Oct 22, 2022; Berkeley, California, USA; California Golden Bears head coach Justin Wilcox during the third quarter against the Washington Huskies at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Pride on the line for skidding Cal, Stanford

Stanford has to make the trip across the San Francisco Bay, but the Cardinal appear to have Cal right where they want it when the rivals contest the 125th Big Game on Saturday in Berkeley, Calif.

The battle to avoid last place in the Pacific-12 Conference will pit a Stanford squad (3-7, 1-7) attempting to end a three-game losing streak and avenge last season’s 41-11 home drubbing against a Cal team (3-7, 1-6) that responded to a sixth consecutive defeat last weekend by firing offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Both head coaches made it clear this week: You can throw out the records, which include not only the one-win conference seasons this year but also the fact that the road team has won the past four Big Games.

“The Big Game. That’s the message,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of his plan to fire up a team coming off a 42-7 shellacking at Utah. “The Axe is about the seniors and the tradition of holding that thing and taking pictures with it. We’re trying to get that Axe for the seniors. That’s the focus.”

Cal made a similarly disastrous trip last week, falling 38-10 at Oregon State. Curiously, Cal coach Justin Wilcox responded by firing Musgrave, whose offense (22.5 points per game) had far outperformed the Wilcox-influenced defense (37.3) over the past four weeks.

With his own job possibly on the line, Wilcox had a “win one for the alumni” speech prepared for his players.

“We recognize the importance of the Big Game to the university and our alumni and our student body,” Wilcox said. “We need to make the most out of (the) opportunity.”

While Cal introduces transfer quarterback Jack Plummer to the rivalry, Stanford junior Tanner McKee will get his second crack at being a Big Game starter.

He watched as a freshman when Stanford bussed out of Berkeley with The Axe in its possession following a 24-23 win in 2020, then contributed two interceptions to the Cardinal’s demise in last year’s 41-11 debacle at home.

McKee and Plummer have similar stats with the season winding down. McKee has thrown for 2,363 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while Plummer has logged 2,521 passing yards, 16 scores and seven picks.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) breaks a tackle by Utah Utes defensive tackle Junior Tafuna (58) in the second quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Williams guides No. 9 USC into next conference battle vs. Cal

Ranked No. 9 in the initial College Football Playoff poll, Southern California is home in Los Angeles on Saturday to continue its pursuit of a Pac-12 Conference title when it hosts Cal.

The Trojans (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12), playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time since Oct. 8, outgunned Arizona in a wild 45-37 win last week.
The high-scoring affair was USC’s second in as many contests. A 43-42 loss Oct. 15 at Utah and the Oct. 29 trip to Arizona bookended the Trojans’ bye week.

Quarterback Caleb Williams bolstered his Heisman Trophy case with 411 yards on 31-of-45 passing and five touchdowns, all with primary receiving target Jordan Addison sidelined due to a knee injury sustained at Utah.

Tahj Washington and Kyle Ford picked up the slack with Washington’s seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Ford’s six grabs for 114 yards and a score.

“If you kind of look at how the targets were spaced out, a lot of guys got opportunities and obviously, a lot of them stepped up,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said on Tuesday. “It was a good lesson for him (Williams) of regardless who’s in: An offensive system runs best when it’s going where it needs to go.”

Cal (3-5, 1-4) understands what’s coming. The Bears know they stand out for failing to defend the pass with one of the nation’s most prolific attacks up this week. The Golden Bears rank No. 126 nationally and last in the Pac-12 with 292.3 yards allowed through the air per game.

Last week, Cal gave up 412 passing yards to Oregon’s Bo Nix.

“(Williams) is a unique talent; his ability to throw the ball, be accurate with it,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said during his Tuesday media availability. “And then he’s a really strong individual. He’s got great instincts. When it’s time for him to run or move in the pocket or buy time, he’s really adept at that.”

Finding ways to limit USC’s 41-ppg offense, which ranks tied for eighth in the nation, should be critical to the upset chances of a Cal team that has not played like it is built to win a shootout.

Since going 3-1 in the first month, a stretch capped with a season-high 49 points scored in a win over Arizona, Cal has dropped four straight. The Golden Bears have not scored more than 24 points in any of the four defeats.

Reserve quarterback Kai Millner boosted the offense last week against Oregon, going 8-of-11 passing for 114 yards with two touchdowns. His performance came primarily against Ducks back-ups, however, well after the outcome was in hand.

