Celebrate, Cal fans (I sure did, pardon the lateness in getting this recap up). Yes, it is merely the Armed Forces Bowl. However, this was only Cal Football's 22nd Bowl Game in our long history. More importantly, this was Cal's 11th win in a bowl game, lifting our official bowl result to 11-10-1 (yes, the 1922 Rose Bowl ended in a 0-0 tie). For the first time since 2008, the California Golden Bears (8-5) are victorious in a Bowl Game, after the 55-36 defeat of Air Force Falcons (8-6).
The game was pretty much a high scoring affair as anticipated, with the Bear Raid getting possibly one last chance to shine under the direction of Squadron Leader Jared Goff. Jared Goff ended the game with 6 passing TDs (3rd time in his career that his has done this) and a healthy 467 yards through the air. Air Force's ground game, due to that tricky triple options, rushed 53 times for a total of 285 yards on the ground. The Falcons merely attempted 15 passes, including one from a receiver.
The game started with Air Force receiving the ball. Despite their name, Air Force ran the ball 11 times en route to a game opening touchdown. A relatively weak facemask call on Stephen McClure on what would have been a 3rd down stop gave the Falcons the chance to score more than a field goal. Jacobi Owens scored the touchdown from 1 yard out.
The Bears promptly answered with a touchdown drive of their own. On the 3rd play of the drive, Air Force leading tackler, Weston Steelhammer (that's the pretty nice last name...probably could be that guy's call sign) was ejected for targeting on his head down hit on Cal receiver Bryce Treggs. While I am not sure Steelhammer's presence would have really slow down the Bear Raid that much, but Air Force losing their defensive leader that early clearly doesn't help them. Once the Bears made it inside the 5 yards line, it was 3 straight Vic Enwere runs until Vic finds the endzone for the equalizer.
In case you were wondering, Daniel Lasco did not make an appearance in this game. ESPN crawler does mention Lasco as Todd McShay's 9th best running back prospect in the upcoming draft, however.
The Bears defense step up on Air Force's 2nd possession by forcing a 3 and out. Sadly, the Cal offense followed that up with a missed opportunity. On 3rd and goal from the 3, the Bears opted for a QB keeper by Goff. Goff was promptly stopped and nearly fumbled the ball (the play was under review until it was determined that Goff was down). Since it was the end of the season, the Bears opted for a trick play on the short field goal attempt. The ball was directly snapped to kicker Matt Anderson, who had some issue handling the ball and this lead to the lone turnover of the game for Cal as a fumble. It was perhaps fortuitous that the Air Force player who recovered the ball was down as this could have easily turned into 6 points the other way.
Despite the trick play gone wrong, the Cal defense forced another Air Force three-and-out, however. This set up a two play go ahead touchdown for the Bears as Goff recorded his first passing TD of the game on a 30 yard strike to Bryce Treggs to close the first quarter. Basically at will, the Cal receivers had a step or two on their Air Force corners all game long, Goff was able to complete long leading throws to his receivers basically all day long. The lone near interception throw by Goff was a tipped pass in the Bears' first drive of the game. Other than that, there was really no opportunities for the Air Force to intercept any of the missiles out of our Bear Raid commander's arm.
After 15 minutes, it was Cal 14, Air Force 7.
Of course, the Cal lead was short lived as Air Force methodically scored another touchdown. In the process, Air Force QB Karson Roberts completed his first pass of the game on a 23 yard pass. It was a Tyler Williams 16 yard run that knotted the score at 14.
The two teams then traded three-and-outs with the Air Force drive sunk by an illegal block in the back call in the backfield on their first play.
The Bear Raid found its stride in the following possession. Goff found Lawler for some nice gains before Tre Watson had an 18 yard run. Goff then found Maurice Harris thanks to a nice one handed grab by Harris to set up the easy 5 yard pass to Darius Powe for the touchdown.
Air Force proceed to do Cal a big favor by fumbling their first play of the next drive. The QB just never got the ball cleanly before it was recovered by Cal's Kyle Kragen.
Goff and company made the Falcons pay via the one play drive of a 24 yard Goff to Lawler connection (1st of 3 TDs between the pair).
To their credit, Air Force did not quit right here. They again methodically marched down the field (on the ground again, despite their name) to score on a QB (Karson Roberts) keeper.
