Cal upsets No. 18 Utah 28-23 in thriller

California got a stand-up defensive performance when it needed it most, holding Utah to 23 points and making a goal-line stand on the final drive.

Live Game Thread and Post-Game Presser (members)

BERKELEY -- A year ago, Cameron Saffle's heart was pounding like a jackhammer as defensive line coach Fred Tate grasped his collar and literally threw him into his first collegiate action against Utah. With 32 seconds left on Saturday, Saffle, now one of the best defensive ends in the Pac-12, came around the right tackle, and, along with linebacker Devante Downs, sacked quarterback Troy Williams, bringing up a fourth-and-11 for the No. 18 Utes, who trailed 28-23.

As Williams dropped back to pass after a pair of time outs, he looked to Raelon Singleton in the back left corner of the end zone, and fired. Cornerback Marloshawn Franklin got his hands tangled with Singleton's, the ball fell short, and on the ground lay a yellow handkerchief. Pass interference. Utah's ball at the two. Instead of a turnover on downs, it was first-and-goal at the two-yard line.

Linebacker Ray Davison gave up his body to stop Zack Moss one yard short, with six seconds to go.

With Utah on the left hash, Williams rolled out right and looked for Evan Moeai, but his pass with three seconds left tipped off the tight end's hands. Third down and goal. One more time, Moss was run over left guard, and one more time, he was stopped, this time by James Looney, who didn't have a jack hammer behind his breastplate, to seal the 28-23 win. 

"I had a chance to make a play, and I made it," said Looney, who had eight tackles and one of Cal's six tackles for loss. "It was about time I made those. I'm a leader on this defense, and I need to make those plays."

Looney had promised something special during this week's Tuesday press conference, and he and the Bears delivered, notching their second win in a row over a ranked team at Memorial Stadium.

"Just another regular old Cal football game," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "You can build on something like that."

Six times the Bears held Utah out of the end zone, from deep inside their red zone, on that final drive. "Six," receiver Chad Hansen said, incredulously. "Six. That's amazing."

In a game that was slated to be yet another shootout -- with an over-under in the mid-60s -- it was California's defense that came out swinging against a Utes squad that tested the Bears' very, very public weakness -- the run game -- in what would end up as a relatively (compared to Cal's last four efforts) staid affair, with the Bears holding Utah to 362 total yards of offense and 176 rushing yards.

Sign up for!
Why join?

"I knew we were going to come out and prepare better than we previously had," Looney said. "We put pieces together at times, but we hadn't put it all together. We finally put it together, and we got a win."

The Bears defense -- Saffle, with seven tackles, 0.5 sacks and 0.5 tackles for loss, in particular -- bent, but did not break. The Bears gave up 74 yards in the first quarter, holding Utah to a 2.3 yards per carry average, 23 total rushing yards and pressuring six times, with three of those coming from Saffle, who made his collegiate debut last season against the Utes.

"We talked about this a couple weeks ago, the people we play, they're evenly matched teams, and it comes down to who makes plays down the stretch," Dykes said. "I'm really proud of our defensive players. They've taken a lot of criticism, and they didn't listen to it. You've got to give Art Kaufman and hi staff credit. We took our lumps, because we've played a lot of young kids against San Diego State and Texas and Arizona State, and our defense had to play 97 plays today. As a result of playing those young guys, we were fresh enough at the end of the game to stop them on six plays inside the 10-yard line."

But, after the first quarter, Utah began to wear down the Bears' defensive front. From the end of the first quarter through the first Utes drive of the third quarter -- which ended with a one-yard Armand Shyne scoring plunge -- Utah rushed 27 times for 107 yards, a 3.96 yards per carry average.

Shyne finished with 25 carries for 104 yards, and Utah finished with 176 rushing yards as Cal only held the ball for 17:59.

"They did a nice job of working the clock; you've got to give them credit for keeping it away from us," Dykes said of his tam, which ran just 49 plays.

With the Bears up 21-17, less than 11 minutes left in the game and the Utes driving -- running the ball down the Bears' throat on five of seven plays to start the fourth quarter -- the Bears stood up true freshman Moss for a loss, giving the Bears the ball back with 10:47 left on the clock. did Davis Webb and the Bears do? In 1:44, they marched down field, with a one-footed full-extension pogo stick leap by Melquise Stovall for a first down, a twisting, airborne hand-fighting grab by Vic Wharton for 23 yards and a cheat-code-fast breakaway down the Bears sideline by freshman Demetris Robertson for a 56-yard touchdown grab -- his second of the game -- to put Cal up by two scores. Robertson caught four balls for 97 yards.

