When Las Vegas made No. 25 UCLA a two-point favorite over a 1-4 Cal football team, skeptics figured that line to be far too slim.
And they were right, as the Bears turned that two-point handicap into a 26-point margin of victory, knocking off the Bruins, 43-17, Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
“The belief and the trust is still there with our team,” said coach Jeff Tedford. “I thought some guys stepped up and played big tonight.”
Cal (2-4, 1-2 in the Pac-12) still continued its recent string of bad starts as quarterback Zach Maynard tried to force a pass to a double-covered Keenan Allen. Instead of connecting with his half-brother, he telegraphed the pass into the hands of UCLA’s Andrew Abbott at the 28 yard-line.
Six plays later, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley found a wide-open Cassius Marsh to make it 7-0 UCLA (4-2, 1-2).
But then it was the Bruins’ turn to shoot themselves in the foot. First, Hundley opened up the second quarter with a backwards pass that bounced off its intended target and was scooped up by Cal linebacker Nick Forbes.
The Bears made the visitors pay, as Maynard overcame his shaky start and connected with running back C.J. Anderson on a quick slant, giving Cal a 10-7 edge — its first home lead over an FBS team.
“We had a huge week of practice this week,” Maynard said. “Everyone was focused in since Tuesday.”
UCLA wasn’t done there, however. After forcing a three and out, Bruins’ return man Steven Manfro had two teammates crash into him while trying to field a punt, resulting in a muff and a Cal recovery at UCLA’s 34.
Four plays later, Maynard found his brother Allen in the end zone, putting his team up 16-7 after kicker Vincenzo D’Amato had his point after blocked.
Mistakes were a recurring theme of the game for the Bruins, who racked up 12 penalties to go along with six turnovers. The Bears dominated UCLA’s porous offensive line all night, forcing Hundley to frequently run for his life.
“They were relentless,” said UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. “They were maniacal. They did bring a lot of pressure, and we’ve got to learn to handle that better.”
Hundley then failed to capitalize on a pair of Cal 15-yard penalties that set up his offense deep in Bear territory with a minute left in the half. On a first and 10, he suffered a major communication breakdown with his wide out, who cut off a go rout without his quarterback anticipating it.
Hundley sailed a ball 15 yards over his receiver’s head and into the welcoming hands of Cal’s Kameron Jackson in the end zone, who tapped his toes and locked up the squad’s first halftime lead over an FBS team this season.
Cal carried that momentum into the second half. Running back Brendan Bigelow took a quick screen from Maynard, cut inside and flashed his breakaway speed. He darted down the left sideline for a 34-yard touchdown to put his team up 23-7.
But the Bruins had one last gasp at life. Hundley marched his team right back down the field and hit his tight end Joseph Fauria on play action to pull his squad within nine.
Both teams would continue to trade blows. After an offsides and a subsequent face mask penalty on UCLA that kept the drive alive, Maynard (25-for-30, 295 yards, four touchdowns) threw a strike down the seam to Allen, who shook off a defender and sauntered into the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown.
The Bruins then responded with a 12-play, 77-yard drive, culminating in a 29-yard field goal to make it 29-17 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
After a bizarre series of events featuring two Cal fumbles — each almost immediately followed by a Hundley interception — the Bears capitalized on fortuitous field position as Maynard punched in his fifth touchdown of the night, putting his team up 19 points.
“There are always tough moments in games and we’ve got to be able to respond back to it,” Hundley said. “Things just didn’t bounce our way tonight.”
On the next series, Jackson snagged his third pick off Hundley, setting up a 68-yard touchdown run from Anderson to put the final dagger in the Bruins’ side.
And with the final score, the Bears shook off a dreadful September to upset a ranked team and earn their first legitimate win of the year.
“It was much needed, no doubt about it,” Tedford said. “It’s been a tough few weeks, and that’s definitely going to give us a boost.”