BERKELEY, California –
Sophomore tailback Justin Forsett made a seamless transition into the starting lineup for the California Golden Bears, which came on strong after a shaky first half. Forsett ran for 187 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries as the 15th-ranked Golden Bears scored 21 straight points in the second half to post a 35-20 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini.
A native of Texas, Forsett opened the game in the backfield because fellow sophomore Marshawn Lynch broke his left pinkie in last week's 56-17 win at Washington.
The Fighting Illini held a 17-7 lead before Cal's quarterback Joe Ayoob connected on a 26-yard TD strike to running back Marcus O'Keith midway through the third quarter. A junior college transfer, Ayoob has started the last two games since redshirt-freshman Nate Longshore broke his left ankle in the season opener.
Forsett, who ran for 39 yards alone in the game-tying drive, gave Cal (3-0) a 21-17 lead on a two-yard plunge with 13:14 remaining in the contest. The drive began on the Illinois 38 after Tim Mixon returned a punt for 17-yards. Mixon gave the Bears breathing room with a thrilling 79-yard punt return for a score with 11:34 left. Following an Illini field goal, O'Keith put the game out of reach with a 12-yard scoring run. Forsett got the Bears off to strong start, rushing for 45-yards on the second play from scrimmage and scoring five plays later on a 5-yard run. Illinois (2-1) answered with its own 80-yard opening drive, which was capped by a 1-yard plunge by Pierre Thomas.
Junior quarterback Tim Brasic gave the Fighting Illini a 14-7 advantage with his 1-yard score less than a minute into the second quarter. Sophomore kicker Jason Reda connected on a 36-yard field goal with no time left in the first half for the 10-point advantage. It was Ron Zook's first loss as Illinois coach after two wins at home to open the 2005 campaign.