"I think Demetris gets better every day," Webb said. "When they're doubling over on Chad, he does a great job doing what he needs to do."

"He works hard, and never says a word," Dykes said. "You don't see kids like that very often, who are that heavily recruited. He' had people kissing his rear end, I'm sure, since he was 12 years old, and you'd never know it."

With Cal unable to reliably chew clock on the ground, a holding penalty by the Bears' Ray Hudson pulled back a 15-yard gain by Stovall, and the Bears were forced to punt. A blatant block in the back on safety Cameron Walker was not called, and instead, an unsportsmanlike conduct flag was thrown on the Bears, leading to Utah's heart-stopping final drive.

"We overcame it," Dykes said. "We had to. The players kept saying, 'We've got this. We've got you.'"

"We kept shooting ourselves in the foot with a few holding penalties, and a few miscues by me," Webb said. "We believed in our teammates, obviously. Our defense stepped up at the end of the game. This is the best team I've been a part of."


Even with Khalfani Muhammad out, California still dedicated itself early to running the ball, with three rushes (one counted as a pass, because it was a forward pitch to Robertson lined up in the backfield) and three passes on the Bears' first drive, ending on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Webb to -- Who else? -- Hansen, just 1:20 into Cal's afternoon tilt against Utah.

The catch by Hansen -- his seventh touchdown grab of the season -- ended with a trademark Hansen celebration. Instead of Horns Down or Forks Down, he decided to go up, up and away, pantomiming the Superman shirt rip. "He's one of the hardest workers on this team," Webb said of his favorite receiver, who caught five balls for 98 yards.

"I watch Chad every day. I watch his technique, the way he works the defender in press," Robertson said. "He's not the No. 1 receiver in the country for no reason."

Two drives later, it was Robertson who took flight, motioning into a fly sweep and then breaking away downfield, pulling away for a 39-yard touchdown catch to put the Bears up, 14-0.

"It felt comfortable, coming from high school, playing a lot of positions, being versatile, you can see different things, see different holes when they open up," said Robertson, who played running back, quarterback, receiver and safety at Savannah (Ga.) Savannah Christian Prep.

Cal largely abandoned the run after the first two drives, though, rushing just seven total times for 43 yards before halftime, while passing 22.

That first quarter -- the second of the last seven in which Cal has held an opponent scoreless -- also cost the Utes starting center J.J. Dielman (who was carted off wearing a boot) and star receiver Tim Patrick, who had posted three straight 100-yard games for Utah.

But, Patrick returned in time for the Utes to run off a 21-play, 95-yard, 9:08 scoring drive against the Bears. Cal had a chance to get off the field on third down and eight, after a Luke Rubenzer and Khari Vanderbilt tackle for loss on Zack Moss, but for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Saffle, who drew his thumb across his throat throat after an incomplete pass to the back of the end zone, which gave the Utes first-and-goal at the 5, instead of fourth-and-eight. Two plays later, Armand Shyne rumbled in for a touchdown, cutting the Utah deficit to 14-10, with two minutes to go in the first half.

Shyne's run -- which capped off a 13-play drive that ground 6:23 off the clock and put the Utes on top, 17-14 -- was answered by the Bears going back to the run, if not by the letter of the game, then by the spirit.

After returning the kickoff 22 yards, Tre Watson took two screens for nine and 10 yards, then ripped off a 10-yard run to set up a seven-yard rumble by Vic Enwere. After hitting Hansen for what looked like a 15-yard gain, left tackle Aaron Cochran -- who left the game in the first quarter, but returned after half -- was flagged as an ineligible receiver down field. Webb then missed Jordan Veasy on a deep fade, before finding Hansen on that same fade for a 23-yard touchdown. Hansen leaped into section VV to high-five a fan in the stands, but was not called for unsportsmanlike conduct.

After the Robertson 56-yard touchdown, the Utes came right back and marched 75 yards down the field, attacking a beleaguered passing defense missing both Darius Allensworth and Evan Rambo. Williams hit his second 20-plus yard play in two drives, finding Raelon Singleton for 21 yards, then running for four himself, before completing a first-down screen to Demari Simpkins. Williams then went up top for 35 yards to Tyrone Smith, and the Utes finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Moss. Josh Drayden broke up the two-point conversion pass.

Drayden made his first collegiate start, and made six tackles. His breakup didn't count in the final tally, but Cal still had four more basses broken up.

Utah was 7-for-20 (35%) on third down, and 3-for-5 in the red zone. Top Stories