Breaking down Cal's upset win over No. 11 Texas, where Melquise Stovall, Khalfani Muhammad shine

BERKELEY -- Pac-12 night football is a book written by a drunk and sadistic author, but on Saturday night, Cal wrote its own ending.

BERKELEY -- There’s a scene in the zombie movie Warm Bodies, where the titular warm body – a slowly-reanimating shambling pile of flesh who only half-remembers his name as beginning with an R – feels his heart thump for the first time since he became one of the walking dead.

On Saturday, after throwing away at least four different ledes, my cold, dead, blackened, shrunken lump of a reporter's heart actually shuddered to life, just as California did. This was a stupid, crazy, maddening, uncomfortable, beautiful, run-on sentence of a game. 307 yards given up rushing, you say? Almost 600 yards given up of total offense to the No. 11 team in the land, you say? And, the defense won the game, you say? Balderdash.

But, yet, here we are. For the past nine years, this is a game that Cal would have found a way to lose. Vic Enwere just about said as much in his post-game comments. At Cal, you get used to finding a way to snatch a kick in the crotch from the jaws of victory.

"Couldn't go home that easy," he joked, from a place of comfort that could very well have been a throne of ignominy. "You know how it is around here."

On a night when the Bears hosted their 2017 quarterback commit Chase Garbers and the 2018 and 2019 signal callers that are the apples of Jake Spavital's left and right eyes, respectively (Adrian Martinez and Michael Johnson Jr.), plus an Auburn commit, plus a former Ole Miss commit, plus a Texas A&M commit, surely, Cal would find a way to Cal itself, again, sideways.

The second-and-10 18-yard completion to freshman Demetris Robertson in the first quarter, where the ball came loose as hit the ground, and was returned over 35 yards, in years past, would have stood as a fumble. It wasn’t. The blocked punt with Cal backed up inside its own 10 in the second quarter, in years past, would have given Texas a short field. The ball rolled out of the end zone.

Yes, Cal got some breaks – including a holding call on Brandon Hodges on the drive before, a false start that stalled a drive at the end of the third quarter, holding on a Tyrone Swoopes run, and then a fumble by D'Onta Foreman to stall another drive -- but Spavital and the Bears took risks, starting with that recruiting invitation list.

They took the risk of inviting a huge contingent of top-flight recruits to a game that, on the surface, looked like a poor match-up, to a stadium that was sure to be half burnt orange.

But, every Texas body blow brought a Cal counter punch. Every uppercut was returned with a right cross. Every time the Bears staggered to the ropes, they regained their footing.

They took a risk on fourth-and-one on the first drive of the second half, pushing Enwere up the middle at the Texas 22. Instead of a field goal, they go a first down, and then a touchdown.Davis Webb pump faked the underneath route and then found Jordan Veasy for 18. After an Enwere one-yard run, Webb, in a two-tight end set, drew the entire Texas defense in with another handoff to Enwere, and they bit so hard that a hole the size of Sproul Hall opened up on the left, and Webb waltzed in for the score.

Then, they went for two, with Webb tossing a reverse to Chad Hansen, who was, once upon a time, another risk, in himself -- a waiver wire pick-up who's become the nation's leading receiver.

Spavital was truly the MVP of the game. Mixing inside runs with deep sideline passes, misdirects and baiting defenses into opening up holes, knowing early this week that freshman Melquise Stovall would be a deadly weapon on the perimeter, and exploiting Texas’s aggressiveness – what we saw on Saturday was a finely tuned offensive orchestra. Yes, Aaron Cochran did get beat twice – badly – off the edge for sacks on Webb in his first game back starting at left tackle, but because the line held as well as it did the rest of the game, Webb was allowed just enough time to step up and throw, with the ball sometimes appearing out of a tangle of bodies. 40 throws, 40 runs – there was balance in the Cal offense, as opposed to the 72 throws and 22 runs the week before. There was change. There was adaptation. There was pure imagination.

From the very first drive, when, on third-and-one, Webb sent Stovall in motion, faked the handoff and tossed an end-around pitch to Stovall for a gain of 16, Spavital announced that this game would be different.

Hope is not a strategy. That’s a line that’s been well-worn on every message board of which I’ve been in charge. The Pac-12 schedule is a choose your own adventure book, written by a drunk – and, if you’re a Cal fan, a sadistic -- author. But with the chutzpah the Bears showed on Saturday, maybe they can finally get a word in.

Pay no never mind to the fact that safety Dylan Haines picked the ball up four seconds after Vic Enwere dropped it at the one-yard line; this game was a masterful play-calling clinic. And, wonder of wonders, the tackling was sure and technically sound, if somewhat ineffective against the kind of size that Texas brings. If anything, it was at least well-timed.

The Bears -- yes, the Bears -- had a sense of occasion, an awareness of the moment. Enwere's lapse can be forgiven, to some extent, because he had never been in that place before. Cal has not been in that place in almost a decade.

Yes, Jared Goff, Daniel Lasco and their six receivers won eight games last year, but even that was a disappointment, and required a miracle comeback against Arizona State (who, by the way, Cal plays next week) to get even that far. This team is by far not perfect – 568 yards of offense by Texas, and 307 yards on the ground are certainly evidence of that – but freshman Evan Weaver got his first sack, Stovall had his coming out party, the safeties – yes, the much-maligned, very-much-thinner safeties – provided two interceptions and a sack, Robertson once again showed that he can be a difference-maker with his speed. The youth on this team – Spavital included – showed something. What was that something? It’s too early to tell. But there’s certainly some there, there.

Last night, I posited that Cal did not deserve to win. The karma for Enwere's error should have taken care of that. But, 12 hours later, with the shortest of hindsight, isn't it about time they did?

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