Instant analysis/reaction: 2018 Cheez-I(n)t Bowl goes to TCU as Cal falls, 10-7

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Key takeaway

In December 2015, a kid by the name of Jared Goff led Cal football to a 55-36 Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force. In four quarters of play in the city of Fort Worth, Texas, Goff, Kenny Lawler and the Bears put on an offensive clinic to the tune of the program’s most points in a bowl game.

In December 2018, it was a defensive clinic (combined with eyebrow-raising decisions from both offenses) that took center stage in Phoenix, Arizona for the 30th annual Cheez-I(n)t Bowl between Cal and TCU. But for a game sponsored by one of America’s favorite snacks, it was a different food category — hot potatoes — that stole the headlines early and often.

Despite the hopeful return of wideout Kanawai Noa coming to fruition (at least for the first half of play), redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Garbers failed to show the Cal contingent in the desert that he could put his struggles in the rearview mirror. By halftime, Garbers had rushed for Cal’s lone first-half score but also threw three interceptions — one with the Bears deep in purple territory.

Chase Forrest — yes, THAT, Chase Forrest — entered the contest in the second half with his headset and hat off. But even with his helmet strapped on, there was no storybook ending.

Cal’s game MVP

What do you get when you combine the animal kingdom with sports? Ball hawks. That’s about as cheesy of a joke as offensive play was in the first half between these two teams. But that doesn’t take away from the dominant force that is the Cal defense all season long, and from a ball-hawking perspective, this game belongs to strong safety Jaylinn Hawkins.

TCU quarterback Grayson Muehlstein, in his purple and black farewell, may have nightmares for years to come of Hawkins standing in his driveway picking off passes that he throws to his grandkids. While Sewo Olonilua’s career night won’t sit well for most Cal defenders, “Ball Hawk” Hawkins will likely remember this one for three memorable reasons as well.

Eye-opening stat

The Bears and Horned Frogs nearly combined for more interceptions (six) than points in the first half (seven). By the time this one was through, three more interceptions had been thrown, marking a new Cheez-It Bowl record (nine total picks) and cementing the 2018 edition as one of the ugliest bowl games in recent memory. Add on a missed game-winning field goal, two starting quarterbacks being pulled, a 7-7 game that went to overtime, and the fact that all fans are full from Cheez-Its, and you can put this one to rest.

Looking back

It wasn’t the way most envisioned Justin Wilcox’s second year going, but on paper, a final record of 7-6, 4-5 with the struggles this team persevered through isn’t exactly the end of the world. For fans who didn’t anticipate a sloppy season, 2018 probably wasn’t for you. For those of you who appreciated the evolution of Cal’s defensive personality and the growth that several players displayed, perhaps the sour taste of the Cheez-It Bowl loss will fire the troops up even more for 2019.

Josh Yuen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.