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Cal Football: The Worst Cal Season in a Decade Ends with a 35-28 UCLA Defeat
What to make of it all.
The story was all too familiar for the California Golden Bears in 2022. Cal would show fight in spurts, fall into an offensive lull, see their defense eventually concede an array of touchdowns, and find themselves trailing for the majority of the remainder of the contest.
Cal provided the most optimal of those performances against UCLA, showing pretty incredible endurance in the first half, notching up three touchdowns and a 21-10 lead. Jeremiah Hunter had a career day for the Bears, racking up eight catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns, including the last two scores of the half off of dimes thrown by Jack Plummer. J.Michael Sturdivant also hauled in a 46 yard reception.
Alas, the offense again sputtered throughout the second half, scoring only a touchdown and not moving past the UCLA 40 on their other four second half drives. And the defense, coming off a season best performance against Stanford, could not stop Chip Kelly’s Bruins for the third season in a row.
Zach Charbonnet, TJ Harden, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Colson Yankoff compiled an absurd 352 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per rush on the Cal defense, picking up first downs at will as they marched down the field with ease. It is the third season in a row the Bruins have had no trouble putting up 240+ rushing yards on the ground against the Bears.
DTR managed two rushing touchdown during this comeback, This included one just before halftime with 58 seconds left on a fairly unacceptable 40 second TD drive conceded by the Cal defense, and then the go-ahead on the first UCLA drive of the second half to make it 24-21 Bruins. A fumbled Cal punt by Hunter set up a shortfield for UCLA and a field goal to make it 27-21.
Cal got back into the lead thanks to three connections between Plummer and Jaydn Ott (including the score), and a 49-yard hookup between Plummer and Hunter. But back game the Bruins on the ground with three critical UCLA first down conversions, and Charbonnet plunged it in to give the Bruins the final score of the game.
After a Cal 3-and-out, UCLA rolled six minutes off the clock on the ground before failing to convert a game-clinching 4th and 2. But Ott would fumble a 4th down conversion by the Bears with 1:28 left, and Cal’s season whimpered to a finish.
It was another close loss for the Bears in a season defined by coming up short every week.
Cal thus finishes 4-8, their worst record since 2013, and posts their second 2-7 Pac-12 record of the Justin Wilcox era. It is Cal’s third consecutive losing season.
We’ll have deeper insights later this week, but it’s safe to say this is the lowest point of the Justin Wilcox era. The Bears will hire a new offensive coordinator and line coach in the coming weeks, so hope springs eternal, but it’s hard to have much confidence at this time. Cal’s defense will get healthier and the Bears will do their best to retain their skill players, but bad line play sunk Cal this season, and it’s not clear if there’s a quick remedy.
With the resignation of David Shaw, every new Pac-12 program fairly happy with their new coach, and both Colorado and Arizona State rebooting, Justin Wilcox clearly will have the warmest seat in the Pac-12 come 2023 and beyond. He is now the second longest tenured coach in the conference, with two winning seasons in six and his highest finish being 8-5 with a Redbox Bowl appearance. Cal will provide him at least a little longer runway to turn it around, but there are fire alarms everywhere that the best has passed.
Wilcox owned up to as much in his postgame press conference, but maintained a hopeful mindset.
“The record's not acceptable for the players or the program, but I know and have conviction of what we're capable of doing and it's going to, as I mentioned, there's going to be additions and there's going to be changes as we move forward. But I'm very, very optimistic about what we can accomplish here and doing it the right way.”
With Wilcox wrapping up the first of a five-year contract extension, the Cal head coach likely has at least another few years to right the ship. But this offseason might be the last chance to find the right combination.
Additional news and notes
Jack Plummer’s 3095 passing yards is the most by a Cal quarterback in a single season in the Justin Wilcox era.
Jeremiah Hunter’s 965 receiving yards is the most by a Cal wide receiver in a single season in the Justin Wilcox era.
Jadyn Ott’s 1218 all-purpose yards is the most by a Cal true freshman since Khalfani Muhammad in 2013.
Cal finally snapped its streak of 20+ minute droughts without scoring a touchdown against UCLA. The problem is that it’s only because Cal’s longest scoring drought between 2nd and 4th quarters was 19 minutes and 22 seconds.
Cal scored 21 points in the first half against Arizona and 21 points in the first half against UCLA. In the seven Pac-12 games in-between, Cal managed a very painful 33 points, with 26 points on offense in the first half.
Cal finishes 2022 0-7 against FBS teams with a winning record. In his tenure at Cal, Justin Wilcox is 6-25 against winning FBS teams.
Justin Wilcox is now 1-4 against Chip Kelly as a head coach.