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Quarterback battle continues after 1st fall scrimmage

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Senior Staff

AUGUST 15, 2023

On Sunday, Cal football held its first fall scrimmage, capping off the second week of fall camp. The scrimmage, which had over 100 plays in a little over an hour of practice, revealed much about the Bears just three weeks before their opener against North Texas.

Cal’s quarterback competition claimed the spotlight on Sunday, with Fernando Mendoza, Sam Jackson V and Ben Finley rotating on each drive. The three quarterbacks, who have been in gold ‘non-contact’ jerseys throughout camp, also went live for stretches, exposing them to contact.

For Jackson, whose playstyle depends on his ability to scramble, break tackles and extend plays, switching into a navy jersey was a welcome change.

“You’re nervous up until you get that first play when you get hit. And then you’re ready to go,” said Jackson at a press conference after the scrimmage. “I feel like it’s pretty important just because I haven’t played since TCU, which was eight months ago.”

The TCU transfer had a good day on the field by making several explosive plays with his arm and legs. On top of moving the ball up and down the field, Jackson had great control of the offense and pre-snap procedures with referees on the field. Much of the same could be said for Finley, whose collegiate experience — albeit limited — helped the offense quickly get in and out of plays.

Finley was able to keep pace with Jackson in several areas, even flashing a little bit of his own athleticism in a scramble that put the offense inside of the 10-yard line.

“If I need to I can get it done with my legs,” said Finley. “It’s not a go-to for me but now in college football and the NFL it’s a huge part of the game to be able to pick up a first down when things break down.”

The youngest quarterback of the three saw some of the first action of his college career. Mendoza, a redshirt freshman, certainly started a little shaky. However, he was able to keep his name in the mix for the starting job with a strong second half of practice. He completed more than two-thirds of his passes and threw for a touchdown.

Overall, the quarterbacks — along with a talented group of receivers and running backs — were able to gain valuable experience and find success during an otherwise defense-dominated week.

With Jaydn Ott sitting out on Sunday, running backs Ashton Stredick and Jaivian Thomas both made the case to play behind Ott with strong performances. Stredick in particular rattled off several big runs, including a long touchdown run in the first drive.

In the receiver room, Jordan King and Trond Grizzell both made contributions to the offense with timely catches in key situations. For Grizzell, this scrimmage proved to be crucial in his evaluation from the coaching staff.

“I’ll tell you what, Trond Grizzell has made a huge jump since we started camp,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “He can run, he competes for the ball … and he’s not taken a backseat to anybody, very much in the mix.“

On the defensive side, the Bears’ pass rush took advantage of being able to hit the quarterback. The defense’s four sacks were a bright spot on a day when the offense scored seven touchdowns.

After Sunday, the quarterback competition remains undecided. For Mendoza, Jackson and Finley, they will have another week of practices leading up to a second scrimmage on Aug. 19.

Correction 8/16/23: A previous version of this article’s excerpt incorrectly stated that the team’s opener is against Texas State. In fact, the opener is against North Texas.

Contact Ryan Sheehan at 


AUGUST 16, 2023