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SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Texas didn't score its first points off of a California turnover until three seconds into the fourth quarter, but with a season-high five turnovers on the night, the Bears may have just as well handed the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl to the Longhorns on a silver platter. Cal fell 21-10, losing its second straight bowl game in three years in San Diego, looking more lost in its 13th game than it did in their first.
"We had our chances," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, "and gave the ball away."
After a 32-yard punt by Bears senior Bryan Anger pinned Texas (8-5) at its own 20-yard line at the end of the third quarter, a Longhorns personal foul pushed them back to their own 10. Senior defensive end Trevor Guyton hammered freshman David Ash for a nine-yard sack, and then held dynamic freshman running back Malcolm Brown to just a yard on second down and 19.
Matching time outs by Cal and Texas didn't help the frosh signal-caller, who missed Marquise Goodwin on third-and-18 from his own two-yard line.
A 41-yard punt by Justin Tucker was returned 16 yards by senior Marvin Jones, giving Cal (7-6) possession deep inside Texas territory, but, like they had multiple times throughout the game, the Bears took aim at their own feet and fired away.
Quarterback Zach Maynard rushed a throw to tailback Isi Sofele and missed. After finding little success on the outside all evening, the Bears pitched right to C.J. Anderson on the short side of the field for a loss of two. A personal foul on the play, committed by senior tight end Anthony Miller, knocked Cal back from second-and-10 to third-and-27, and as if things couldn't get worse, Maynard was blasted back 12 yards for a sack and a fumble, giving Texas possession on the Cal 44.
"It felt like we were in good shape right then, got a penalty that took us back, and it got us out of scoring range there and they put a lot of pressure on the passer," Tedford said. "They put their hands on the ball and their hats on the ball and stripped us, and, you know, we just had some miscues as well, on the exchange in the backfield, but, you know, again, there is really no explanation for it."
"We have been in similar situations where we were backed up, at the beginning of the year, we were faced with second and long, third and long, but we capitalized on those opportunities," said Jones. "Even though we don't want to be in those situations, we have the confidence that we're going to make it through and capitalize on the situations, but we shot ourselves in the foot a lot today. That was the end result."
Down just 14-10 at that point, the game was effectively put out of reach after a 37-yard rumble by Goodwin on the first Longhorns play of the ensuing drive, which set up the final score of the game on a four-yard run by Cody Johnson.
After holding Texas to just seven offensive yards in the first quarter, Cal surrendered 248 yards over the next three quarters, while generating an uninspired 195 yards of total offense on the evening. Maynard - who needed 198 yards passing to become just the third Bears signal-caller to surpass the 3,000-yard mark -- went 19-for-33 with an interception, no touchdowns and six sacks.
"They beat us up front and brought some blitzes and got clean and got home on us and pressured Zach a lot and he was under pressure all day long," Tedford said.
The Longhorns -- who came in ranked No. 11 in the nation in rushing defense -- completely stifled the Bears' rushing attack, abusing the Cal offensive line and silencing Sofele.
"I think turnovers are the key, you know, but not being able to establish any run game today, I thought Texas - you know, Texas is one of the top defenses in the country against the run, and they showed why today," Tedford said. "They run to the ball, they're athletic, we couldn't get it in space very often today, couldn't get to the second level. I don't know what our longest run was today. I don't think it was over probably eight yards. I'm not sure we had a run over that today."
The Bears did have runs of 11 and 16 yards, with the 11-yarder coming from Sofele, and the 16-yarder coming from Allen, who finished the game with 90 all-purpose yards, just behind Jones' 104 for the game-high.
With Sofele gaining just 52 yards on 20 carries and Anderson gaining two on four carries, the run game was effectively neutralized. That meant that it was up to Jones and Allen to advance the pigskin. The two combined for 17 catches for 170 yards, but even they were not immune. Jones tallied one fumble, and nearly cost the Bears the ball by bobbling a punt at the Cal 20, which led to a Texas recovery at the Bears' 15. That play early in the first quarter was overturned due to illegal touching on the Longhorns.
Even with Jones and Allen doing just about all they could to stem the tide, Maynard looked as rushed and as flustered as he had in the early part of the season, taking six sacks, throwing one interception and fumbling the ball twice.
"It's hard in certain situations, like coach said, we kept getting caught in second-and-long, third-and-long and it's hard to develop a decent pass game with that," Maynard said. "The run game wasn't as strong as it has been throughout the season, but Texas did a great job today. I commend them on their job today, and the defense came to the ball fast."
With Cal leading 3-0 in the first quarter thanks to the longest bowl game field goal in school history -- a 47-yarder by Giorgio Tavecchio -- the Bears had Texas backed up deep in its own territory.
