Carried by a strong defensive effort and five field goals from kicker Matt Anderson, Cal football (5-7, 3-6 Pac-12) closed out its season in blowout fashion as it cruised by visiting UCLA (4-8, 2-7), 36-10. In a battle between two teams that have both underperformed this season, the Bears were able to dominate in nearly every aspect of the game and send their fans off on a high note before the holidays.
“Coming into this game, I was like, I’m just gonna let loose and just have a good time today and go out there and enjoy the moment,” said senior running back Khalfani Muhammad, who rushed for 116 yards.
The Bruins had very little going for them. Trailing the entire game, UCLA was forced to abandon the run game and instead rely on the chaotic arm of quarterback Mike Fafaul. Fafaul finished the game having completed just 12 of his 30 pass attempts.
Nothing worked for UCLA’s nonexistent offense in the first half. Fafaul started the game off having completed none of his first six attempts, and the Bruins did not see a complete pass until the 9:35 mark of the second quarter — a 1-yard screen pass to running back Nick Starks. Fafaul finished the first half 2-11. Needless to say, it’s really hard for a team to score points when its quarterback’s completion percentage resembles a subpar batting average in baseball.
“You have to give Cal’s defense credit … ,” said UCLA head coach Jim Mora. “We started two new guards tonight, and I think Mike felt some pressure up the middle that caused his throws to be a bit off target.”
With the Bruins getting shut out in the first half, there wasn’t much pressure on Cal to be perfect on offense. Even though the Bears failed to score a touchdown during the first half, Anderson’s four field goals were sufficient enough to give Cal a 12-0 lead against a team that could not pass.
“We kicked way too many field goals tonight,” said quarterback Davis Webb. “If you had Matt Anderson on your fantasy team, you’re probably pretty happy.”
The second half was slightly more positive for the Bruins. On the second drive of the third quarter, Fafaul finally found his release point as he led UCLA to its first points by completing three of his four pass attempts for 75 yards and a passing touchdown.
But that one drive would wind up being the Bruins’ peak on Saturday. Cal responded to Fafaul’s first and only touchdown of the night by going on a 14-0 run to go up 26-7 midway through the third quarter.
“We saw the defense just playing out of their minds, so we had to step it up and play for them,” said receiver Chad Hansen who caught for 156 receiving yards.
With a comfortable multiple-possession lead for the majority of the second half, the Bears did not have to force the issue on offense and rely on Webb to make a big play every series. Instead, all Cal had to do was make short pickups and keep the clock running.
Because of UCLA’s inability to keep its offense on the field, time of possession was heavily lopsided. The Bruins had the ball for just 17:51, while the Bears were on the field for most of the game at 42:09. UCLA managed to pick up just 11 first downs in the game compared to Cal’s 34. The Bruins also didn’t do themselves any favors, committing 11 penalties and gifting their opponents 95 yards.
“UCLA is a very good defensive football team. They’re hard to move the ball against,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “I thought our offensive line played really well. We were able to run up front and convert on third downs.”
The last 20 minutes of regulation saw very little excitement and late-game drama with the Bears enjoying their first blowout victory since their season opener against Hawaii. It got to the point where Webb was able to take a seat for the first time in the year and give backup quarterback Ross Bowers his first opportunity to take snaps behind center in a Cal uniform.
“We had to play a lot of young players this year and we took some lumps. It was good to see them continue to work, continue to improve. I can’t say enough about these young guys,” Dykes said. “I think the good thing is that the whole group will pretty much be back.”
Ritchie Lee covers football. Contact Ritchie Lee at