Sep 29, 2023; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Nate Johnson (13) scrambles under pressure from Oregon State Beavers defensive back Kitan Oladapo (28) during the second half at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Amid QB woes, No. 16 Utah hosts Cal

The availability of Utah quarterback Cameron Rising remains the burning question as the No. 16 Utes prepare to host Cal in a Pac-12 Conference game Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Rising was the MVP of the Pac-12 title game last season but then suffered a significant knee injury against Penn State during the Rose Bowl and needed surgery to repair a torn ACL, meniscus and MCL.

He has seemed to be on the cusp of returning since early in the season, but the senior has yet to play.

“It was a big surgery, and it’s not an easy comeback,” Rising said last week. “I’ve been working my tail off.”

Rising has been doing drills with the Utes in recent weeks, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has deemed him questionable before games, but each time the quarterback has remained in street clothes.

Whittingham plans to make a decision on Rising earlier than normal leading up to the visit from Cal, but he said he doesn’t intend to reveal his decision.

“If someone can give me one reason why it would help us win more to announce it, then I’ll tell you,” Whittingham said. “I can’t think of one thing.”

If Rising is unable to play, freshman Nate Johnson likely will get another opportunity. He struggled two weeks ago in Utah’s most recent game, a 21-7 loss to Oregon State, completing just 8 of 23 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball nine times for just 3 yards.

Johnson was replaced by Bryson Barnes after starting the game 3-for-12 for 35 yards, but Barnes absorbed a big hit in the fourth quarter and was briefly hospitalized with an undisclosed injury after finishing 5-for-8 for 40 yards.

Another freshman, Brandon Rose, was expected to battle for the backup spot this season, but he suffered an undisclosed injury during a scrimmage before the season and remains unavailable.

Utah (4-1, 1-1) won its first four games of the season before falling to Oregon State. The 21 points surrendered were the most allowed by the Utes this season and the fewest scored by Oregon State.

Cal (3-3, 1-2) has alternated wins and losses this season. The Golden Bears also are coming off a loss to Oregon State, but they made things interesting in the 52-40 defeat in Berkeley, Calif., last week.

Cal trailed by just three points at the start of the fourth quarter before surrendering 17 consecutive points.

“We’ll find out where the defenders are come next week, because boy — and this is not taking anything away from Oregon State because I really do think those guys do a great job coaching — but, man, ooh, that was bad defense right there by us,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said.

Cal has used three starting quarterbacks this season but is expected to come back with freshman Fernando Mendoza, who completed 21 of 32 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, in his first college start last weekend.

“He was not perfect but brought energy to the game. You could tell the tempo on offense was different,” Wilcox said. “He threw the ball pretty well, he made some plays with his feet. Overall, I’m very pleased with what Fernando did for his first start in that environment against that defense.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 9, 2023; Berkeley, California, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Payton Thorne (1) prepares to pass the football during the first quarter against the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn rallies to beat Cal on late TD pass from Payton Thorne

A 5-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Payton Thorne to tight end Rivaldo Fairweather with 6:31 to go in the game sparked Auburn to a hard-fought 14-10 comeback win over Cal on Saturday in Berkeley, Calif.

The Bears (1-1) had a chance to take the lead with 1:44 to play at the Auburn 18-yard line facing a fourth-and-13, but Cal quarterback Sam Jackson V was intercepted by cornerback D.J. James in the end zone.

Thorne was confused by the Bears defense for most of the game but made plays when it counted and finished 9 of 14 passing for 94 yards and two touchdowns despite throwing an interception and losing a fumble.

Jarquez Hunter had a team-high 53 yards rushing on 11 carries for Auburn. Damari Alston also added 51 yards on the ground.

Fairweather led the Tigers (2-0) with three receptions for 39 yards and a score. Linebacker Eugene Asante had 12 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and a sack for a stingy Auburn defense.

Cal tailback Jaydn Ott rushed 20 times for 78 yards and a touchdown, but left the game with 5:57 to go in the third quarter after he was banged up attempting to hurdle an Auburn defender.

Ben Finley got the start at quarterback for the Bears, but Jackson entered the game in the second quarter and provided a spark. Jackson finished 14 of 27 for 126 yards and two interceptions.

Cal’s defense forced three turnovers in the first half (two fumbles, one interception) but couldn’t hold off a fourth-quarter surge by the Tigers.

Bears kicker Michael Luckhurst made his first field-goal attempt, but missed his next three and finished 1 of 4 on field-goal attempts.

The Bears jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead on a 39-yard field goal by Luckhurst following a fumble by Thorne on Auburn’s opening possession. Linebacker Kaleb Elarms-Orr forced the fumble and linebacker Jackson Sirmon appeared to return it for a touchdown, but the official blew the play dead and the TD was taken off the board after review.

Auburn grabbed a 7-3 lead with 11:50 to go in the second quarter on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Thorne to Jay Fair on third-and-6. The play was set up by a forced fumble and recovery by safety Donovan Kaufman on Cal running back Isaiah Ifanse deep in Bears territory.

An Ott 14-yard scoring run put Cal back on top, 10-7, with 4:47 to go until halftime following a fumble by Alston at the Bears 35-yard line. Jackson sparked the six-play, 65-yard scoring drive after he entered the game in place of Finley.

–Field Level Media

Auburn Tigers running back Jeremiah Cobb (23) breaks free for a long touchdown run against UMass during their game at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the Auburn University campus in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday September 2, 2023.