Wilcox was steadfast in the postgame press conference that Jack Plummer would remain the starting quarterback.

Plummer is completing 61.2 percent of his pass attempts on the season and has accrued almost 2,000 yards through the air, and has a solid 13 touchdowns against only five interceptions.

Establishing a consistent rushing attack to complement the passing game has proven more difficult. Cal is tied for 106th nationally in rushing offense at 113.4 yards per game on only 3.8 yards per carry.

The USC defense has not been great against the run, allowing 4.7 yards per carry and more than 152 yards per game. But boasting the Pac-12’s most prolific sacking defense with 26 through eight games reflects the Trojans’ ability to get into the opponent’s backfield.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Berkeley, California, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) throws a pass against the California Golden Bears during the first quarter at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Washington fends off Cal, 28-21

Michael Penix Jr. passed for 374 yards and two touchdowns to lead Washington to a 28-21 victory over host Cal in Pac-12 play on Saturday night at Berkeley, Calif.

Cameron Davis rushed for a touchdown, and Jalen McMillan (eight receptions, 81 yards) and Richard Newton caught touchdown passes for the Huskies (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12). Peyton Henry kicked two field goals for Washington, which has beaten Cal in 11 of the past 15 meetings.

Jack Plummer completed 21 of 34 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns for the Golden Bears (3-4, 1-3), who lost their third straight game. J.Michael Sturdivant caught eight passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns, and Mavin Anderson had a scoring reception for Cal.

Penix, who entered the day as the nation’s leader in passing yardage, completed 36 of 51 passes while increasing his season total to 2,934 yards. He has topped 300 yards in all eight games this season.

The Huskies outgained the Golden Bears 476 to 306.

Washington took a 21-14 lead with 13:49 left in the contest when Penix threw a 13-yard scoring pass to McMillan to culminate a 10-play, 75-yard drive.

Just 3 1/2 minutes later, Penix connected with Newton, who caught the ball at the 20-yard line and shed two tacklers for a 36-yard score to give the Huskies a 28-14 advantage. Washington moved 67 yards in six plays.

Cal moved back within seven when Plummer tossed an 8-yard scoring pass to Anderson with 6:11 left to end a 12-play, 80-yard excursion.

The Golden Bears came up empty on their final two drives. Washington’s Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui each had sacks of Plummer to force Cal to punt on the first possession, and Plummer threw an incomplete pass on fourth down with 28 seconds left on the other.

After going scoreless in the first half, Cal traveled 75 yards on 13 plays to open the second half to take a 7-6 lead. Plummer capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Sturdivant.

Washington answered with an 11-play, 70-yard drive. Davis scored on a 6-yard run and Penix tossed a two-point conversion pass to Ja’Lynn Polk to give the Huskies a 14-7 lead with 4:48 left in the third quarter.

The Golden Bears tied the game when Plummer hit Sturdivant at the Washington 30-yard line and the receiver turned it into a 48-yard scoring play with 2:10 left in the stanza.

Washington led just 6-0 at halftime despite outgaining the Golden Bears 245 to 83 in the first half. The Huskies ran 47 plays to Cal’s 24.

Henry kicked first-quarter field goals of 40 and 35 yards.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2022; Berkeley, California, USA; California Golden Bears running back Jaydn Ott (6) carries the ball against the Arizona Wildcats during the first quarter at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado hosts Cal in first game after Karl Dorrell’s firing

Colorado’s preparation for Saturday’s Pac-12 game against California likely focused as much on its own team as on the visitors.

Buffaloes interim head coach Mike Sanford Jr. spent much of their bye week connecting with players in individual meetings with the hope none will leave the program following the Oct. 2 firing of Karl Dorrell.

Players on teams with a head coach fired during the season have an immediate 30-day window to enter the portal. For Colorado, that window opened up Oct. 2 and closes Nov. 1.

“If you look around college football already, you’re getting some people done with game four, game five of the season,” said Sanford, who coached Western Kentucky in 2017 and 2018. “The portal is rapid. It’s players that have played four games that are already kind of looking into, ‘I’ve used my four games, I have a redshirt year, I’m going to go in the portal.’

“We got ahead of that. We talked about it, we spoke specifically about where you particularly stand and I was very candid, they were very candid, and I felt really good about just the entire team’s willingness and desire to stay here.”

Colorado (0-5, 0-2) plays its first game after the Dorrell firing against Cal (3-2, 1-1) in an expected sellout in Boulder because of Family Weekend festivities.

