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Cal ends non-conference slate with shaky win before Pac-12 gauntlet begins

Cal ends non-conference slate with shaky win before Pac-12 gauntlet begins

BERKELEY — Because his Cal team scored the game’s final 31 points, coach Justin Wilcox was able to swallow hard and move on after a poor start that allowed Idaho to jump out to a 17-0 lead on Saturday afternoon in front of 36,810 fans at Memorial Stadium.

Wilcox also knows his team’s performance in a 31-17 win over the nation’s fifth-ranked FCS team won’t translate a week from now when the Bears (2-1) open their final Pac-12 season at Washington, which is ranked No. 8 in FBS.

“We’re all going to sit up here and say we’ve got to be better. It’s true. Now it needs to be reflected,” Wilcox said. “The size and explosiveness — and this is not a knock in Idaho — next week’s going to be different.”

The Huskies improved to 3-0 after going on the road and scoring the game’s first 41 points against Michigan State in a 41-7 win over the Spartans. Washington is one of eight Pac-12 teams that entered Week 3 ranked in the AP Top 25, and all eight will likely remain there for Week 4, too.

Quarterback Sam Jackson V threw second-quarter touchdown passes of 20 yards to Jeremiah Hunter and 36 yards to Trond Grizzell as the Bears closed the gap to 17-14 by halftime.

Jackson then dashed 27 yards for a TD at 11:03 of the third quarter that gave Cal the lead for good against a Vandals squad (2-1) that was coming off a 33-6 rout over Nevada and hoping to become the first FCS team since 2015 to beat two FBS opponents in the same season.

Cal quarterback Sam Jackson V (5) looks to pass the ball against Idaho during the first quarter of their game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Here are takeaways from Cal’s victory:

BEARS RUN OVER THE VANDALS: The difference in the game ultimately (besides three Idaho turnovers) was Cal’s ability to run the ball for 256 yards, including 137 by Isaiah Ifanse, who came to Berkeley from Montana State, a Big Sky Conference rival to Idaho.

Ifanse had 17 games of 100 yards or more at Montana State.

“The offensive line was able to re-establish the line of scrimmage and it made our reads definitely a lot easier in the run game.” Ifanse said. “It just opened up a lot of things in our offense.”

Ashton Stredick added a career-best 77 yards and Jackson ran for 41 while also passing for 108 yards and the two scores.

“We just kind of overpowered them in the second half of the game,” Jackson said.

Cal’s Isaiah Ifanse (22) runs in for a touchdown against Idaho during the fourth quarter of their game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. Cal defeated Idaho 31-17. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

LIFE WITHOUT OTT: Wilcox said early in the week he expected star running back Jaydn Ott to be available after leaving the Auburn game last week when he hit the turf hard. But Ott did not dress for this one.

“I did think that (he would play). I wasn’t being dishonest,” Wilcox said. “Then he was just not available to play today. As of this morning, that was what was reported to me. Look forward to getting him back as soon as possible.”

Ifanse said he figured by Friday he would be starting.

THE FIRST 21 MINUTES: After the first six minutes of the second quarter, Idaho had a 17-0 lead and had outgained Cal 200 yards to 47.

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Wilcox didn’t think his players looked past Idaho, but he acknowledged the team played poorly. “I expected us to start much better than we did,” he said.

Momentum shifted after the Bears scored back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter.

“The No. 1 thing was just the energy. Once we get that spark, that’s when we get rolling,” Jackson said. “Next week we’ve got to come out and throw the first punch.”

Wilcox saw improvement after the poor start, but it still wasn’t what he expects. “We played better throughout the game. But it was real streaky, it felt like.”

LUCKHURST MAKES ONE: Sophomore placekicker Michael Luckhurst, who missed five of seven field goal attempts in Cal’s first two games, nailed a 40-yarder with 10:37 left in the game on his first try of the day.

“I give him credit for getting in there and staying with it. That’s not easy,” Wilcox said. “That position, everybody sees it. I’m proud of him for playing through that.”

Luckhurst got one more chance in the final 2 minutes, barely missing wide to the left on a 42-yard kick.

Cal’s Michael Luckhurst (16) kicks a field goal against Idaho during the fourth quarter of their game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. Cal defeated Idaho 31-17. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)