SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Even three days after Christmas, the Cal football team’s offense still looked slow and sleepy.
This was the scene at the Holiday Bowl: quarterback Zach Maynard sitting with a 1st-and-10 at the Texas 29-yard line, ready to command Cal out of a four-point deficit.
“It felt like pretty good shape right then,” said head coach Jeff Tedford.
With over a quarter left Wednesday evening, the Bears’ defense had pinned the Longhorns on their own 1, tying a giant bow on a belated present for the offense. Then Cal moved backward — literally and metaphorically, until it left Qualcomm Stadium with a 21-10 loss.
An incomplete pass was followed by a two-yard rushing loss. Thanks to a personal foul by tight end Anthony Miller, the Bears retreated 15 additional yards. Suddenly, they were stuck with a 3rd-and-27.
Down 14-10, Cal had already turned the ball over three times without giving away the game — what else to do but toss away one more?
Maynard was dragged to the ground for a 12-yard loss, and lost the ball for the fourth of his team’s season-high five turnovers.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot today,” said senior wide receiver Marvin Jones. “This was the end result.”
It took the Longhorns two plays to score: a weaving 37-yard run by receiver Marquise Goodwin, and a 2-yard run by tailback Cody Johnson on his second touch of the day.
Goodwin, a potential track Olympian, abused the Bears on several plays. The junior repeatedly burned the Cal secondary, recording 49 yards and a touchdown on three catches. He nearly added another long catch, but stepped out of bounds before reeling in the ball.
“You’ve got to have a go-to guy,” said Texas coach Mack Brown. “We’ve got to improve our passing game and that started tonight.”
It didn’t help that the Bears showed almost no sign of life on offense. Maynard struggled under constant pressure, completing 19-of-33 passes for 188 yards and one interception.
“They got momentum on us early … Our defense did a heck of a job today,” Maynard said. “We’ve got to help them out more.”
Cal rushed for seven total yards, a number partially suppressed by the six sacks Maynard endured.
“We couldn’t get to space today,” Tedford said. “Couldn’t get to the second level.”
But Texas’ offense only woke up after the halftime break. The Longhorns outgained the Cal offense, 255 to 195, but they couldn’t crack 100 through the first two quarters. After one period, Texas had produced only seven total yards.
To say that the first two quarters of football were ugly would be kind: 41 yards of combined first-quarter offense; a shanked 24-yard punt and a missed 38-yard field goal; illegal formation penalties on both a punt and a field goal.
In front of 56,313 people, the two teams punted a combined 16 times, a Holiday Bowl record.
Cal and Texas also managed to tie the lowest-scoring first half in Holiday Bowl history, matching the 10-point total that Oregon and Oklahoma scrapped together in 2005, an eventual 17-14 Sooner victory.
The Bears, who won the coin toss and deferred, burst out of the break with an 11-play, 69-yard drive. They ate up over five minutes of clock, capping the attack with a beautiful toss to running back Isi Sofele, who ran into the end zone nearly untouched.
It was Cal’s last score of the season.
Tedford’s team would earn no amount of vengeance for the perceived slights of 2004, when Texas leapfrogged a one-loss Bears squad for a Rose Bowl berth. Cal then ended up in the Holiday Bowl, where it lost a 45-31 shootout to Texas Tech.
The blue and gold faithful haven’t forgotten, evidenced by the anti-Brown T-shirts many wore. Wednesday night’s loss will likely add more fuel to the long-burning fire. Unless Cal and Texas match up again in the postseason, the squads won’t meet until 2015.
And the Bears’ fans will continue stewing.