The Buffaloes rank last out of 131 FBS schools in run defense (294.2 yards per game) and 129th in pass efficiency defense (168.04 opponent QB rating) and scoring defense (allowing 43.2 points per game).

The Golden Bears are also coming off a bye week after losing 28-9 at Washington State on Oct. 1.

Jaydn Ott, a freshman who ran for 274 yards and three touchdowns the previous week in a 49-31 win over Arizona, had 69 yards on the ground against the Cougars but set career highs with seven catches for 41 yards.

“We need to run the ball better, block better — everything,” said Cal coach Justin Wilcox, whose team finished with 32 yards rushing in the loss to WSU. “Overall, we need to score more than that. Everybody knows that.”

–Field Level Media

Apr 23, 2022; Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Drew Pyne (10) looks to hand off in the first quarter of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

New QB to lead winless Notre Dame against unbeaten Cal

Notre Dame will showcase a new starting quarterback when it seeks its first win of the season at the expense of visiting Cal on Saturday.

The Fighting Irish were projected to be a College Football Playoff contender but are 0-2. The Golden Bears were picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference but are 2-0.

Drew Pyne will start at quarterback for Notre Dame, with Tyler Buchner having undergone season-ending shoulder surgery.

Pyne, a redshirt sophomore, came on for the injured Buchner in the fourth quarter of last week’s stunning 26-21 home loss to Marshall, throwing a touchdown pass with 14 seconds left to Michael Mayer but also getting intercepted once among his six throws.

“I didn’t know when his time was going to come, but here it is,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said of Pyne. “He’s always prepared like a starter; he’s prepared like a pro. That’s who Drew Pyne is. He doesn’t need to be any different than he’s always been.”

Notre Dame also lost its opener, 21-10 at Ohio State, and will take the field Saturday unranked after landing in the No. 5 spot in the preseason ratings.

Cal remains unranked even after the unbeaten start, having struggled at times to turn back UC Davis 34-13 and UNLV 20-14, both at home.

The Fighting Irish and Golden Bears haven’t met since 1967 — Notre Dame is 4-0 in the all-time series — but the hosts should be plenty familiar with Cal quarterback Jack Plummer, a transfer from Purdue.

Plummer started for the Boilermakers in a 27-13 loss to Notre Dame last season, going 25 of 36 for 187 yards and one touchdown.

He has four TD passes in the first two games of his Golden Bears career, totaling 546 yards on 51-of-74 passing with two interceptions.

Plummer recognizes his team will have to match Notre Dame’s intensity to have a chance Saturday.

“(Our) guys are going to be hungry,” Plummer said, “and we’re going to be playing a team that they’re going to be hungry. It’s going to be a good game.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Berkeley, California, USA; California Golden Bears head coach Justin Wilcox stands on the field with crutches before the game against the Sacramento State Hornets at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Cal coach Justin Wilcox signs extension through 2027

Despite just two winning seasons in five years, California signed coach Justin Wilcox to a contract extension through the 2027 season, the school announced Thursday.

The extension tacked four seasons on to a deal that was slated to end after the 2023 campaign.

“Justin Wilcox is a football coach who shares our values and vision, and we want to ensure that he is the leader of our program for the long term,” Golden Bears athletic director Jim Knowlton said. “He is a great fit for Cal Athletics and our university, with a philosophy that places an emphasis on developing young men on the field, in the classroom and as people.

“I am confident our fans and alumni share my enthusiasm for the direction of our program, and the level of success we have seen to date has set a foundation for sustained excellence in the future.”

Wilcox, 45, has a 26-28 record in five seasons as Cal coach. The team went 5-7 in 2021.

The Golden Bears played in bowl games in 2018 and 2019. The team’s best record under Wilcox is an 8-5 mark in 2019, when it was ranked as high as No. 15.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be the head football coach at Cal and am excited about the future of our program,” Wilcox said in the news release. “I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute I have spent with the extraordinary young men who have been in our program. We are in a great position and strongly aligned with our university thanks to the leadership of Chancellor Carol Christ and Jim Knowlton.

“I thank both of them for their continued trust and confidence in me to lead a football program that will make the entire Cal community proud. We have very high expectations. I think we’ve earned the right to expect more, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

After the 2021 season, Wilcox was in the mix for the Oregon opening and reportedly turned down an offer to replace Mario Cristobal as coach. Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lenning eventually was hired by the Ducks.

Wilcox is a native of Eugene and played defensive back for the Ducks from 1996-99.

