Golden Bears Suffer Their First Loss, but Continue to Move In Right Direction


The defense gave the California Golden Bears a chance to win on Saturday night. It’s almost weird to type that sentence, because of just how bad the Bears have been defensively for years. But it’s true. The defense kept the Golden Bears in the game until the last second while their cornerstone quarterback was hit hard time and time again, and intercepted time and time again. On Saturday night, the Bears’ offense was the issue.

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Cal came into the game ranked 23rd in the country, while the Utah Utes were the fifth-ranked team in the nation. They were the final two unbeaten teams in the Pac-12, but only one could keep the distinction.

History was not on Cal’s side entering this game. Cal hadn’t beaten a ranked team in their last nine tries, dating back to 2012. They hadn’t beaten a top-five team since 2003, when they needed three overtimes to beat USC by a field goal. They hadn’t beaten a top-five team on the road since 1951. Cal hadn’t started a season with six straight wins since 1950.

Sloppy was the name of the game on Saturday. Cal turned the ball over six times, including five interceptions thrown by Cal quarterback Jared Goff. Kenny Lawler, known for ridiculous, acrobatic catches, dropped two easily catchable balls, one resulting in an interception while another would have been a touchdown.

Even still, the Cal defense kept the team in it until the last minute. When Lawler let a ball slip through his fingertips for an interception on the game’s first drive, the defense forced Utah to punt. When running back Daniel Lasco fumbled and Utah recovered at the opponent’s 18-yard-line, the defense held the Utes to a field goal. When Goff threw his second interception, this one tipped on an attempted screen, in Cal territory, the defense held again, forcing Utah to kick another three-pointer.

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Overall, Cal held the Utes to just 17 points off those six turnovers, doing their absolute best to give their offense a chance to turn things around. The Cal defense forced three turnovers of their own, adding to the Pac-12-leading 18 with which they entered the game. Unfortunately, the Cal offense mustered only 10 points off those free opportunities.

When the defense forced another Utah punt with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Goff had a chance for redemption. The unit had their work cut out for them, as Tom Hackett, the 2014 Ray Guy Award winner, pinned them at the four-yard line with an absolutely beautiful punt. Goff nearly recorded his sixth turnover when he was sacked and fumbled the ball, but his offensive line bailed him out by falling on top of it. The drive continued, as Goff hit Darius Powe for a first down around the 40-yard line, and a roughing the passer penalty for a hit below the knees pushed them across midfield.

Goff would tuck and run for six on first down, and find Lawler for five yard when they needed four on third down. Two plays later, Goff connected with tight end Stephen Anderson for eight yards to bring up third-and-two. On the next play, Goff and Lawler hooked up again for eight yards to bring up a first down at Utah’s 26-yard-line.

On first down, Goff and freshman receiver Kanawai Noa couldn’t connect. On second down, Goff hit Maurice Harris for five yards, followed by Cal calling their first timeout. On third-and-five at Utah’s 21, Bryce Treggs couldn’t pull down a hot throw from Goff on a pick play. That brought up fourth down with 26 seconds to go and the game on the line. Goff dropped back, and unleashed a pass over the middle for Darius Powe, but Boobie Hobbs got his hand on the ball, knocking it down, and delivering the final blow to Cal.

All those bad streaks remain. The Bears still haven’t started 6-0 in 65 years. They still haven’t beaten a top-five team in 12 years, and in 64 years on the road. They still haven’t beaten a ranked opponent in three years. But things are clearly different for the Bears.

The Bears’ defense, one of the worst in the country just last year, is much improved. They gave up a fair share of yards, but they played the “bend, don’t break” style of defense to perfection. They kept the game as close as they could, and gave the team a chance when they shouldn’t have had a prayer. Cal is no longer the laughing stock of the Pac-12. They took one of the best teams in the country down to the wire and nearly came away with a gigantic win. Even despite the heart-wrenching loss, it’s clear that head coach Sonny Dykes has the Bears moving in an extremely positive direction.

One point of worry could come from the fact that this loss comes as Cal is going into a bye week, leaving a lot of time for those “what if’s” to rear their nasty heads. Cal doesn’t play for 11 days, until they take on the UCLA Bruins, another very tough conference opponent, on October 22nd. Cal has to be careful not to be demoralized by this loss, and let it impact their focus for UCLA.

If the postgame press conference is anything to go by, Cal won’t let that happen. Wide receiver Trevor Davis is ready to move ahead.

Goff, Dykes, and senior defensive end Kyle Kragen, echoed the sentiment

Next: Cal Survives WSU to Move to 5-0