Rushing attacks take center stage as Cal hosts Auburn

Two powerful rushing attacks will be on display when California hosts Auburn on Saturday night in Berkeley.

Behind a rebuilt offensive line, led by Western Kentucky transfer Gunner Britton, East Carolina transfer Avery Jones and Tulsa transfer Dillon Wade, the Tigers (1-0) ran for 289 yards and six touchdowns in a 59-14 win over UMass.

Three of those scores came via the legs of backup quarterback Robby Ashford. But talented runners Damari Alston, Sean Jackson and Jeremiah Cobb also scored as Auburn averaged 6.6 yards per carry.

Despite the success on the ground against the Minutemen, the Tigers will face a much stiffer challenge against a Cal defense that limited North Texas to just 41 yards rushing in an impressive 58-21 throttling of the Mean Green.

If the Tigers struggle to move it on the ground against the Golden Bears (1-0), Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne may have to play a much larger role in the passing attack after he completed 10 of 17 passes for 141 yards and a score in his Auburn debut.

Regardless of how it plays out, Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze knows his team will be in for a challenge.

“Cal is talented,” Freeze said in Monday’s press conference. “(Coach Justin) Wilcox is a great defensive mind. They are very sound on that side of the ball. Not flashy but sound. Offensively they’re extremely scary. That tailback … he’s one of the best ones I’ve seen.”

Like Auburn, Cal had a lot of success running the ball in its season-opening win over North Texas. The Bears’ ground attack finished with 357 yards and six touchdowns.

Dynamic runner Jaydn Ott averaged 9.4 yards per carry and finished with 188 yards and two scores. Isaiah Ifanse tallied 54 yards and three TDs.

TCU transfer quarterback Sam Jackson V won Cal’s starting quarterback job in fall camp, but he left the game against North Texas in the second quarter with a left arm injury (non-throwing). Ben Finley replaced Jackson and completed 24 of 34 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown.

Jackson returned to practice this week and is listed as day-to-day, according to Wilcox. Starting center Matthew Cindric is also questionable for Saturday’s game.

“I suppose everything is on the table,” Wilcox said when asked about playing two quarterbacks. “We’ll see where it all goes.”

–Field Level Media

November 25, 2022; Berkeley, California, USA; California Golden Bears running back Jaydn Ott (6) is tackled by UCLA Bruins linebacker Kain Medrano (20) during the second quarter at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Cal shuts down North Texas in 2nd half en route to win

California overcame the loss of starting quarterback Sam Jackson V, amassing 669 total yards of offense behind backup Ben Finley in the Golden Bears’ 58-21 victory over host North Texas on Saturday at Denton, Texas.

Jackson left the game with a left shoulder injury with 13:58 remaining in the second quarter after he was tackled on a designed run.

He connected on 3 of 4 passes for 33 yards and a touchdown before his injury.

Finley completed 24 of 34 passes for 279 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

Jaydn Ott rushed for 188 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns for Cal. Isaiah Ifanse added 54 yards on 10 rushes with three touchdowns, and Ashton Stredick ran the ball 13 times for 51 yards and a touchdown.

California finished with 357 yards rushing.

California’s new run-game coordinator Mike Bloesch was the offensive coordinator at North Texas under Seth Littrell, who was fired after last season. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital returned to Cal after serving as head coach at Texas State the last four years.

The 58 points for California are its most since Oct. 21, 2016, when it beat Oregon 52-49 in double overtime.

California established control in the first half, taking a 33-21 lead into halftime.

Touchdown runs of 26 yards by Ifanse and 66 yards by Ott in consecutive possessions in the second quarter built the Golden Bears’ lead to 27-14 with 5:42 left in the half.

After North Texas scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Stone Earle to Xzavior Kautai, Finley engineered a quick scoring possession with seven seconds to spare before halftime.

The nine-play, 75-yard drive lasted only 1:40 and was capped by Ifanse’s 8-yard run.

California scored on three of its first four possessions of the second half to pull away.

North Texas had only eight offensive plays in the third quarter because of an interception after one play, a three-and-out possession, and turnover on downs after four plays.

The Mean Green finished with 17 offensive plays in the second half, compared to 50 for California.

They had only 9 yards of total offense in the second half.

–Field Level Media

Dec 13, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Detailed view of an Indianapolis Colts helmet against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Former Cal star and NFL WR Sean Dawkins dies at 52

Sean Dawkins, a football star at Cal who went on to a nine-year NFL career, died on Tuesday of cardiac arrest, the university announced Friday. Dawkins was 52.

Dawkins was a wide receiver who earned first-team All-America honors in his senior year in 1992. He had 65 catches for 1,070 receiving yards that year, and his 14 receiving touchdowns led the country and still stand as the program’s single-season record. He also holds the Cal record for career receiving touchdowns (31).

The Indianapolis Colts made Dawkins the 16th overall selection in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft. He spent five season with the Colts before suiting up for the New Orleans Saints (1998), Seattle Seahawks (1999-2000) and Jacksonville Jaguars (2001).

In 140 career games (109 starts) in the NFL, Dawkins finished a productive career with 445 receptions for 6,291 yards and 25 touchdowns.

“Rest in peace, Sean Dawkins,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a social media post. “I am shocked and saddened. My prayers and condolences to Sean’s family.”

–Field Level Media

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