Hope is a dangerous thing, and the latest hope in question took the form of Cal’s opening touchdown against USC, in a game that ultimately ended in a 35-41 blue and gold loss.
Although some may claim that false hope hung in the air all day — with Notre Dame and LSU crafting two straight upsets in the college football landscape — the optimism was solidified following a blue and gold touchdown in Cal’s opening possession.
In the packed Trojan Coliseum, as expected of USC’s athletic prestige, Jaydn Ott’s 22-yard rushing touchdown slightly humbled the stands that were buzzing with anticipation and excitement.
The first quarter resulted in a Cal lead of 7-6 following a sloppy snap on USC’s end. Beyond the Trojans’ initial carelessness, however, this feat can also be attributed to Peter Sirmon’s defense: The blue and gold proved itself a force to be reckoned with as it inflicted two punts out of three Trojan possessions and limited USC to a singular tryst with the end zone. Solid and steady coverage down the field also forced several fruitless throwaways by Trojan quarterback Caleb Williams, keeping USC within striking distance.
Cal quarterback Jack Plummer certainly started the night on a higher note than his previous game — that is to say, he succeeded in refraining from throwing an interception on his second pass. Even so, the quarterback’s opening performance showed promise and Cal fans watching from home — and the diligent few that made the perilous trek down south — continued to do what Cal fans do best: dare to hope.
The second quarter had crimson fingerprints all over it, opening with an early USC touchdown. Williams set up the Cal defense, strategically providing a hole for running back Travis Dye, who recorded a 12-yard rushing touchdown and gave his team the 13-7 lead.
Cal seemed to improve in every sense of the word except on the scoreboard; the offense recorded three straight third down conversions on one drive following a 0% third down efficiency in the first quarter. But, ultimately, the deficiencies of the blue and gold offensive line — more specifically, its inability to maintain a sturdy pocket for Plummer — and air-tight defensive coverage from the Trojans resulted in a scoreless second quarter for the Bears.
An interception by defensive back Calen Bullock near the end of the second quarter was the domino that cascaded in a line, leading to a Michael Jackson III touchdown to give the Trojans a 20-7 lead at the half.
Just when the Trojans seemed to find their rhythm and start to pull away, the Bears never stopped fighting to whittle down the deficit. Two USC touchdowns sandwiched Cal’s own scoring drive in the third, with a notable 2-yard receiving touchdown from Cal wide receiver Monroe Young — his second career touchdown reception.
Two Cal touchdowns in the fourth — one by Mavin Anderson to commence the quarter and another by Jeremiah Hunter at the nine minute mark — seemed to mark the beginning of a Cal comeback. Although the momentum was slightly dimmed by a failed kick attempt blocked by USC defensive lineman Nick Figueroa, this did not change the fact that Cal trailed USC by only 7 — on a day that seemed to celebrate the underdogs.
The Bears seemed to make themselves at home near the end zone, as they quickly found themselves in the paint again — courtesy of Ott — following a USC touchdown. To onlookers’ amazement, a crafty play that had Cal head coach Justin Wilcox written all over it completed a 2-point conversion and brought the Bears one step closer to a comeback.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Wilcox said. “We competed very hard, the effort was excellent.”
Despite no less than Herculean efforts from Cal, the Trojans stood their ground in the Coliseum and narrowly escaped nationwide embarrassment. As for Cal fans, they continue to face the repercussions of retaining hope when it comes to blue and gold football. But who can blame them? At the end of the day, what are sports fans if not delusional?