BERKELEY -- “There are no moral victories,” said California linebacker Hardy Nickerson, Jr., who forced one fumble and recovered another in the Golden Bears’ 36-34 loss to visiting UCLA – the first time the Bruins had won in Strawberry Canyon since 1998.
Cal (4-3, 2-3 in Pac-12) won the turnover battle with those two fumbles and an interception by Cameron Walker – all three of which led to scores – but was outgained by 201 yards (567 to 366) by UCLA (5-2, 2-2). Still, though, the Bears had a chance to win on the final drive, after two head/neck injuries suffered by kickoff returner Trevor Davis and wide receiver Chris Harper -- who went down after hauling in a seven-yard fourth-and-six pass for a first down.
On second-and-seven at the UCLA 36, with just under a minute remaining, quarterback Jared Goff threw a streak route to Kenny Lawler down the right sideline – a play that resulted in a touchdown just five minutes prior – but instead saw his pass picked off by Marcus Rios at the two-yard line.
“It was just not a very smart play by me,” said Goff, who went 25-for-41 for 303 yards and two touchdowns – his 10th career 300-yard passing game. “It was a similar play that I had thrown a touchdown to Kenny earlier, so I thought I’d get it again.”
Goff got a similar look off the line – press coverage – but Rios bailed at the last minute and Goff threw high.
“The biggest advantage we had coming into the game was when they pressed outside,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “When their corners pressed our outside receivers, we made a lot of really big plays with Kenny, and throwing some fade routes, so we liked that matchup. In a perfect world, we would throw the ball to one of the inside verticals, which would probably get us down to that part of the field. Jared looked out there and saw press coverage, and saw the matchup he wanted. He snapped the ball, the guy bailed and we didn’t make a very good play on the football. We got a little bit fooled and their guy made a play on the football.”
The Bears had been running the ball well on that drive – with 14 yards on three attempts, including a team-long seven-yarder from Daniel Lasco (who rushed for his fifth and sixth touchdowns of the year, the second time he’s ever rushed for at least two TDs in a game) – but went with the pass instead. On the game, Cal averaged a season-low 1.8 yards per carry.
“We struggles at times to get into a rhythm,” Dykes said.. “We had a hard time running the ball. When you cant’ run it and they are playing with two safeties, it makes it hard on you. That’s two weeks in a row where teams have sat back there with two safeties and have given us the numbers in the run game where we haven’t been able to take advantage of it much.”
After not throwing for a single pass of over 20 yards one week ago, Goff threw for four balls of over 20 yards, including a career-long of 49 yards to Lawler. Goff’s 23-yarder to Lawler with 6:50 left in the game gave Cal a 34-33 lead, though the Bears could not convert on the two-point conversion, leaving things open for Ka’imi Fairbairn to punch through a 26-yard field goal with 3:40 remaining.
No update was available after the game on the conditions of either Harper (team-high 5 catches for 29 yards, 1 TD) or Davis (3 kickoff returns for 88 yards with a long of 45), though Dykes did say: “Trevor was moving his extremities, both his arms and legs, and was talking. He said that he felt okay. He is going to the hospital, and I’m sure he will get a series of tests run, and we’ll know more. Certainly, the signs from the field looked good.”
Four of the Bears’ last five 5 Pac-12 games have all been decided by four points or less, with scores in the last minute of three of those games that changed the outcome.