A somber Saturday afternoon transformed into a thrilling tale of two halves in Cal’s 20-14 non-conference victory over UNLV.
In striking opposition to last week’s brutal beginning, the Bears came out firing on all cylinders. With an immediate sack, followed by back-to-back incompletions, it took just 50 seconds for Cal’s defense to send UNLV quarterback Doug Brumfield and the Rebel offense faltering off the field.
Enter the blue and gold offensive unit — looking explosive and efficient from the outset.
A six-play, 55 yard scoring drive — featuring a stately heave to WR Jeremiah Hunter for a 37 yard gain and a two-yard punch across the goal-line by standout RB Jaydn Ott — kick-started QB Jack Plummer’s authoritative half of play.
Strategically exploiting UNLV’s secondary unit, Plummer routinely hurled the football to receivers on the outside, where Hunter and Mavin Anderson took advantage of isolated match-ups. The play caller finished the afternoon 28-39 passing for 278 yards.
Not to be outdone by the productivity of the receiver core, Ott displayed numerous glimpses of stardom. Following up his first rushing touchdown of his career, the running back took a second trip to the end zone towards the end of the first quarter, burning two UNLV defenders on the way and finishing with a robust leap.
The Bears’ dominance bled into the second quarter.
In fact, collecting 268 total yards and 17 first-downs, the home team was able to maintain primary possession of the football in the first half. Cal’s sole scoring drive of the second quarter took fans in Memorial Stadium on a wild ride.
Several Plummer-Anderson conversions led the Bears to the red zone before UNLV’s Jerrae Williams snatched a hoist intended for tight end Keleki Latu near the goal-line and raced for a 12-yard return.
The questionable decision came as Plummer’s lone notable flaw of the half, and yet Cal survived on a lucky break — a string of Rebel defensive penalties resulting in free yardage and kicker Dario Longhetto’s 21 yard field goal.
Throughout the ball game, Cal’s defense worked to eliminate the outside and funnel UNLV offense up the center, a strategy that sapped Brumfield. The Rebels put seven points on the board in the second quarter, with WR Kyle Williams’ assured punch into the end zone off a jet sweep formation coming as their one single moment of offensive spark.
Entering the locker room at half, Cal was riding a wave of confidence and momentum. Entering the gridiron after the intermission, however, the Rebels came to life.
Seemingly adjusting to the command of the Bears’ defense, UNLV shifted its blueprint in favor of the running game. Running back Aidan Robbins rushed 31 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter. Immediately following the play, a surprise onside kick recovered by the Rebels shifted momentum in favor of the visiting program.
With both squads settled into a gritty and explosive atmosphere, Memorial Stadium uncharacteristically rumbled loud with excitement for the remainder of the game. An audience of captivated spectators on the edge of their seats served as the perfect opportunity for Cal’s historically impressive defensive unit to take center stage.
As such, they delivered.
“We started off with a great game plan to go attack their defense. It was unfortunate what happened in the second half, we pride ourselves on finishing, but that’s just not what we did,” said offensive lineman Ben Coleman. “The defense helped us out, we got a ‘get out of jail free card’ there at the end. The offensive line has to take more accountability to finish games.
Although relentless through the final minutes, UNLV’s inability to convert on 3rd down attempts and the dominance of Cal’s defense allowed the Bears to reign supreme and the fans to breathe a sigh of relief. Back-to-back sacks and CB Isaiah Young’s interception rattled Brumfield in the face of a potential Rebel resurgence.
As the final horn sounded, Cal football can now look ahead to its final non-conference task – and a tall one at that. The Bears will travel to South Bend, Indiana to face the nationally acclaimed talents of Notre Dame. Defensive ascendancy led Cal to the finish line this time, but offensive production will be a must if the Bears hope to stand their ground against some of college football’s finest.