Instant analysis/reaction: Bears outlast Bruins in scrappy affair to close out regular season

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Key takeaway

And breathe. For now. 

The Bears escaped a late-game scare to triumph 28-18 over their rival, the Bruins.

Cal’s 2019 regular season curtain call was a smashing success, and the Bears are heading to a bowl game with a 7-5 record for the second straight season.

After UCLA took the early 7-0 lead, the Cal offense woke up, scoring 14 unanswered points before the Bruins slipped in a field goal at the end of the half to send the teams into the locker room with the scoreboard reading 14-10.

The game turned into a tug of war as the night wore on. Every time Cal looked like it was pulling away, UCLA would find the end zone to answer. The Bears never looked outmatched, but mistakes kept the Bruins in the game.

Too many missed tackles and a few poorly timed penalties left Cal head coach Justin Wilcox fuming and kept the door open for UCLA. The Bruins’ third-quarter drive exemplified the Bears’ shortcomings.

Evan Weaver made an uncharacteristic error and kicked the football after the whistle had blown, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gifted the Bruins an extra set of downs. Just a few plays later, UCLA’s Kyle Philips miraculously avoided what should have been an easy tackle and sprinted deep into Cal territory.

The Bears’ secondary was troubled by missed tackles all night, and the Bruins took advantage, staying in the game with big plays after contact.

 

Cal’s game MVP(s)

Cal running back Christopher Brown Jr. finished the 2019 regular season by starting with another 100-yard performance, stiff-arming his way to 111 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Brown Jr. only needed less than half of the carries he tallied in the season opener against UC Davis to secure the first multiple rushing touchdown game of his career.

His hard-fought, 17-yard carry in the first quarter unleashed a stale Cal offense that went three-and-out on its first two drives of the night. He has his offensive line to thank after they put in arguably their best performance of the season, preventing the quarterback from being sacked for the first time in 2019 and providing acres of space and time for the offense to settle into the game.

Linebacker Cameron Goode deserves a shoutout after leading the team in sacks during the final game of the season, a performance that inspired his defensive unit to record a season-high six sacks.

 

Eye-opening stat

This section should be renamed “Evan Weaver’s record-breaking stat of the day.”

It was only a matter of time until college football’s leading tackler etched his name into the Cal football record books, with Weaver surpassing Hardy Nickerson’s all-time regular-season tackles record of 167 set in 1985.

Simply put, Weaver has been the best collegiate linebacker in the country this season. Only seven players in FBS history have finished with more tackles in a single season than Weaver, and with a bowl game awaiting the Bears, Weaver can only move up the record board.

 

Looking ahead

Minus a first-half interception from quarterback Chase Garbers, the Bears played a remarkably consistent game offensively. Cal has oscillated between amazing and just plain awful when it has the football, and fans will surely sleep well after a controlled, simple and effective performance.

The Bears scored four touchdowns for just the third time in 2019, displaying a balanced attack that was able to run and pass for both big electric plays and small significant gains.

Cal has struggled to find an offensive rhythm in 2019, but with Chase Garbers back in the pocket, the ship has steadied. The Bears are undefeated when Garbers starts and finishes a game, and fans of the blue and gold will surely view both the upcoming bowl game and future seasons with optimism.

Avenging last season’s 35-0 loss to the Bruins and ending the 2019 season on a high were the icing on the cake. Now, the Bears await their postseason fate with a plethora of bowl game scenarios in play.

Spencer Golanka is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.