What a Friday night it was in Berkeley. In a game in which the Bears lead 21–0 and had a 20-point lead in the third quarter, it was the Cal defense that sealed the deal in overtime. All told, this game probably provoked just as many questions as it did answers in regards to the Bears ability to be successful in the second half of the season. To blow a 20-point lead over a half of football is disenchanting—to blow that size of a lead in a span of eight minutes is downright inexcusable. Factor in that it was against an opponent who had not led in a single Pac-12 game this season and many perilous thoughts start to creep in about the long-term viability of this program.
In the short term, “Cardiac Cal” is alive and well and the players played their absolute hearts out tonight. Khalfani Muhammed and Tre Watson led a dominant rushing attack that’s been absent from previous versions of the Bear Raid and Davis Webb played one of his best games yet. The offense at times looked a bit more one-dimensional without Chad “so hot right now” Hansen, but credit the young receivers who stepped up and made big plays against an opponent we haven’t beat in the last seven tries.
However, it is worthwhile to ask whether we perhaps deserve more from our coaching staff than we saw this Friday evening. Puzzling play calls, terrible drive-extending penalties, and the lack of the so-called killer instinct were all brutally on display in Berkeley tonight. Cal has arguably played some of its worst football coming off of bye weeks and at least (luckily) we saw the good, the bad, and the ugly tonight. Onto the wrap!
First Quarter: Domination
Without a doubt, this was the best opening to a football game that Cal has played all year. The Bears benefitted from Tony Brooks-James stepping out of bounds on what would have otherwise been a massive run and Darius Allensworth made a drive-stopping play to force Oregon to punt on their first drive.
Cal would start off a bit slow with a big play of their own called back by a penalty. The Bears would not rally and be forced to punt. On the ensuing punt, Oregon fumbled the return; however, Cal could not recover. Despite the ridiculous number of plays run in this game, it would take until the second overtime for the first turnover to happen.
The next Oregon drive would see the Cal defensive front dominate Oregon’s big uglies. Darius Allensworth (whose presence would be sorely missed later in the game) made another nice play to stop the drive and the Ducks would punt the ball away once more.
The next Cal possession the Bears would bring the ball into Duck territory on a nice play by Melquise Stovall. Tre Watson would start to see success early and often on the ground, leading the Bears upfield and Khalfani Muhammed had a very nice first-down conversion. After a holding call pushed the Bears back, Davis Webb found freshman stud Demetris Robertson for a ten-yard touchdown and the Bears took an early 7–0 lead.
The next Oregon drive would be plagued by penalties and negative plays that took points off the board, putting Cal in position to go up two scores early. The Bears would take over after an Oregon punt and ride Khalfani all the way to the promised land. Khalfani had 67 of his 148 yards on this drive and the Bears would find the end zone again—Webb connecting with Ray Hudson for five yards through the air. 14–0 Bears. Cal was dominating Oregon early and the game already felt very one-sided.
Oregon would once again get in its own way on the ensuing drive with another two penalties and set up a long third-down conversion. As the quarter concluded, Oregon had been held to 40 yards of offense and zero points.
Second Quarter: Can’t stop, won’t stop
Oregon would fail to convert on their third-down play and punt the ball away once more as the Cal defense seemed very prepared for the Ducks. Tre Watson would turn on the burners, carving up the Oregon defense as the Bears cruised into Duck territory. The drive was capped off with Vic Wharton’s first career Cal touchdown on a nifty fake by the Cal offense. 21–0 Bears.
Oregon would finally respond, driving downfield with ease as it seemed either they started to remember they were playing Cal’s defense or Cal started to ease up after seeing the scoreboard. Justin Herbet found Pharaoh Brown over the middle for a 27-yard Duck touchdown. 21–7 Bears.
The Bears would respond back with a nice drive of their own, eating a lot of clock and moving the ball effectively downfield. Cal was aggressive, going for it in their own territory and seizing on the momentum they established from their early lead. The Bears would convert again on fourth down to push the ball into Duck territory. Cal would try for the end zone and Stovall made a ridiculous catch across the sidelines; however, he landed just out of bounds. The Bears would settle for a Matt Anderson 37-yard field goal. 24–7 Bears.
Oregon would once again answer the Bears and do so rather quickly. Brooks-James had a long 40-yard run and was able to punch the ball in shortly after. 24–14 Bears.
