Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Utes dispose of Cal 37-27 in Poinsettia Bowl

Heading into its game at Washington, Cal still had the chance to end up in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, a prize usually reserved for the second place team in the Pac-10.

But Cal lost to Washington and ended up in San Diego for a different bowl: The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Worse yet, the Bears could not finish their season with a win, falling to Utah 37-27 in a game that was only close for a few plays in the first and fourth quarters.

"It was really a snowball effect," said running back Shane Vereen, who started in place of the injured Jahvid Best. "We were on track in the beginning and then we just lost our execution."

Utah used every trick in its book, including the Wildcat formation, halfback passes, flea-flickers, double reverses and copious amounts of bubble screens. Most of the plays worked, as Utah racked up 389 yards of total offense and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes. The Utes' true freshman quarterback, Jordan Wynn, overcame an early interception and finished with 338 passing yards and three touchdowns.

"We think a lot of Jordan Wynn," said Utah coach Kyle Wittingham. "He's unflappable. Ice water in his veins."

But Cal's defense played well enough to win Wednesday night, even if the box score doesn't show it. The offense looked slick and in sync in the first quarter as Cal took a 7-0 lead, but the Bears followed that up by going nearly the entire second quarter without a first down. The only other score for the Bears in the first half came on an interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Eddie Young, just seconds after their first touchdown. Soon Cal's 14-0 early lead had evaporated as Utah's offense heated up.

"There was so much time left, especially with how explosive our offense can be," Wynn said. "It was early in the game and we knew we had to get back into it, and we did."

Heading into halftime, Utah led 24-14 and had all the momentum it could possibly need.

Cal's woes continued in the third quarter, when the team did not get another first down until almost 12 minutes had elapsed. The Bears finally broke through with a touchdown at the end of the quarter, but only after Utah had successfully rattled off 27 unanswered points.

Despite all of their problems, the Bears only trailed by six heading into the fourth quarter. After another Utah field goal, Cal faced a nine-point deficit with less than 11 minutes until the final gun. The comeback attempt was all but dashed when Stevenson Sylvester returned a Kevin Riley interception for a touchdown with 5:27 remaining.

The season ends with Cal losing back-to-back games after compiling an 8-3 record following upsets of Stanford and Arizona. After the game, the players were predictably upset.

"By far man, this is the worst feeling I've had since I've been here," said senior fullback Brian Holley, who played his last game as a Golden Bear.

"This is going to sting for a while," said coach Jeff Tedford.

Senior tackle Mike Tepper also played his last game for Cal, but was significantly less despondent than his teammates. Still, he called the team's final 8-5 record "not good enough," and challenged Cal's fan base to raise their expectations.

"You need to push the football team to be the best that's possible," Tepper said. "To those people who don't believe that 8-5 is a bad season, that's incorrect."

Best, who was a Heisman hopeful early in the season, has likely played his last game for the Bears, but his very productive backup, Vereen, will be back. So too will Riley, who has now been under Tedford's tutelage for four years. Tepper believes there is enough talent to win a national championship next year, even though Bears fans will live with a Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth.

For now, the 51st season without a Rose Bowl appearance has ended, and Cal fans will have to wait for the 52nd to try again.

Utah Utes lead California Golden Bears 27-21 heading into the 4th quarter. LIVE UPDATES FROM POINSETTIA BOWL

End of 3rd quarter Utah 27 Cal 21

Cal failed to convert a huge third-and-2 on its own 13. Riley had fullback Brian Holley wide open on the play for a sure first down, but wildly overthrew him. Punter Bryan Anger did what he does best, kicking the snot out of the ball, and Utah was unable to get a good return thanks to solid special teams tackling by Cal.

The Utah drive began with excellent field position, and the Utes had gotten down to the 25-yard line when they faced fourth-and-1. Trying to deliver a knockout blow, Wittingham went for it, but Cal's defense did not yield the precious yard.

Back on the offensive, Riley nearly threw a pick on the very next play. Second down resulted in an embarrassing drop for tight end Anthony Miller, and on third down Riley fumbled the ball away on a sack. Utah recovered the ball at the 14.

Cal's defense minimized the damage by only allowing a field goal. Whatever Cal's coaching staff told the defense at halftime, it's working. The offense? Not so much.

But on Cal's next drive, the Bears finally get a first down (their first since the opening quarter) on a long run by Shane Vereen, and apparently it's contagious - Riley completes a long pass to Miller on the next play for another first down. Riley finds his touch on this drive, and leads the Bears to the one-yard line. Vereen takes care of the rest, rushing for an easy touchdown. The Bear fans, which greatly outnumber the Utah fans at Qualcomm Stadium, come to life with the score. We've got a ball game again.