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2021; Berkeley, California, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Jaxson Dart (2) run the ball against the California Golden Bears during the first quarter at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Cal sends USC to most losses since 1991

Christopher Brooks ran for a pair of touchdowns, and Trey Paster returned a fumble 55 yards for a score on Saturday to lead Cal past USC 24-14 in Berkeley, Calif., its first home win over the Trojans since 2003.

Cal (5-7, 4-5 Pac-12 Conference) turned a pair of USC turnovers into touchdowns, including Paster’s long return of a fumble forced by Elijah Hicks, and the Golden Bears held the Trojans to conversions on just 1-of-3 red-zone opportunities.

Cal stymied one trip to the red zone with a fourth-down stop near the goal line. The other ended inside the 10-yard line when Daniel Scott jarred the ball loose from Miller Moss on a sack.

Cal nearly forced a third turnover when Lu-Magia Hearns III made a spectacular leaping grab for an interception, but an offsides penalty negated the play.

USC (4-8, 3-6) scored later on the same drive when Moss –replacing starter Jaxson Dart at quarterback in the third quarter when Dart was helped off the field following a hard hit — found K.D. Nixon for a 16-yard touchdown.

The late fourth-quarter score came too little, too late, as Cal recovered the ensuing onside-kick attempt to preserve the win.

Chase Garbers went 18-of-21 passing for 177 yards. He added 12 yards rushing on a night that Cal only gained 88 yards on the ground, led by Brooks’ 49.

Despite the lack of explosive offense and being outgained 409 yards to 265, the Golden Bears were helped by the turnovers and good field position. One of Cal’s scoring drives went 62 yards, culminating in a Dario Longhetto field goal of 22 yards, and nother covered 65 yards, ending with a 2-yard Brooks rush.

The Trojans concluded the season on a four-game losing streak and finished with eight losses for the first time since 1991, when they went 3-8.

Vavae Malepeai rushed for 107 yards on Saturday. Before coming out, Dart went 17-of-26 passing for 191 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown to Kyle Ford.

The loss of Dart compounded issues for an already depleted roster.

USC had only “about 60” players dressed for the season finale, according to the Los Angeles Times.

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) throws a pass against the Southern California Trojans in the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA, Cal look to showcase stellar offenses again

UCLA is heading to a bowl game this season, but California still has plenty of work left to secure its spot in a postseason game.

The Bruins welcome the Golden Bears to Pasadena on Saturday night in a Pac-12 matchup of teams that are playing better of late.

UCLA (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) has posted a pair of comfortable wins in its last two games following a two-game stretch in which it lost to Oregon and Utah, allowing a combined 78 points in those two defeats. The Bruins trampled Colorado two weeks ago and then knocked off USC last week, 62-33, in their highest-scoring performance ever in 91 all-time matchups with the Trojans.

“We’re about finishing off, being resilient, and that’s the thing that I’m most impressed with today, regardless of how many points were on the board,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson stole the show for the Bruins, passing for 349 yards and four touchdowns and adding a pair of scores on the ground.

“He’s a special player,” Kelly said, “and I’ve said it since the beginning. I love the kid. He’s as tough as they come both mentally and physically — and that was just on display today.”

Thompson-Robinson may be the headliner for the UCLA offense, but Cal undoubtedly will be keeping a close eye on two others: Zach Charbonnet, who ran for 167 yards and a touchdown last week, and Kazmeir Allen, who scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and also grabbed three receptions for 115 yards and two scores.

Meanwhile, Cal (4-6, 3-4) can still reach the postseason by winning its last two regular-season contests. The Bears host the Trojans next weekend, but first they need to defeat the Bruins — and replicating last week’s effort against Stanford isn’t a bad place to start.

Cal topped the Cardinal 41-11 behind Chase Garbers’ two touchdown passes and Marcel Dancy’s pair of rushing scores. The Bears’ defense held Stanford to 282 total yards in a crisp all-around effort, but coach Justin Wilcox was particularly pleased with the play of his senior quarterback.

“I’m really glad Chase is on our team while I’ve been here to quarterback the Big Game,” Wilcox said, referencing the rivalry with Stanford. “He had another good one today. Chase is playing his best ball since being here. It’s not even close.”

UCLA has won three of the last four meetings between the teams, including a 34-10 triumph a season ago. The Bruins lead the all-time series 56-34-1.