A monster hit on third-and-12 at the Cal 21 by freshman linebacker Chris McCain -- playing in his first game since suffering a concussion against Washington State on Nov. 5 -- forced the Longhorns into a wide-left field goal by Tucker. It was only the first moment of the second quarter, but it was the kind of defensive stand that could define a game, if the offense could capitalize. Cal's next drive lasted five plays, with Maynard taking the first of two straight sacks, put on his back by sophomore defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.
After an illegal formation on a fake punt by the Longhorns, the Bears went three-and-out, this time with Kenny Vaccaro making Maynard look like a deer in the headlights with the same distracting leap into the air, followed by a frozen, easily-sackable Cal signal-caller stopping dead in his tracks.
With the Bears taking every opportunity to not take an opportunity, the Longhorns had enough leeway to commit eight penalties for 50 yards and go just 3-for-14 on third down conversion attempts.
After its first drive, Cal had 33 yards, and despite two turnovers -- including a fumbled exchange from Maynard to Anderson -- had not been burned by a misfiring Longhorns offense. It took a 24-yard Anger punt to do that.
After Maynard took his second sack at the hands of Jeffcoat on first-and-10 at the Bears' 20 for a loss of seven yards to set up a three-and-out and the shanked punt, Ash finally found top receiver Jaxon Shipley -- who had been held to -1 yard on a screen pass in the first quarter, and all but locked down by the Bears' secondary -- for a 14-yard completion over the soundly-beaten D.J. Campbell.
A lapse in coverage then allowed Ash to complete a pass over the middle to wide open tight end Blaine Irby, who turned up field without a defender in sight to gain 30 yards.
Shipley and Ash traded places on first-and-goal at the Bears' four-yard line, with Shipley taking the handoff then finding his quarterback in the front right corner of the end zone for his fourth touchdown pass of the season.
"We knew their priority run game, and that's what we set out to do, and we did a decent job at that, but we knew that any big plays they were going to have was going to come off of gimmicks and trick plays," Guyton said. "I think some guys got too caught up in knowing it was coming to stop it, because they did -- that's what happened. That's exactly what happened. We did our best and we did okay, but we definitely could have done better."
At the start of the second half, the Cal offense finally choked and wheezed to life thanks to the physicality of Jones and Allen. Maynard hit Jones for a zig-zag six yards against physical senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho, but the play was called back due to holding along the offensive line.
After a one-yard Sofele run, Maynard found Jones for 10 yards and then Allen for 21 on an ad-libbed scramble to get across midfield. After nearly throwing an interception to Acho trying to force the ball in to the tight end Miler on second-and-three at the Texas 16, Maynard found Allen again on a quick zip to the left sideline. Allen leaped over his defender and walked the tightrope down to inside the Longhorns five-yard line. A toss right to Sofele saw Spencer Hagan throw a key crack block, which freed up right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin to plow the way on the edge for a six-yard touchdown scamper.
On that 11-play, 69-yard drive, Allen had three catches for 50 yards, and Maynard went 4-for-5 for 60 yards, finally showing some life and poise. The question then was whether the defense would follow suit and continue its strong showing, now given a 10-7 lead.
Less than two minutes later, the crowd of 56,313 had its answer. Brown took a pitch right while the Bears were in man-to-man coverage and gashed Cal for a 19-yard gain. On a keeper, Ash scampered right for four yards. Brown got out across midfield with a six-yard run, before Ash completed his first passing touchdown as a starting quarterback for the Longhorns, finding Goodwin over a badly-beaten Marc Anthony for a 47-yard scoring strike. In five previous starts, Ash had no touchdown passes and six picks. That score marked just the second career touchdown for Goodwin -- a junior who finished the day with three catches for 49 yards and two rushes for 33 yards.
"They're a talented group," Tedford said. "There are a lot of athletes on that team, no doubt about it. They showed it today. When you play a team like that, that's so athletic and so talented, field position and turnovers end up being key elements of the game, and if you don't turn the football over, it's probably going to be a last possession-type game. I felt like it was probably going to be a low-scoring game, a defensive battle, because we had two great defenses playing on the field, and you were going to have to earn everything that you got, but you couldn't give anything away."
Midway through the third quarter, it was Jones' chance to show off some highlight-reel grabs, hauling in a 10-yard completion on the right sideline and a 15-yarder on the left side of the field to get the Bears to the Longhorns' 44-yard line. With a fresh set of downs and finally some rhythm, though, Maynard and Sofele botched the option handoff, resulting in a fumble recovery by Texas.