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Cal Football

Cal Football Monday Notebook

December 4, 2023

As much as Cal’s football team is excited about playing Texas Tech in this year’s Independence Bowl, the Golden Bears are headed to Shreveport, Louisiana looking to absorb some of the culture there.

Specifically, the good eating that is in abundance just about everywhere you look.

“(The players) were already talking about it, and I reiterated it, the food is going to be off the charts,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said Sunday after the Bears wrapped up practice. “And we all know that the hospitality is second to none. Our guys are excited.”

For good reason.

While there’s certainly plenty of delicious restaurants in just about every city in America, there’s something different about the South. It’s where you can go and let your eating mind go wild, because there’s usually some place nearby that has what you’re looking for.

It’s one of the perks the Bears get after capturing three consecutive must-win games to become bowl eligible.

Quarterback Fernando Mendoza, a big reason Cal is making its first bowl appearance since 2019, loves the idea of he and his teammates absorbing all that they can about the region in Shreveport.

But, Mendoza said, first things first.

“The bowl game’s all great, and going to the Independence Bowl, I know it means a lot for everybody. But the main goal of going to Shreveport is to win,” Mendoza said. “Fun is a side dish but the main course is to win. That’s something that we’re focused on.”

It’s the first time that Cal and Texas Tech will play since the 2004 Holiday Bowl when the Red Raiders pulled off a 45-31 win over the Bears, who were ranked No. 4 at the time.

There’s some similarities between the two teams this year. Both rode three-game winning streaks late in the season to get to the postseason, and both offenses are highlighted by a pair of game-breaking running backs in Cal’s Jaydn Ott and Texas Tech’s Tahj Brooks. Ott led the Pac-12 with 1,260 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Brooks beat up on opponents for 1,443 yards and nine TDs.

The game will also feature a reunion of sorts. Red Raiders defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter held the same job with the Bears from 2017-20, while Texas Tech’s secondary coach, Marcel Yates, was also an assistant coach in Berkeley.

“Having that experience is a big deal to the program,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said when asked what going to a bowl means for the Bears. “There’s just a lot to it and we can’t wait to get down there. We still have some work to do here with finals and bowl practices but really looking forward to heading down to Shreveport.”

In addition to preparing to play Texas Tech, Cal will also be trying to adjust to a new play-caller after offensive coordinator Jake Spavital accepted a similar job with Baylor. Wilcox said that Mike Bloesch, the Bears’ offensive line coach and run game coordinator, will replace Spavital in the Independence Bowl.

“He had so much to do with our successes running the ball this year and the growth we’ve made on offense,” Wilcox said.

Tight ends coach Tim Plough, who recently accepted the head coaching job at UC Davis, will be staying with Cal through the bowl game and helping coach QBs and with the game planning, as he did as a consultant after last season’s dismissal of former OC Bill Musgrave.

Spavital was instrumental in the development of Mendoza, who spent the early portion of the season third on the depth chart before winning the starting quarterback job and ultimately leading the Bears into the postseason.

When it was announced that Spavital was leaving Berkeley for Baylor, there had been some speculation that Mendoza might enter the transfer portal and leave Cal. But Mendoza was emphatic in saying he isn’t going anywhere.

“Coach Spavital is a great coach,” Mendoza said. “He’s been essential to my development, but I will say that has not wavered or changed my opinion on Cal. I’m staying here.

“I’m really taking my development seriously. I see myself growing every single game, every single practice. It has been a crazy journey but I believe it’s the start of a great journey. Everyone here has given me a chance and has believed in me.”

The Bears received more good news Monday when linebacker Cade Uluave and tight end Jack Endries were named freshmen All-Americans by College Football News.

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