With only three minutes left in the first half, Cal would move the ball downfield on a Davis Webb read option as well as a pass interference call. Another Oregon penalty brought the ball to the Ducks 24-yard line. On a third–and–short play, Webb hit Stovall for what looked to be a touchdown; however, he was ruled out-of-bounds. After review, it looked very clear that Stovall was in the end zone, but the play on the field stood. The Bears went for it and converted again on a short play before Webb found Watson for a 14-yard touchdown. 31–14 Bears at the half.
Third Quarter: What in the heck is this?
This was by far the worst quarter of football Cal has played since their game against Oregon State. After a Matt Anderson 22-yard field goal pushed the lead to 20, the Bears got a bit overconfident and boy did it come back to hurt them. The Cal defense made a nice initial stop on Oregon and Cal got the ball back with a chance to put the game out of reach. The Bears narrowly missed a first down and perhaps the most puzzling call of the year took place. Cal called timeout on fourth and one in their own territory up 20 points. They then decided to send Davis Webb to the line to either go for it or pooch punt the ball away. Webb lined up to punt, fooled nobody, and shanked the ball for ten yards. There is no easy way to put this, it was and will be one of the most bizarre coaching decisions you will ever see.
The Ducks took over already in Cal territory and immediately made them pay. After a big run to the 1-yard line, Herbert found Evan Baylis for a 1-yard score. 34–21 Bears. Cal would pick the wrong time to have their ugliest drive of the night and would immediately give the ball back to the Ducks. Oregon had a few big plays downfield and just a short few minutes later they scored, bringing the score to 34–28 Bears.
Fourth Quarter: Is it ours?
Cal’s next opportunity would be another interesting, but less controversial, coaching call. As Cal was lining to punt, Oregon was called for a penalty and that shifted the down & distance to fourth and short. Sonny, who previously was punting, elected to go for it on a jumbo power package. Everyone on Oregon knew what was coming and the Ducks stopped the Bears on a turnover of downs. Oregon would use one fourth-down conversion to push the ball downfield and benefit from an inexcusable facemask on what would have been a big tackle for loss. Herbert would then connect with Charles Nelson for the score and Oregon—yes Oregon—took the lead, 35–34.
Cal’s offense, after being particularly dormant for the third quarter, sprung back to life in the fourth. The Bears moved the ball effectively through the air and on the ground, eventually leading to an amazing Davis Webb touchdown pass to Tre Watson (who made an absolutely ridiculous catch). The Bears lined up for two points and used some serious trickery in order to free up J.D. Hinnant for the wide open conversion. 42–35 Bears lead once more.
With under four minutes to go, Cal had possession of the football and a 7-point lead. Once again, peculiar coaching decisions would have a big impact on the game. Instead of running the football with either Tre Watson or Khalfani Muhammed—who were averaging well over five yards per carry—Cal opted to pass. And not pass just once, but pass twice. That’s right, with a 7-point lead and under four minutes to go, Cal opted to pass the ball twice, which led to two incompletions and a great chance to tie for the Ducks.
The Ducks would not waste their opportunity and Herbert would immediately find Charles Nelson for a 42-yard touchdown. Tied ballgame once again. The Bears would then drive downfield with the game on the line and Davis Webb took control. He hit receiver after receiver along the way and the two-headed running back machine kept churning. The Bears would make it down to the 24-yard line where they would set up for a Matt Anderson field goal to win the game.
After two Helfrich timeouts, Matt Anderson would end up pushing his kick wide left and the game (rather unbelievably) was going to overtime.
Overtime: Roast duck for all
Cal elected to play defense for the first possession of extra time and Oregon wasted no time getting into the end zone. Herbert found the aptly-named Jalen Brown for a 20-yard score. Oregon led 49–42.
The Bears would end up answering back after using their running backs to get them into a goal line situation. Davis Webb would take the ball into the end zone on a quarterback read and Anderson pushed through the point after to tie the game.
The next possession, Cal would get all the way to the 2-yard line before regressing to the Duck 22-yard line due to penalties. They would make some of that ground up before Webb would barely miss his receiver in the end zone with Demetris Robertson wide open. Matt Anderson would kick a 28-yard field goal to put Cal in #drop50 territory and lay their #drop50 winning streak on the line.
The defense came out on the field, tasked with once again winning a game for the Bears.
Linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk made an excellent play on a poorly placed ball by Herbert and forced the very first turnover from a game that saw over 203 offensive plays. The Bears came away victorious.
Sonny Dykes locked up his first victory against Oregon as Cal head coach and his first Pac-12 victory coming off of a bye week. The Bears head down to LA to play a USC team—which has looked better lately—on short rest and must hope that their two running backs can repeat their stellar performances tonight.