Offense and defense struggle early but eventually right the ship
The sluggish Cal offense rolled over from the Auburn game last week as the blue and gold didn’t pass midfield until the second quarter. As the Bears came out for their third drive, though, something clicked. Running back Isaiah Ifanse, getting the start in place of injured Jaydn Ott, was able to break off a couple of solid runs before quarterback Sam Jackson V struck with a laser beam to Jeremiah Hunter to open the scoring for Cal.
From there, it was all downhill for the Bears’ offense. Jackson found a wide-open Trond Grizzell deep in the end zone in the second quarter, punishing a blown Idaho coverage. To give Cal the lead, Jackson ran in a speedy touchdown from 27 yards out in the third. However, a hard hit to his head on a run sidelined Jackson late in the third quarter.
Backup Ben Finley entered the game to finish the drive and, with the help of Ifanse, gave the Bears an 11-point lead going into the fourth quarter and 28 unanswered points. Jackson would re-enter the game on the next drive and the rushing offense was able to put the game to rest.
After holding Auburn to under 100 passing yards, Cal’s defense looked to be the only consistent part of the team. However, those notions were quickly questioned as Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy racked up 115 passing yards on just the first two drives alone, and Idaho scored on its first three drives.
Following some much-needed adjustments, though, the secondary made their presence known. With tremendous help from the defensive line, the Bears’ defensive backs combined for four pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble. After giving up 17 straight points, the Cal defense forced three turnovers and didn’t allow a single point for the remainder of the game.
Cal’s game MVPs
Jackson was finally able to start and finish a game for the Bears — despite missing some time in the final minutes of the third quarter — and he did not disappoint. Jackson ended the game with 108 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air to go with 41 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His electric playstyle sparked the avalanche of offense that Cal used to bury the Vandals.
Ifanse, stepping up this week, also stood extremely steadfast. He logged 22 rushes for 137 yards, his first 100+ yard game at Cal, to go with a touchdown — he showed his reliability as a workhorse in this game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cal secondary shined after struggling in the first quarter. In particular, Jeremiah Earby and Patrick McMorris each had two pass breakups, and Nohl Williams came down with an interception for the second game in a row.
The Cal defense was only able to record one official sack, but that statistic does not tell the whole story. Especially after the second quarter, the defensive line and linebackers were able to wreak havoc in the pocket on a majority of Idaho’s dropbacks, forcing errant throws and scrambles from Idaho’s Gevani McCoy time and time again.
Cal’s rushing offense once again dominated, akin to the North Texas game two weeks ago. Led by Ifanse and Ashton Stredick, the Bears rumbled to 256 total rushing yards on the day, reclaiming their offensive identity as a run-first squad.
Cal will look to roll on next week as the team travels to Seattle to take on Michael Penix Jr. and Washington. Penix, a Heisman candidate, and the Huskies will try to defend their home turf and maintain their undefeated record on national television.