By KENNY FRANEK
The first quarter belonged to the Bears, as they recorded 159 yards of offense compared to the Gophers’ 39. Jahvid Best scored twice in the first quarter while rushing for 69 yards on just six carries. Penalties caused the Minnesota offense to stagnate; it wasn’t until the final drive of the quarter that the Gophers started clicking and Eric Decker began to get involved in the passing game.
Score: Cal 14, Gophers 0
Adam Weber got Minnesota on the board on the first play, hooking up with Decker who made an incredible catch while getting drilled by a Cal defender. Best answered later in the quarter with an impressive 27-yard touchdown run to put the Bears up 21-7. After a personal foul and a pass interference call, the Gophers had great field position with 1:11 left in the half. A few plays later, Weber found Decker again wide open in the end-zone for a twelve-yard score to cut the lead to 21-14. Even though the Bears dominated time of possession 12:03 to 2:57, the Gophers were able to make plays and build some momentum going into halftime.
Score: Cal 21, Gophers 14
The Gophers defense came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. They held Best at bay and didn’t allow a single first-down to the Bears offense, holding them to 22 yards in the quarter. The Gophers showed their offense truly does run through Decker as he completed a seven-yard touchdown pass to freshman MarQueis Gray to tie the game at 21.
Score: Cal 21, Gophers 21
Things were looking up for the Gophers when they had the Bears pinned on their own 22 yard-line facing 3rd and 16. But Kevin Riley had other plans as he hooked up with Jeremy Ross for a 35-yard pass, keeping the drive alive. Five plays later, Best found the end-zone again for his fourth score of the day to put the Bears up for good, 28-21. Weber tried to make something happen on the very next play, but ended up throwing a crucial interception. That was that, as Best ended up adding another score to make it 35-21, ending the comeback attempt.
Final Score: Cal 35, Gophers 21
The Turning Point:
Facing a 3rd and 16 on their own 22 yard-line, Riley connected with receiver Ross for 35 yards to keep the drive going. Five plays later, Best punched in the decisive score.
Gophers coach Tim Brewster proved that he has turned this program around and has them heading in the right direction. They fought back numerous times against a good Cal football team and sent a message to the powers of the Big Ten that they aren’t to be taken lightly. Although Brewster was pleased with how his team played, he was disappointed that they didn’t find a way to come out with a victory.
“It’s hard. You know, you pour your heart and your soul into an effort…every player and every coach poured their heart and soul into this game and we weathered an early storm and our kids really showed some resilience and resolve," Brewster said following the game. "I’m extremely proud of our football team, the way that they competed against the #8 ranked team in the country. What I’m really disappointed in is that we didn’t find a way to win the game. We didn’t make the plays at the end of the game…we had opportunities on the defensive end, had some opportunities on the offensive end. When you’re playing a great opponent like we were playing today, the team that’s going to win is the team that makes the plays at the end of the football game.”
The score was not indicative of how the game was played. The Gophers fought hard and battled all game and seemed to answer every Cal score, but the lack of a ground game was too much to overcome in the end. They only managed 37 yards rushing which allowed the defense to put pressure on Weber the majority of the game. If the Gophers plan on contending against Ohio State and Penn State in the Big Ten, this needs to be corrected. Decker can only do so much on offense and the ground game needs to be there to take pressure of Weber when he drops back to pass.
On the other side of the ball, the stout Cal defense looked shaky against the pass, allowing 233 yards through the air. Decker was a one-man wrecking crew who had the challenge of going up against potential All-America corner Syd’Quan Thompson. He stepped up to the challenge, catching eight passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns and had Thompson scratching his head for most of the game. The Bears run defense bottled up the Gophers rushing attack, allowing them to blitz Weber and force him into mistakes which proved costly for the Gophers at the end of the game.
Best showed why he is considered the best running back in the country, rushing for 131 yards on 26 attempts and scoring five touchdowns. The Gophers shut down the Cal passing game for most of this contest and forced Best to beat them, which he did. Gopher linebacker Lee Campbell said this of Best, “He’s fast. He’s probably one of the fastest running backs I’ve ever played against. You just have to try and keep him corralled and you saw what happens when he gets to the outside.” He ran through and around the Gophers defense and was the reason the Bears won this football game.
It was a hard fought game for both teams and they both should be proud of the effort they put forth. For the Gophers, it’s about taking that next step to become a contender in the Big Ten. For Cal, it’s about shutting teams down when they have their foot on their throat.
Photos Courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletic Communications, University of California
Sunday, September 20, 2009
By KENNY FRANEK