With about two minutes left before the half, there were plenty of time for the Bears to score again. After a 9 yard connection between Goff and Watson, Goff found Treggs for 55 yards on the next play. This connection, like most of Goff's completions on the day, was all through the air. Goff found Treggs in stride and it was merely not a touchdown due to the defender tripping Treggs after the catch. One play later, Goff connected with Lawler to put the Bears up by two scores again.
Bears actually stopped Air Force soon enough to have another shot to add more points. A sack of Jared Goff, however, caused the Bears to just let the clock run out before the half.
At the half, it was Cal 35, Air Force 23.
With the ball to open the second half, the Bears pad the lead with another touchdown. Goff found Powe again for the second touchdown connections between the pair.
Bears then got lucky when the Air Force drive deep into Cal territory resulted in a fumble with the ball rolling out of bound just inside the pylon for a Cal touchback.
On the next drive, Goff found Powe for about 20+ yards in the air before Powe used his moves to gain an additional 20+ yards. Somewhat surprisingly, this drive ended with the Bears settling for a field goal as Matt Anderson made a 29 yarder.
As we all know, no Cal lead is really safe. Inexplicably, the Bears were completely surprised by an Air Force passing play. A wide open Timothy McVey caught the ball from Roberts to score a 57 yard touchdown. Air Force converted the two point attempt via a run to make it a two possession game (16 points Cal lead still felt pretty safe, to be honest).
Just before the 4th quarter, Bears added another score as Kenny Lawler turned a short pass into a run into the end zone. This was Lawler's 3rd TD catch of the game and Goff's 6th of the game. There was still a whole quarter left to go.
With 15 minutes left on the game, it was Cal 52 (#Drop50) and Air Force 29.
With the game pretty much decided and perhaps pressure from ESPN TV folks to end the game so that the Russels Athletic Bowl, featuring two ranked teams in North Carolina and Baylore, will not be preempted the clock basically kept running.
Luke Rubenzer (might he get a chance as the starting QB next year?) intercepted a ball to stop the Air Force drive that carried over to the 4th quarter.
Bears ran the clock down a bit on a three-and-out before Air Force scored one more touchdown as Roberts found Robinette...another pass where the receiver was wide open since the Cal defense was anticipating run.
Bears then methodically run a 14 play drive that ate 8 minutes of game time that resulted in another field goal. Goff was not really given a chance to throw for a 7th TD as the Bears kept things on the ground. Eventually, this drive ended in a 30 yard field goal from Matt Anderson to make the final game score 55 to 36.
For the game, Goff completed 25 of 37 passes for 467 yards. The yardage and the 6 TDs passing are both Cal Bowl game record. Here is how Goff's first bowl game compared to that of Aaron Rodgers. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Goff was named the MVP of the bowl game.
Jared Goff broke Cal's record for most passing yards in a bowl game, surpassing a current NFL star pic.twitter.com/kZOdzIls6r— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 30, 2015
If this is it for Jared Goff's Cal career, he came out on a high note. As anticipated since the bowl was announced, Cal fans got one more good look at how effective the Bear Raid can perform against an overmatched opponent like Air Force. Goff and his receivers got one more chance to shine and they most definitely did so. Who knows, maybe Sonny Dykes managed to impress few potential recruits in this game and continued his Texas connection while the Bears were in Forth Worth?
Instead of an exciting game, we got 60 minutes of the Bear Raid informercial on ESPN on a random Tuesday. Nothing wrong with that.
That's also a pretty neat looking trophy.
Senior class took me in with open arms and I'm happy I could finish with y'all. Boys for life!!✊ pic.twitter.com/e2U28FgwPI— DAVID DAVI$ (@daveydave99) December 30, 2015
This concludes the 2015 Cal Football season. Bears managed to win every game for which that they are favored (including this one) but also pulled zero upsets. Time will tell if this is indeed a local maximum of Cal Football success with a seasoned Goff and receivers. Nevertheless, it was great to see the Bears back in a bowl game. Can Sonny return the Bears to another bowl game (and earn that automatic one year extension)?
No post game dancing from Sonny Dykes this time, but Sonny does talk about how all the non-seniors need to live up to the high standard set by this year's squad. We shall see in the coming days just how many of our talented juniors (mainly Jared Goff and Kenny Lawler) are going to be back next year. Can the 2016 Golden Bears make their way back to another bowl? Nevertheless, it is important to remember that Bowl Game wins are still relatively rare in Cal Football history; we shall all appreciate this one, no matter who the opponent is and how the game went according to expectation.