Cal Football earns 1st win of 2020 via an upset of No.23 Oregon

Cal defense held Oregon scoreless in the second half en route to a 21-17 victory

The number 4 was the magic number in this 4th game of the Cal Football 2020 season on this Saturday late afternoon in Berkeley.

4th downs conversions (2 for 3 for the Bears, not counting an additional 4th down conversion due to penalty), or lack thereof (0 for 1 for the Ducks), were the turning points of this tight game between the California Golden Bears (1-3) and the defending Pac-12 champs Oregon Ducks (3-2).

No.4 on offense (but also the only guy on the team sporting this number) for the Golden Bears, junior wide receiver Nikko Remigio, scored not just the game-winning touchdown but also tied for the game-high with 6 catches (tied with teammate Makai Polk) for 81 yards to lead the Bears. No.4 also returned 4 punts, one of which would have been a bit more noteworthy if not for a Cal holding penalty.

The 4th quarter was also when the Golden Bears defense played its best. The Cal defense not only had that key 4th and 1 stop at Cal’s 18-yard line, but they also had two crucial forced fumbles as well as their recoveries to seal this first win of the pandemic-altered season.

In this 4th season for Cal head coach Justin Wilcox, this win ensured that his streak of the Bears beating a top-25 opponent was extended for the 4th straight year. Now if the Bears can only also win those other games…

Thanks to two long drives in the first half, Cal dominated the time-of-possession in this game, holding on to the ball for 60% of the game. This may have also contributed to the defense being quite fresh in the 4th quarter, with the game on the line.

The Ducks struck first on their 2nd possession of the game. Aided by two Cal penalties, Oregon got to Cal’s 8-yard line before the Cal defense held them to just a field goal. The Cal offense immediately answered with a 13-play drive for a touchdown. In this drive, Cal QB Chase Garbers (183 Yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) found Kekoa Crawford, Drew Schlegel, and Nikko Remigio on completions of 18 yards, 13 yards, and 14 yards, respectively. RB Christopher Brown Jr. came oh-so-close to score a touchdown on 1st-and-goal from 6 yards out, but it took three additional plays from 1-yard out for the Bears to take their first lead of the game when Chase Garbers scored on 4th-and-one, a play after Garbers took a lot of contact for no gain on a 3rd down dive.

On the Bears’ next possession, Cal had a prolonged 19-play yard drive thanks to the generous gifts by the visitors in the form of 3 separate Oregon penalties that gave the Bears 1st-downs on 3rd and 4th down plays. An illegal substitution meant the drive was not going to be a 3-and-out. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Bears a fresh set of downs from the Oregon 4-yard line. While the Bears again had some issues in pounding in the ball from a short distance, Garbers’ 4th down pass attempt did draw a defensive pass interference penalty. Graduate transfer (from Wisconsin) RB Bradrick Shaw ran in for the touchdown from 1-yard out on the next play for his first career Cal TD. Also of note, Chase Garbers had a key 21-yard scramble on a 3rd-down play during this drive.

Unfortunately, the Cal defense appeared to have lost focus after the Bears went up 14-3 with 5:31 to go before the half. Evading the Cal pressure, Oregon QB Tyler Shough (231 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) found an extremely open Johnny Johnson III for a 39-yards TD.

Just when it looked like the Bears could go on their own 2-minute drill to increase the lead (not to mention how the Bears would have the ball first in the second half), the Cal offense sputtered and instead left too much time for the opponent. Oregon got the ball back and Shough immediately found RB Travis Dye on a 67-yard play, who got past the Cal defense that looked confused about the coverage, to set up a Cyrus Habibi-Likio TD run from a yard out for a disheartening 3-play, 75 yards drive just before the half. Despite trailing for most of the first half, Oregon had a 17-14 lead at the half.

The Cal defense returned to form when the second half started. Bears eventually took advantage offensively. Marcel Dancy had a couple of long runs of 9-yards and 14-yards to start the drive. Two complete passes later, Garbers ran the play-action to perfection as he faked a handoff to the running back before slinging a perfect pass to a wide-open Nikko Remigio in the end zone for a 28-yard TD.

The Cal defense would make sure that this 21-17 score will stay until the end. The Bears stopped the Ducks on a 4th-and-one from the Cal red zone on a big tackle by Braxten Croteau. Then, after the Cal offense converted the 1st 4th down but not the 2nd (opting against a long 45+ yard field goal attempt to go up by 7), Senior linebacker Kuony Deng first caused a Shough forced fumbles to stop an Oregon drive. When the Ducks again got another opportunity for a game-winning drive, it was again Deng who knocked the ball off Johnny Johnson III this time to seal this victory. Freshman linebacker Muelu Iosefa was there on both plays with Deng. Particular in the 2nd half, Cameron Goode was excellent with three tackles for loss. Both Cam Bynum and Josh Drayden were able to swat away several of Tyler Shough’s pass attempts.

The preseason Pac-12 favorites Oregon Ducks dropped their second straight game after losing to their rival Oregon State last week to end their slim College Football Playoffs chance. The 3-2 Ducks will take on the 3-1 Washington Huskies (they lost to the vagabond Stanford Cardinal earlier today) next week to likely decide the Pac-12 North. Yes, the Bears are just a handful of plays away from being in this mix.

Back to near full strength this week, Cal Football finally played up to its potential in 2020. The Cal defense was able to make just enough big plays, either a big tackle for loss or a turnover, to compensate for defensive breakdowns. The Cal offense was just competent enough to take advantage of those Oregon gifts (penalties that turned into fresh sets of downs) to score points.

Cal improved its all-time record vs. Oregon to 42-39-2, including 28-17-2 at home in Bear Territory.

The season will continue next Saturday when the Cal Golden Bears visit the Washington State Cougars (1-1, before their Sunday night game vs. USC much later today).