Cal football held its second fall scrimmage Saturday, closing out one of its final practices open to the public. For players looking to demonstrate why they deserve a higher spot on the depth chart entering the season opener, the scrimmage proved critical for players across multiple skill positions.
To the surprise of none, all eyes were on the quarterbacks Saturday as Ben Finley, Sam Jackson V and Fernando Mendoza continued their camp-long battle. While each quarterback split an even number of passing reps, Finley’s performance stood out among the trio.
“I felt really comfortable with (the) offense, it’s getting easy out there. All the motions, knowing where our guys are lining up, play calls –– I’m getting a grasp on it and I’m getting really comfortable,” Finley said.
Finley’s comfort with the offense was palpable. The transfer from NC State looked calm in the pocket, completing 11 of 21 passes for 180 yards. While he had an interception off of a late underthrown ball, Finley was otherwise quick with his decision making.
Jackson’s drives were less consistent. He struggled in the first half of the scrimmage partially due to the dominance of the defense’s pass rush. However, there were times when Jackson sensed phantom pressure and left the pocket early. He’s spoken at length about trying to reduce that tendency moving forward.
“I’ve been focusing on the launch point of the pocket, staying in the pocket and trying not to get out when I don’t need to. That’s the number one thing,” Jackson said.
In the second half of the scrimmage, Jackson did just that. Staying focused on his pocket presence, he completed several impressive throws, including a 50-yard deep shot to Taj Davis under pressure. Jackson also stayed true to his game, breaking containment and improvising decisively when necessary, turning doomed plays into positive ones.
Mendoza was also solid throughout the scrimmage. He led the offense to its first two touchdowns of the day and looked impressive in the red zone. His field awareness showed through in moments such as setting up running back Dean-Taylor Chapman on a 4th-and-Goal bubble screen and a read option lateral on a 3rd-and-Goal.
Mendoza also showcased his chemistry with wide receiver Marquis Montgomery. The pair connected on several back-shoulder catches along the sideline, as well as multiple deep throws. Montgomery finished with seven catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. The wide receiver is battling for the third spot next to Jeremiah Hunter and Taj Davis, making his strong performance during the second scrimmage all the more vital.
“(Montgomery is) legit. He’s a jump ball specialist I would say, so anytime you (throw) a back shoulder ball or up in the air, he’ll go and get it at least 80 or 90 percent of the time (he’ll catch it). It’s not a 50-50 ball with him,” Mendoza said.
Quarterbacks and wide receivers aren’t the only position groups battling at training camp. With Byron Cardwell’s injury, every player in the running back room is competing for the backup job with no clear winner.
Chapman’s success in the red zone was notable, but Ashton Stredick, Isaiah Ifanse and Jaivian Thomas continued their outstanding camps with touchdowns of their own. Head coach Justin Wilcox had nothing but praise for the entire position group. He cited Ifanse’s maturity, Stredick’s great camp and Thomas’ ability to add a different dimension to the offense.
“All those guys can help us, (it’s) just a matter of how the game is going and how they progress,” Wilcox said. “We’re glad they are here.”Wilcox did not commit to starting any of the three quarterbacks at his post-scrimmage press conference, indicating that the job is still ripe for the taking. With the season opener against North Texas less than two weeks away, momentous decisions are on the horizon for the blue and gold.