Tough Bears improve to 3-0 with comeback win
One of the most admired Cal quarterbacks of the past, Mike Pawlawski, stopped by the writers’ wing of the press box Saturday night to offer a brief scouting report on Mississippi. He said the team has some definite weaknesses, but features “three receivers you’ll see in the NFL.”
It sounded ominous, considering the prodigious arm of Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson, and they were words to remember in
the early stages. You’ll watch a number of teams on Sundays and not see anything more precise or devastating than what the Rebels unveiled over the game’s first hour.
The fact that Cal pulled this one out, 27-16, speaks highly of coach Justin Wilcox, who cherishes defense above all, and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. The Ole Miss program may be troubled, thanks to nearly two dozen alleged recruiting violations and a self-imposed ban on the postseason, but it’s a typical SEC team with superior athletes and a certain swagger.
Wilcox loves nothing better than a tough-minded team that gives no quarter. He can leave the field satisfied as long as Cal plays its opponent straight up from a physical standpoint. That’s exactly what he got from the Bears (3-0) on a sublime, windless evening in Strawberry Canyon.
Early in the second quarter, one might have projected the final score around 45-10 on the Ole Miss side. Almost immediately, Patterson threw a picturesque strike to D.K. Metcalf for a 45-yard gain down the left sideline, setting up a field goal. Later in the first quarter, he nailed DeMarkus Lodge with an across-the-middle bullet around the Cal 40, and Lodge outran everybody for a 72yard touchdown.
When Patterson threw another pro-style gem, to Metcalf for a 71-yard score, the Rebels had a 16-7 lead and seemed well on their way to a righteous postgame party.
The scoreboard read 13:02 left in the second quarter. And, for Ole Miss, that’s pretty much where it ended. Matt Anderson connected on a pair of second-half field goals and linebacker Cameron Goode intercepted a Patterson pass with three minutes remaining, storming 31 tough yards for a game-clinching touchdown.
The attendance was somewhat mystifying: an announced 37,125 but appearing well shy of that. Even the Cal student section wasn’t completely packed, and there were thousands of empty seats most everywhere. Credit the red-clad Ole Miss fans for a solid traveling crew, but there should have been more local interest for a Cal team playing a team (also 2-0 going in) from the mighty SEC.
It goes without saying that 7:30 p.m. starts don’t go over too well in the Bay Area, or throughout a conference in which daytime action was once the norm. Old habits die hard, fans essentially saying, “You’re forcing my family to watch this thing on television — so that’s what we’ll do.”
Still, these home dates are precious, just a half-dozen in all. We’ll probably get a better line on things when Cal plays mighty USC next Saturday with a much-appreciated 12:30 p.m. start.
So ends the non-conference portion of the Pac-12 season (major exceptions: those Stanford and USC dates with Notre Dame), and a number of schools have escaped unscathed. Cal, Washington, USC, Oregon, Washington State, Utah and Colorado all stand at 3-0.
A couple of surprises, however, made next Saturday particularly interesting for Cal and Stanford. USC nearly waited too late to come alive in a thrilling overtime win against a less-than-vintage Texas team. And UCLA, preparing to visit Stanford in a 7:30 p.m. start next week, ran out of Josh Rosen magic in a 48-45 loss to Memphis.
Cal had to play this game without its most imposing game-breaker, wide receiver Demetris Robertson (out with an undisclosed injury). But the Bears had quarterback Ross Bowers, who tends to watch a lot of his completed passes from flat on his back, having been absolutely clobbered by an onrushing lineman. (Such was the case on his 19-yard touchdown pass to Vic Wharton in the third quarter, cutting the Ole Miss lead to 16-14.)
And the Bears have a remarkable story in running back Patrick Laird, a walk-on who only got his scholarship last month and, in the absence of injured Tre Watson, carries huge responsibility in the offense.
To the delight of Cal fans, Laird runs like an absolute madman, a prince of raw desire. The numbers weren’t overwhelming — 78 yards on 22 carries — but when Laird scored on a 13-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, he steamed into a head-on collision with defensive back Julius Jalen at the goal line. Laird got his touchdown and Jalen limped off the field. A spectacular image to summarize the evening.
Former walk-on Patrick Laird was in the middle of Cal’s victory, scoring on a 13-yard run in the first quarter.
The Cal defense, swarming running back Jordan Wilkins, rallied after a slow start to shut out Ole Miss in the second half.