–Field Level Media

November 27, 2020; Berkeley, California, USA; Stanford Cardinal players celebrate with The Stanford Axe after the game against the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Big Game arrives amid bad seasons for Cal, Stanford

Quarterback Chase Garbers looks for a second career win over rival Stanford when he leads visiting California into the annual Big Game among the San Francisco Bay Area’s two Pac-12 Conference football programs on Saturday afternoon.

The schools, separated by a bridge and just 35 miles, have alternated wins and losses the last three seasons. Stanford held on for a 24-23 victory at Cal last November when the Golden Bears missed a PAT after a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining.

That game pitted Garbers against Stanford’s Davis Mills, who has since graduated to the NFL’s Houston Texans.

The Cardinal’s quarterback situation has become a mess in the 10 games since, with opening-day backup Tanner McKee having quickly seized the starting job, only to come away with an undisclosed injury to his left leg in a home loss to Washington last month.

Jack West, Ari Patu and Dylan Plautz have shared the duties in the last two contests, in which Stanford (3-7, 2-6 Pac-12) was blown out by Utah and Oregon State.

The Cardinal totaled just 94 passing yards with two interceptions in last week’s 35-14 loss at Oregon State.

The good news for Stanford, which enters the Big Game on a five-game losing streak, is that McKee appears ready to return from his two-game absence.

“Having some guys back I think will help a lot this week,” Stanford coach David Shaw said, adding cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly and linebacker Ricky Miezan to the list of potential key returners headed by McKee.

“Right now it’s not about any of the previous games. It’s not about next week. It’s about rivalry week and that’s what these guys are focused on, trying to keep the Axe.”

Cal (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) has had no such problems at the quarterback position, with Garbers ranking sixth in the Pac-12 in passing yards despite having played one or two fewer games than the five guys ahead of him on the list.

Cal’s contest last week against Southern California had to be rescheduled because of COVID issues among the Golden Bears. Cal was seriously undermanned, including the absence of Garbers, when it lost 10-3 the previous week at Arizona.

Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave expects a big performance from Garbers this week despite the fact he hasn’t played since Oct. 30, when he threw for a season-best three touchdowns and rushed for a fourth in a win over Oregon State.

“I feel like we’re getting better as a coaching staff,” Musgrave said of a relationship he believes has kept his quarterback on an upward trajectory this season. “We’re game-planning better and putting him in better position — everybody, all 11 guys — to be successful.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2021; Berkeley, California, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Chase Garbers (7) scrambles for the first down and passes the school record held by Joe Kapp for the most rushing yards by a quarterback for the last 60 years against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first quarter at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Garbers helps California rout Colorado

Chase Garbers was 22-of-29 passing for 225 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 96 yards, and California beat Colorado 26-3 in Pac-12 play in Berkley, Calif., on Saturday.

Keleki Latu had three catches for 36 yards and a score and Gavin Reinwald caught a 31-yard touchdown pass for the Bears (2-5, 1-3 Pac-12).

Cal held Colorado to 104 total yards, sacked quarterback Brendon Lewis six times and intercepted him once.

The Bears struck first on the first of four field goals by Dario Longhetto, this one from 49 yards out.

On the ensuing possession the Buffaloes (2-5, 1-3) went for it on fourth-and-one at midfield but were stopped.

The Bears took advantage of the field position when Garbers connected with Latu on a 24-yard scoring strike to put Cal ahead 10-0 with 6:05 left in the first quarter.

Colorado was forced to punt again on its next possession and the Bears took 7:08 to drive 88 yards to the Buffaloes 12-yard line. Longhetto made it 13-0 with a 30-yard field goal.

Colorado finally got on the board on its next possession. The Buffaloes drove to the Cal 13 but couldn’t convert on a third-and-two, settling for Cole Becker’s 33-yard field goal that made it 13-3.

The Bears padded their lead before halftime. After Colorado kicked off, Garbers took Cal down the field and hit Reinwald on a 31-yard touchdown pass with 3:21 left in the second quarter.

The Buffaloes got one first down on their ensuing possession before punting to the Bears’ 17. Garbers completed four passes and ran for a first down in the final 58 seconds, and Longhetto hit a field goal from 51 yards out as time expired to make it 23-3.

Neither team scored in the third quarter but Cal added some insurance in the fourth after a wild sequence. Longhetto had his 38-yard field goal attempt blocked and Colorado returned it for an apparent touchdown.

However, the Buffaloes were offside, giving Longhetto another chance, and he hit from 33 yards.

–Field Level Media