Bear defense, you're up. Utah has the ball at their own 45 as the quarter winds to a close.

LIVE UPDATES FROM POINSETTIA BOWL: California Golden Bears vs. Utah Utes

9:54 3rd quarter Utah 24 Cal 14

They often say the numbers tell the story - that is definitely the case tonight.

First Half
First Downs: Utah 14 Cal 6
Total Offense: Utah 257 yards Cal 122 yards
Punts: Utah 0 Cal 2
Time of Possession: Utah 18:45 Cal 11:15

Start of the third quarter and the story is still the same: three-and-out for Cal.

On Utah's next drive, Syd'Quan Thompson looked nothing like the shutdown corner he is supposed to be on a 42-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass, in which Thompson fell down while covering the intended receiver. Fortunately for the Bears, the play was called back due to an illegal formation penalty. Cal's defense held at their own 43, but Aaron Ross made an ill-advised fair catch at the five-yard line on the ensuing punt.

Cal takes the field at the five-yard line. Another three-and-out would give Utah excellent field position. This could be make-or-break time for the Bears.

LIVE UPDATES FROM POINSETTIA BOWL: California Golden Bears vs. Utah Utes

Halftime Utah 24 Cal 14

Cal was forced into a second consecutive three-and-out, although a penalty should have been called on third-down. Riley rocketed a well-thrown pass to receiver Verran Tucker, but it was dropped. Tucker was blasted by Utah defensive back Robert Johnson on the play, and replays showed that Johnson clearly hit Tucker with helmet-to-helmet contact. The referees did not call a personal foul penalty, which would have given the Bears a first down.

Utah again drove down the field with ease, and Wynn threw his third touchdown pass of the night on a 21-yard strike to a wide open Jereme Brooks.

On Cal's subsequent drive, Riley threw the ball to Tucker again on a similar route to his previous drop, with the same result. Tight End Anthony Miller made up for it with an incredible catch on the next play for a first down. Riley moved the Bears to their 47, but the half ended when he was sacked on a second down play with 13 seconds remaining.

Cal won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half, which is looking like a very good decision right now. The defense hasn't put up much of a fight since the first couple of drives, and the Utes are moving the ball up and down the field at will.

The Cal offense must come out on its first drive of the third quarter and make some sort of progress. If Utah gets the ball back with a short field again, this game may be over before the fourth quarter.

First half numbers to come. Bear fans may want to avert their eyes.

LIVE UPDATES FROM POINSETTIA BOWL: California Golden Bears vs. Utah Utes

4:58 2nd quarter Utah 17 Cal 14

You can’t coach it, but every head coach talks about it; you don’t know when you’ll get it, and it’s hard to get back once you’ve lost it: momentum.

Utah clearly stole the early momentum back from Cal, and forced the Bears to go three-and-out after its successful field goal drive. The Utes partially blocked a punt from Bryan Anger, and, despite a friendly roll for Cal, got the ball at their own 44.

The Bear defense struggled on the subsequent drive, allowing Utah to drive down the field and score a touchdown to take the lead. Quarterback Jordan Wynn rifled a 15-yard pass to Kendrick Moeai (his second of the night) on third-and-10 for the score.

Cal desperately needs to get at least a couple of first downs on the next drive, because the defense cannot stop Utah right now.

Utah to kickoff.

LIVE UPDATES FROM POINSETTIA BOWL: California Golden Bears vs. Utah Utes

9:31 2nd quarter Cal 14 Utah 10

Cal quarterback Kevin Riley surprised the Utah defense at the end of the 1st quarter with a quarterback draw on third-and-long, and picked up eight yards for a first down.

The Bear offense stalled and had to punt the ball back to Utah. The Utes went to the no huddle offense, which had Cal on its heels. Utah managed to make it down to the Cal 11-yard-line, but the Bear defense did not allow another yard. Utes settle for a 28-yard field goal.

Utah to kickoff.

LIVE UPDATES FROM POINSETTIA BOWL: California Golden Bears vs. Utah Utes

1:30 1st Quarter Cal 14 Utah 7

First tough decision of the game for Utah coach Kyle Wittingham: a fourth-and-1 at the 10-yard line. Electing to go for it, Wittingham had the offense rush to the line and they successfully converted. Wynn made the Bears pay for allowing the Utes to convert, throwing a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kendrick Moeai in the back corner of the endzone. The score keeps the game close after Cal's interception return for a touchdown.

Cal starting its next drive at the 35-yard line. 1st and 10.