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Instant Analysis/Reaction: Cal’s backs run rampant in North Texas

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SEPTEMBER 02, 2023

Key Takeaways

Ground game dominance

The Bears owned the trenches. Jaydn Ott led Cal on both of its scoring drives, totaling 97 yards on 10 carries in the first quarter alone. Ott broke off for two runs over 30 yards and scored a touchdown in the red zone.

Quarterback Sam Jackson V also added a couple of yards on the ground, including a highlight reel scramble in which he turned a sack on the left side into a 13-yard first down on the right side of the field.

Cal’s dominance didn’t stop there — explosive plays by a couple of key Bears took the front stage during the second quarter. Redshirt senior Isaiah Ifanse channeled his inner Marshawn Lynch, breaking multiple tackles on fourth and two for a 26-yard touchdown.

On the subsequent drive, Ott proved why he’s Cal’s best player — slicing through North Texas’ defense for a 66-yard touchdown. Ifanse continued to produce, closing out the half with another rushing touchdown to put the Bears up 33-21. Ifanse finished with three touchdowns on the day, tying his career-high in his first game with the Bears.

Quarterback conundrum 

Early in the second quarter, Jackson was injured and did not return to the gridiron. Wilcox elected to go with NC State transfer Ben Finley in the reliever role, a decision the Bears had to acclimate to.  

The Bears ran four straight pass plays with mixed results. On the next drive, Cal missed a couple of big play opportunities; redshirt senior receiver Monroe Young dropped what would have been a deep throw touchdown and Finley overthrew junior Jeremiah Hunter down the middle. 

Finley found his footing towards the end of the first half, leading Cal on a nine-play, 75-yard drive to the endzone. He connected with multiple receivers while operating the two-minute offense, distributing the ball all over the field. 

After the Bears converted a fourth and short, Finley went back to Young on a 34-yard pass, setting up Ifanse’s last second touchdown. In the third quarter, Finley completed his first Cal passing touchdown to Taj Davis, extending the blue and gold’s lead to 48-21. 

And once the Bears took a commanding 55-21 lead, backup quarterback and true sophomore Fernando Mendoza checked in for Finley to play out the rest of garbage time. The victory over North Texas showed that the Cal quarterback room was strong enough to survive an injury to Jackson. 

It remains unclear who will start next Saturday at the Bears’ home opener against Auburn.

Flip-Flopping Defense

Though the Bears eventually blew out the Mean Green, the defense was slow to find its groove. 

The secondary gave up multiple deep ball completions in the first half, which allowed North Texas to keep the score close early on. A combination of miscommunication and blown coverages disorganized the secondary and the Mean Green took full advantage of it.

Though it took time to gain momentum, the defense was able to force three interceptions. When the game was still tightly contested, sophomore Jeremiah Earby made a nice play on the ball, jumping a pass on a short route and setting the Bears up deep in North Texas territory.

The Bears stepped it up in the second half, shutting out North Texas completely after surrendering 21 points in the first half. Cal’s other two interceptions, both from their linebacker corps, prevented any chance of a Mean Green comeback.

Cal’s game MVP

Anyone from the Bears running back room has an argument for the game’s MVP. But North Texas had no answer for Jaydn Ott. He finished with 188 yards rushing on 20 carries. The most impressive part of Ott’s performance was the fact that Cal preserved him in the second half as Spavital gave Ifanse and Stredick the lion’s share of the run plays. 

Eye-opening stats

Cal scored 33 points in the first half — the most the Bears have scored in a half since they racked up 35 points in their 50-43 victory over Texas in 2016. Jaydn Ott accounted for 201 yards of the Bears’ 669 total yardage.

The Bears had six rushing touchdowns, three from Ifanse, two from Ott and one from Ashton Stredick. Cal’s 58 points are the program’s most since its 73-14 win over Grambling in the 2015 season opener.

The Bears reached the 50-point benchmark for the first time in the Justin Wilcox era.

Looking forward

Cal will head back to Berkeley for its home opener against Auburn. Similar to the Bears, the Tigers are coming off a 59-14 rout of the Massachusetts Minutemen. Jackson and a few other key starters went down to injury against North Texas, including team captain Matthew Cindric and defensive lineman Nate Burrell. The Bears have a few personnel decisions to make as they get ready for their SEC opponent.

Contact Kenzo Fukuda at 


SEPTEMBER 03, 2023