The Cal Bears’ much-maligned defense put together their best effort of the season, allowing the offense to run away from the UCLA Bruins in the second half.
It’s no secret that the Cal Bears’ defense has been downright awful. With missing pieces all over place, the Bears have allowed more yards than all but one team in the country. They’ve made a habit of making mediocre teams look much better than they actually are.
But on Saturday, they celebrated the life of inspirational former quarterback Joe Roth, who played part of the 1976 season with melanoma and passed away just months after the season ended. The defense came out on fire, as if Roth himself were down there with him.
The Bears pitched a shutout in the first half, holding UCLA scoreless after allowing over 28 points per game in the first half through the first 11 games. They swarmed to the ball and played unusually tight coverage, making life miserable for quarterback Mike Fafaul. The senior entered the game with just a 53.7 percent completion rate, and went 2-14 in the first half.
While the defense was opening the door, Cal’s offense just could not bust through. Their only points of the first half came courtesy of kicker Matt Anderson, who drilled four field goals. The third made kick for Anderson set a modern era school record for points in a single season.
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The second half opened things up for both side. UCLA’s first drive got into the end zone as Fafaul got into a rhythm. He made three long completions, the last of which was hauled in by Kenneth Walker III on a fantastic catch for a score.
Cal answered on the next drive, with a 33-yard completion to Chad Hansen setting the Bears up at the one-yard line. The first play after that was a little wrinkle in their offense. Davis Webb turned and handed off to Malik McMorris, the 310-pound, walk-on fullback. McMorris, known for his athleticism despite his size, vaulted over the mass of humanity at the line of scrimmage. He just reached the ball across the line, collecting his first career rushing touchdown at Cal. It was also his first carry as a Bear, and the second touchdown after a receiving score last season against the Oregon State Beavers.
The momentum shifted to Cal after that, and a muffed kickoff recovery for the Bears kept it on their side. With the short field, they needed just five plays to find the endzone. This time, it was Webb hitting freshman Jordan Duncan for the latter’s first collegiate touchdown. Cal took a 26-7 lead.
UCLA brought the game back to two possessions with a field goal, but Khalfani Muhammad gave the Bears good field position with a great kick return. UCLA had plenty of opportunities to end the drive, including one chance at what would have been a clear pick-six. Penalties hurt, giving Cal free yards and eventually leading to three points on Anderson’s fifth field goal. With the make, Anderson tied the single-game and total-season school records for made field goals.
On the next drive, Cal kept up the defensive fortitude. Devante Downs came away with an interception, his first of the year and the third of his career. More good field position allowed Cal to extend their lead further and put the game away. Webb’s second touchdown pass went to Bug Rivera, one of the senior celebrated on Senior Day. The former walk-on caught six passes on the day, bringing his season total to 41.
Cal was able to milk the last seven or so minutes off the clock, aiding by a roughing the punter penalty that gave them an automatic first down. The clock trickled down, and seniors Webb and Muhammad left the field before the game ended to nice ovations from the crowd at Memorial Stadium.
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When the clock read all zeroes, Cal took home a 36-10 win over UCLA. The game was over, and the ride was over for Webb, Muhammad, Rivera, and a litany of others.
Webb finished the day with 301 yards, and surpassed 4,000 yards on the year. His 4,295-yard season is the second-most prolific passing season in school history, behind only Jared Goff’s 4,714 yards in 2015. Muhammad finished with 116 yards, crossing 2,000 yards for his career. He also caught six passes for 48 yards, and returned a kickoff 50 yards.
Though not a senior, Hansen put together another big game for the Bears’ offense. He caught 10 passes for 156 yards against UCLA, finishing the year with 92 grabs for 1,249 yards in only 10 games. He’ll be a candidate not only for All-Pac-12 teams, but All-American teams.
The Bears’ defense entered the game allowing 45.5 points per game, 290 yards rushing, and 542 yards total. They held UCLA to 260 yards, the first time they held an opponent under 300 yards since week three against Washington last year. The Bruins gained only 11 first downs, the fewest since Cal allowed Grambling State to pick up 11 in week one last year. UCLA scored just 10 points, the fewest by a Cal opponent since week two last year when San Diego State scored just seven.
Cal beat UCLA for the first time under Sonny Dykes. In fact, it was the Bears’ first win against a California-based Pac-12 school since Dykes took over. They finish the year 5-7, and are still in the running for a bowl game. It’s very highly unlikely, but if enough teams decline invitations, Cal could take part in a bowl game.