Picked to finish last in the PAC-12 North. Picked to have the hardest schedule in all of College Football. Picked to have the lowest odds of winning the PAC-12. Said to have had too little talent on defense. Said to have a young QB dilemma. Said to be changing systems on defense. Said to be changing systems on offense.
But all that went out the door at 9:20 AM PST on Saturday September 2nd, 2017.
So in the famous words of House of Pain, “I get up, I get in, Let me begin.”
1st Quarter: Jitterbug. 7-7.
Team A: 15 Passing Attempts. 93 yards. 1 TD. 6 Rushing Attempts. 27 Yards
Team B: 4 Passing Attempts. 12 yards. 15 Rushing Attempts. 87 Yards. 1 TD.
Can you figure out which team is which?
Cal has 2 senior RBs and a young QB. UNC has a grad transfer QB and young RBs.
What if I told you Team A was Cal and Team B was UNC?
All of us expected a run heavy scheme to help out our young QB. We did run early to help out our QB, but it seems OC Beau Baldwin wanted to get our QB in early rhythm with some quick passes on short and intermediate routes. That alleviated the nerves off of Bowers, and allowed our talented WRs to make plays after the catch. Ross threw his first TD on a fade throw to Jordan Veasy. As expected right? (Most of us forget he was on the roster for Jared’s final year and sat behind Davis Webb last year.) But enough about the offense, let’s talk about the D.
The defense badly needed some confidence after a few seasons in which they were trampled on game after game. DE James Looney talked about an excitement with this new staff and new defense all summer long and boy, did they gain their confidence back ten fold. Multiple 3&Outs, 0/4 on 3rd Down conversions, a forced fumble, a sack and two tackles for loss. If thats not evidence that a defense has vastly improved, I don’t know what is. It wasn’t all rainbows and roses though, as the defense started to look gassed in a highly humid environment and allowed RB Michael Carter to break off long run after long run for 61 yards on 5 carries. Carter also scored the tying TD on an pitch option run.
So the jitterbugs were out for both teams. Which team would start to take control of this game?
2nd Quarter: Start Your Engines. 14-17.
Now the Bears started to open up the game. Ross Bowers started to sling the ball better, throwing for another touchdown but also an interception. The interception was ugly. Bowers felt pressure and spun to his left, he wanted to zip one into Kanawai Noa who was running parallel to him down field. Unfortunately, Bowers did not see the linebacker that read his eyes and was coming down to cover on the broken play. The touchdown is what was impressive. Prior to Bowers’ touchdown play, he was smacked on a helmet-to-helmet contact play by DL Jalen Dalton and upon review, Dalton was ejected for targeting. Ross shook it off stepped back up to the line and proceeded to throw an absolute beauty of a pass to Vic Wharton. He had the pocket collapsing all over him, had a slight opening ahead of him to the left so he steps up and launches it as he gets hit. Wharton beat his defender with a disgusting cut and found acres of space behind his man and the safety over the top. Once the pass was thrown and caught, no one was catching the speedy receiver.
The Bears defense maintained the “bend-not-break” mentality all throughout the first half. The only touchdown for UNC in the second quarter came from the exact same pitch-option play that got them the score in the first. That will definitely be a point of emphasis in the film room on Sunday. Tim DeRuyter’s men had to deal with a constant change at QB for UNC but it looked as if LSU Grad Transfer QB Brandon Harris would be the guy. Cal’s defense limited him to just 60 yards on 7/15 throwing, and pretty much ended his day when Devante Downs ripped down an interception over the middle of the field in the last play of the half.
The Bears went into halftime with momentum off the interception and only down 3.
3rd Quarter: Add 7 to both teams. 21-24.
Ross Bowers continued his growth by throwing another touch down, but also throwing another interception. He threw behind Demetris Robertson and was picked off by LB Andre Smith. Smith would have taken to the house, if not for Robertson who chased him down inside the 10 yard line. The touchdown pass was a little bit of magic from himself and Patrick Laird. On the play, Bowers was able to escape from pressure and draw a linebacker away from Laird. Bowers then lofted a pass to Laird down the sideline who juked his way past 3 defenders and helped by some great blocking by Jordan Veasy. Patrick looked to be out of bounds but somehow found his way in open field, only a few yards from the end zone.
Defensively, the Bears forced UNC to change QBs after frustrating Harris. Freshman Chazz Surratt took over full time, but once again the Bears allowed him to operate within their confines. They did not allow him to gain too much momentum and forced him to make plays on the run.
4th Quarter: Fatality. 35-30.
In hindsight, the game came down to this moment. Cal was up 28-24 after a beautiful drive which was capped off with a TD grab from sophomore Jordan Duncan. UNC Ball on the Cal 30. 4th & 3. 7:30 left to play. Instead of settling for the points and trusting his defense, Larry Fedora put the onus on his true freshman QB Surratt. Snap. Quick pass to the left. Broken up by Quentin Tartabull. That settled the game. The Bears then slowly marched down the field milking every second of the play clock, not being called for a single delay of game or false start and capping it off with a 1 yard TD run by Vic Enwere.
After the TD, the Bears were up 35-23 with less than 2 minutes to go. Tim DeRuyter went into a full prevent defense keeping the ball and play in front of them at all times. The gamesmanship moment came when UNC got in the redzone with under 40 seconds left to play. The Cal DBs held up the UNC WRs forcing holding calls. This shrunk the distance to the endzone but took alot of time off of the game clock. UNC pushed it in to the 1 yard line with 1 second left, and Larry Fedora called a time out to give Surratt one more opportunity to punch it in. Surratt then got the rushing TD as the last play of the game.
Bears Win. 35-30.
Welcome to Memorial Stadium, Weber State.
Cal was paced offensively, by Redshirt Sophomore Ross Bowers, who finished the game throwing 24/38, 363 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Defensively, it was Devante Downs’ coming out party who had 13 total tackles, 8 solo tackles, 1 interception, 1 QB hurry, and 1 forced fumble. We had our moments of growing pains, we had our moments of awe, but the biggest takeaway for all fans was the coaching prowess of this new era. It wasn’t merely the playcalling and gameflow. You could see the weeks of preparations and the rebuilding of fundamentals for every position had made this team significantly better despite having largely the same roster on both sides of the ball.