After the reversal of fortunes at the Big Game, confidence was high for the Las Vegas Bowl. Not only was it thought that Levy would improve on his more than acceptable performance against Stanford, but also that BYU would be an easy opponent to beat, not measuring up to the average quality of Calâ€™s opponents throughout the year. However, those who watched football closely knew that it was dangerous to underestimate BYU who had played an impressive season despite playing in a mid-major conference. There was also that fear in the back of all Bear fanâ€™s minds that the Bears would not come to play, just as they had the previous year in the Holiday Bowl.
While the announcers seemed to indicate that the stadium was packed with BYU fans, the reality was that although BYU had more than half, both teams were well represented. Neither team had a substantial crowd advantage. Additionally, Bear fans were desperate for a reason to cheer after such a disappointing second half of the season.
Cal got the ball to start the game, getting the ball on the 35 yard-line after the kick sailed out of bounds. Lynch didnâ€™t waste any time generating some offense getting the ball into BYU territory on the first play with a 22 yard catch and run. Two relatively easy 1st downs later with a couple of out patterns and the Bears were in the redzone. A personal foul on BYU for a late shove out of bounds and an offside penalty again on BYU gave the Bears a 1st and goal from the 3 yard-line. Lynch was able to run it in from there giving the Bears an all too easy touchdown to start the game, up 7-0.
BYU got the ball at the 20 after it was downed in the endzone. They proceeded to run three very ineffective plays, all intended to be passes, and although two were complete, none got more than a couple yards. BYU was given a reprieve when Harrison Smith ran into the kicker on the punt when he nearly blocked the punt. Nevertheless BYU made even less of the next series taking a sack, having a pass nearly picked off and an incomplete had BYU punting for a second time. Cal looked ready to romp.
On the Bears next drive they continued to show the domination they had on the first drive. However, after the Bears got a 1st down at the BYU 37 yard-line, the drive stalled. For the first time in his two starts Levy missed his targets on two consecutive plays setting up a 3rd and 10 where the BYU blitz was able to force Levy to pull the ball down and run, coming up well short of the 1st down. The Bears punted despite being in range for a 54 yard field-goal, pinning BYU at their own 6 yard-line.
BYU was able to generate some offense on their next possession, starting with a rush to the outside that went for 15 yards. Then on the next set of downs, Cal forced a 3rd and 2 before BYUâ€™s leading receiver pulled down an amazing catch to extend the drive. On the next 3rd down it seemed like the Bears had BYU on the ropes when there were 4 defenders boxing in the receiver on the dump out pattern. Somehow the receiver managed to slip between two of them to setup a 4th and 1 that BYU was able to convert. After getting another 1st down on a broken play where the quarterback was able to scramble, BYU was all the way down into the Cal redzone where they completed a nice crossing route pattern to tie the game at 7-7.
Cal didnâ€™t waste any time striking back. First they were able to get the ball out to the 48 yard-line on the kickoff. Then Jackson and Forsett were able to combine on two plays to get the ball down to the BYU 38. Then Levy threw a great pass to Jordan in the endzone where the defenders only option was to foul or give up the touchdown. After the penalty was assessed, Marshawn was able to run it in from just outside the redzone, breaking it outside when the inside seam didnâ€™t open. The Bears offense was back on track, up 14-7.
All of the pressure the Bears had been putting on BYU quarterback John Beck bore fruit on their next possession when a rushed throw gave Harrison Smith an easy opportunity to intercept the ball. Unfortunately a botched handoff between Levy and Forsett set the Bears back on the resulting 1st down for the Bears when the ball retreated a few yards back in the pocket before Forsett could jump on the ball. After an incompletion setup a long 3rd down attempt, the Bears were forced to punt when the promising screen pass to Lynch didnâ€™t get the 1st down with Lynch getting tangled with one of his blockers.
After BYU was forced to punt on a 3 and out, the Bears went back to work with the run game, picking up good chunks on each run. However, after picking up a couple 1st downs, a passing play was called on 1st down and Levy was sacked. With Cal playing behind the chains, BYU was able to force the punt.
BYU was pinned inside their own 10 yard-line again, this time from a block in the back penalty that negated a good return. BYU got away with one on 1st down when Beck was under great pressure. He tried to throw the ball away while he was falling down and it should have either been a safety if his knee was down (and it was close on the replay) or intentional grounding because the throw was to no one in particular and did not make it past the line of scrimmage. In either case, the refs missed the call and BYU got a second chance. Unfortunately for Cal, BYU made the most of the break on two plays. The first was a nice slant completion where the receiver was able to drag the corner for another 10 yards to the BYU 37. On the next play Beck aired it out to Todd Watkins for a 52 yard pass completion where he got well behind the safeties and was only tackled because the ball was under-thrown. The Bears seemed to have BYU in a bad spot when a holding penalty set 1st down and 20 from the 21 yard-line. However a busted play again resulted in a big gainer for Beck as he scrambled down to the Cal 6 yard-line. On 3rd down BYU was able to pound the ball into the endzone, tying the game yet again, this time 14-14.
With only 38 seconds left in the half, it seemed unlike the Bears could strike back before halftime. However, when the kickoff was returned to the 42 yard-line and a 15 yard pass-interference call got the ball into BYU territory with over 20 seconds left, there was reason to hope. Two incompletions later, Levy threw a nice out pattern to Jackson that was designed to get the ball past the 1st down marker and out of bounds to setup a field-goal attempt. However, the defender over-pursued and Jackson was able to cut it back inside and sprint to the endzone with 3 seconds left putting the Bears back up by a touchdown going into the locker room.
