It wasn't always pretty, but the Bears took care of business, downing Southern Utah 50-31 to improve their record to 1-1 and claim their first win in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. The victory was not the romp many expected as Cal once again struggled with penalties, turnovers, and poor third down efficiency, allowing Southern Utah to hang with them into the second half.
The Bears dominated the game statistically, but early on struggled to complete drives on as the Thunderbirds jumped to an early 3-0 lead.
The running game, unusually quiet last week, looked back to normal as Bears running backs C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele each scored while Cal reeled off 20 straight points in the second quarter.
The backs' roles were reversed this week as Sofele saw the bulk of the carries, taking 19 touches for 105 yards. Anderson had 48 yards on five touches, including a 38-yard scamper in the second quarter.
Thunderbird quarterback Brad Sorensen, who struggled with his accuracy for much of the game, found wide receiver Cameron Morgan (with a near-miracle catch) for a touchdown at the end of the half to pull back within ten. This, Morgan's first catch of the day, was a 37-yard touchdown that came on a bonus play after Cal had been called for pass interference as time expired.
Southern Utah continued to put a scare into the home crowd in the third quarter, as Sorensen seemingly found his footing, hooking up with Henna Brown to narrow Cal's lead to 20-17. Sorensen finished the day 25-32 with 230 yards through the air. At that moment the game seemed to hang in the balance.
The Bears finally asserted themselves in the fourth quarter, as Zach Maynard found Keenan Allen for a 19-yard score, one of Allen's five catches on the day.
The defense found a chance to get in on the action as well, with CB Marc Anthony picking off Sorensen and breezing 61 yards for a touchdown. Vincenzo D'Amato added a 47-yard field goal that bounced on crossbar shortly thereafter, one of his three on the day.
Allen, apparently upstaged for most of the day by true freshman Chris Harper's seven-reception, 94-yard performance, had his biggest highlight when he recorded Cal's first punt return touchdown since 2010. Allen initially dropped the punt, but the ball bounced back into his hands and he was able to recover, weaving 69 yards through Southern Utah defenders to push Cal's lead to 44-17.
Maynard retired for the day after going 17/23 passing for 229 yards with one TD and one interception. Backup Allen Bridgford did not get a chance to throw, but Coach Tedford did allow his stable of running backs to show off in garbage time.
True freshman Daniel Lasco made the most of his one touch, darting through the Thunderbird secondary for a 77-yard touchdown. Brendan Bigelow also carried for 12 yards in the game.
Two late-game touchdowns by Southern Utah brought the final score to 50-31, a somewhat deceptive result considering both teams' offensive struggles early on.
The Bears out gained the Thunderbirds 517yards to 367, with 288 yards on the ground and 229 coming through the air. Although Cal struggled with penalties (9 for 95 yards) and turnovers (2), both sides of the ball showed a stronger performance than last week against Nevada.
The defense allowed the Thunderbirds just 72 yards on the ground after being gashed for 220 by the Wolfpack, and the rush offense more than doubled its performance.
Still, miscues on both sides of the ball won't pass muster against Ohio State next week. The Bears will look for their first win this year against an FBS opponent on Saturday in Columbus, kickoff 9:00 a.m. PT.