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The Wrap: Cal fades in a 23-17 victory over North Texas

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Great to underwhelming in the blink of an eye.

NCAA Football: North Texas at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears trended in slow starts followed by fast finishes over the first two games. They broke that trend against North Texas but... fizzled out as the game went on, winning on a Cal defensive stop on 4th and 15 on the North Texas 30 yard line. The first quarter alleviated many fears of the fan base and maybe hinted at the offense turning a page on their struggles. The second quarter and beyond descended into chaos as Cal almost blew a 20-0 lead. Could it have been better? Absolutely, but did it follow the trend of Cal games so far? Absolutely.

First Quarter: Do you know the story of Icarus?

The Bears came out roaring in the first quarter of the game. It was unlike anything we had seen all season. Offensively? 4 drives. 20 points. A very balanced 129 yards of offense. 67 yards passing, 62 yards rushing. 6.8 yards per play. Defensively? 3 drives for North Texas that resulted in a forced fumble recovered by BRETT JOHNSON, 3 and out, 3 and out in that exact order. 1 sack. Only allowing 3.0 yards per play and limiting the North Texas Air Raid, led by Mason Fine, to just 17 yards passing yards. Statistically, this was as good of a quarter you could draw up. Adding two more touchdowns instead of field goals might be the only change to make it a truly dominating quarter, but overall the Bears played great defense, drove the ball down the field and capped it off with points. The offense and team were flying high, but the football gods deemed us to be too close to the sun and melted our wings. Then the plummet started.

Play of the Q: Jaylinn Hawkins explodes into the backfield to force the fumble. It looked like a North Texas OL jumped on the ball but somehow BRETT JOHNSON comes up with it and it turns into Cal ball. Led to a 32-yard field goal from Greg Thomas. The 1B play of the quarter was Tevin Paul blowing up his blocker on his way to forcing a hurry on third down.

Second Quarter: Mr. Stark. I don’t feel so good.

Do you know that sick feeling you get right before you feel like something bad is going to happen? The feeling right before the drop on the tower of terror? The feeling right before you’re told it’s not you, it’s me? Wait. Might have gone too far there. You get the idea. The Bears only gave up 3 points in the quarter, but offense ground to a halt. Two drives, one ending on a punt and one ending on a failed 4th down conversion Only 2.7 yards per play, 52 total yards, and zero points. Garbers had 1 completed pass for 2 yards in the quarter on 7 attempts. The defense, on the other hand, continued to clamp down on Fine and the Mean Green, but the defense started to relax and bend. Cam Goode with a sack, Beck with as close to a would-be interception as you can, as the ball went right through his hands were some highlights that kept the Mean Green from scoring more, but a wide-open drop by North Texas in the endzone started to show the cracks of this iron-clad defense. The offense slowed down and the defense was starting to show some bend. Cal took a 17 point lead into the half.

Play of the Q: Cam Goode as an absolute force, with the North Texas offensive line having trouble containing the starting edge rushers. His sack in the game puts him now at 2 sacks, through 3 games.

Third Quarter: You packed the parachute right? No. I thought you did.

And. Here. We. Go. The offense began its free fall with the defense relaxing with a 3 possession lead. Cal only had 52 yards in the quarter, North Texas had 153. Cal converted zero third-down opportunities in the quarter, but they did convert a fourth-down chance. The conversion did lead to Cal’s only points the rest of the game. A 34-yard field goal by Greg Thomas. Cal averaged 3.7 yards per play but allowed North Texas 7.7 yards per play. North Texas came out guns blazing with a 68-yard pass play to Darden, on which the defense lost contain. Darden had a free lane down the sideline and took it to the house. The flow came back into Cal’s grasp after Traveon Beck got his first interception of the season and his first interception at Memorial stadium. The Bears then came out flat on offense leading to another punt and North texas getting the ball going into the final quarter.

Play of the Q: Camryn Bynum laid out for a huge pass break up in the endzone. The pass break up was the play right before Beck’s interception, forcing North Texas to try for the first down on 3rd and 10.

Fourth Quarter: It’s a bold move cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.

It was a back and forth the rest of the way. Kuony Deng and Evan Weaver got the Bears out of the jam that gave Cal the ball on their 15. Offense goes 3 and out. North Texas starts on their 15. North Texas punts. Cal starts on their own 25. Cal pooch punts! Let’s stop for a second though. The Bears had a chance to stamp out a win right before the pooch punt on a wide open throw from Garbers to Gavin Reinwald. The sophomore tight end was wide down the sideline, and would have waltzed into the end zone, but dropped it right off of his hands. That killed, arguably, Cal’s best drive in the second half. North Texas starts on its own 25, but this time it ends differently. They drive down the field helped by a bad PI call on Trey Turner on a pass breakup. Mason Fine finishes it off with an 18-yard touchdown throw. Bears are only up 6. North Texas goes for the onside, and thankfully Cal recovers. Cal goes 3 and out, punting the ball to the North Texas 35. Under two minutes to play, North Texas hurts themselves with a false start. Then, Ashtyn Davis gets the pass breakup. Ashtyn Davis again forces the ball carrier out of bounds. Fine throws high on 3rd down and misses the pass. Cal calls a timeout to get set on defense. Breathe in. North Texas on the do-or-die play on 4th and 15 from their own 30. Bynum and Weaver converge on the receiver and force the incompletion. Breathe out. Cal offense goes out onto the field in victory formation to close out the game. The Bears in the final quarter had 3 drives. In those drives, they were sacked 3 times, only had 3 first downs, converted just 2 of 6 on 3rd down, and punted 3 times. They averaged an abysmal 2.5 yards per play. It was ugly.

Play of the Q: Chase Garbers on 3rd and 24 threw a beauty of a ball to Jordan Duncan for 27 yards. Got Cal out of jam, which led to getting the ball into North Texas half.

Final word

The team ground out another win. One that was turned upside down in terms of flow from the previous two wins. The offense never exceeded 55 yards in the final three quarters. The offense only scored 3 points in the final 3 quarters. The offense punted or turned it over on downs in all but one of the final 7 drives. The defense gave up 284 yards in the final 3 quarters. The news seemed to get worse after the game, as HC Justin Wilcox stated that Cameron Goode, Tevin Paul, Ben Hawk Schrider, Chinedu Udeogu, Christopher Brown Jr. were all hurt during the game and were unavailable to play as the game went on. More news on them will be given at the media availability on Monday afternoon.

All in all, a win is a win, but the Bears seem to have more questions than answers. For a team that is 3-0? That does not bode well going into the gauntlet section of the season.

As always. California Rising.