Summing the half, the Bears had been the dominant team and looked somewhat in control. However, the score was far tighter than the play on the field would suggest. BYU it seemed was making the most of their few opportunities as well as threading the needle when a tight play was needed. On the other side, while the Bears were executing on their opportunities, they seemed to only barely be taking what BYU was offering. It seemed that Cal should have been exploiting BYU more than it was. Nevertheless confidence was high that Cal could and would take control of the game in the 2nd half.
After BYU got the ball to start the 2nd half and could only muster one 1st down, the Bears went back to the run game on the first two plays. With BYU expecting more of the same on the next play the completion to Jackson for 19 yards was all too easy. Two plays later Lynch busted what was one of his signature plays of his Cal career. Slipping up a seam in the middle he was hit by two defenders 15 yards out from the endzone. He then dragged them both down to the 5 yard-line where he dove into the endzone with the two defenders being sloughed off. The Bears were up by more than a single score for the first time, up 28-14.
BYU was able to get a couple of 1st downs on their next possession, again threading the needle on a couple of critical and drive sustaining completions. However, the Bears were able to force a punt on the third set of downs. The downside of having given up those 1st downs was that BYU was in position to punt the ball deep in the Cal redzone, forcing the Bears to start from their own 4 yard-line.
The bad field position didnâ€™t bother Lynch who dragged BYU defenders for a 9 yard gain on the 1st play and then squirted through a small hole for a 25 yard gain on the second play. Two plays later DeSean Jackson turned what was supposed to be a quick out-pattern into an inadvertent reverse getting the ball down to the BYU 22. Levy rewarded Jackson for his effort with a nice fade pattern to the corner of the endzone that Jackson was able to dive for, putting the Bears well ahead with just over a quarter left, up 35-14.
BYU was able to chip away at the Bears on their next possession. The Cal defense was clearly determined to keep everything in front of them. Nevertheless, it was a disappointing drive because the Bears could never come up with the stop, with BYU able to complete the touchdown drive with a quick wide receiver screen for a touchdown pass from the 7 yard-line. The Bears were down to a 2 score lead just into the 4th quarter, the Bears up 35-21.
The Bears continued to move the ball on their next drive. An impressive tackle busting catch and run by tight-end Eric Beegun was partially called back by a downfield holding penalty taking nothing away from the impressiveness of the play but losing the Bears 14 yards. With the ball at midfield, Cal ran it on all three plays of the next series with Lynch being stuffed on 3rd and 5, forcing the punt.
Lonie was able to punt yet another one inside the BYU 5 yard-line, again forcing BYU to go the full length of the field if they were going to score. BYU got themselves out of the shadow of their own endzone on a swingout pass that went for 22 yards. They were then able to get out to midfield on a bogus personal foul against Bishop who shoved Beck out of bounds just as Beck was getting there himself. Three plays later, after Cal had forced an incompletion on 3rd and 10, BYU went for it on 4th down from midfield. For some reason, Mixon was playing way off the receiver and was unable to come back to the play giving BYU not only a 1st down but an 18 yard completion down to the Cal 31 yard-line. Then another bogus penalty on the Bears, a facemask penalty where the defender had grabbed the shoulder pad to whip the receiver around, got the ball down to the Cal 7 yard line and a 1st and goal. On 1st down, BYUâ€™s run play was caught in the backfield for a loss of 2. On 2nd down the pass was deflected, setting up a critical 3rd and goal from the 9. The fade to the endzone was well defended and dropped incomplete. Cal had an opportunity to end the comeback on 4th down but somehow the out-pattern got around Mixonâ€™s attempted slap-down and BYU was back in the game, the Bears lead now only a touchdown, 35-28.
With 5:35 left in the game, Cal went to the run game to try and run out the clock. Back to back runs by Lynch and Forsett went for 23 yards. After Lynch was held up on 2nd down, Levy completed another pass to Beegun who again ran it down the sideline breaking through a tackle for what would have been a 20 plus yard gain. However, yet again, a downfield hold brought the ball back to midfield. When Forsett ran for another 1st down, BYU started calling timeouts with 3:29 remaining. As if the BYU defense triggered on the timeout calls, they were finally able to slow the Cal running game and Cal was forced to try the 50 yard field-goal with 2:20 remaining to go up by two scores. For whatever reason, although the kick was true, it was well short and Schneider was unable to put the game away.
BYU was able to complete 4 consecutive passes, although one of them was called back for a holding penalty. Additionally, just as Cal had done on the previous possessions, they were able to keep the ball in front of them and only 1 of the 4 completions was for longer than 5 yards. On Beckâ€™s 5th pass attempt, he made his second big mistake of the game, throwing the ball as he was grabbed from behind. The resulting wounded duck of a pass was easy pickings for Damien Hughes for his 5th interception of the season.
With that the game was over. Had Cal had someone checking the stats on the sideline, they would have run at least one down, giving the ball to Forsett to get him over the 1000 yard hump instead of his official 999 yards. But Cal didnâ€™t and instead it was 3 consecutive kneel downs to end the game and the season.
Summing the game, the Cal offense finally got in gear in the 3rd quarter and likely would have been prolific throughout the 2nd half had it not been for the grind out the clock play calling in the 4th quarter. The defenses 2nd half performance, although good enough to get the job done, left something to be desired. In some sense they were just following orders and running the yet-to-be-named Bend But Donâ€™t Break defense. On the other hand, they gave up two late touchdowns on long drives that should never have been. Nevertheless, after the mid-season struggles for the Bears, any victory, particularly over a team that gain the respect of many a Bear fan during the game, was one worth celebrating.
Tune in later today for a wrap-up of the 2005 season and later this weekend for my 2008 game-by-game predictions and the introduction to my 2007 season looking-back series.