year. Happy for Wilcox and players. Let's hold on to these young players and on to the ACC.
GoOskie
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I've been down on Coach Wilcox lately and ragging on him, but it brings me joy to see him dancing around and having fun.
southseasbear
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GoOskie said:

I've been down on Coach Wilcox lately and ragging on him, but it brings me joy to see him dancing around and having fun.
Me too. I'm glad he finally showed emotion, which may actually help in recruiting.
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