The only hope for Arizona and its beleaguered defense at California was its offense saving the Wildcats in another classic comeback in this series like in 2014 with the game-winning Hail Mary play as time expired in a shootout won by the Wildcats at Arizona Stadium.
Arizona’s 536 yards of total offense against California on Saturday provided that hope.
“When we scored to make it an 11-point game again, to make it 42-31, and we got the ball back, I was convinced we were going to win the game 45-42,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said during the KCUB (1290-AM) postgame show.
No such luck.
Arizona (2-2) lost 49-31 to the Golden Bears (3-1) to open the Pac-12 season.
The Wildcats had an ominous start, allowing California freshman Jaydn Ott to run 73 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the game.
And the defense had a deflating finish, watching Ott jet through the line and sprint for a 72-yard score with 4:56 left.
— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) September 25, 2022
Ott rushed for 274 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns, leading a rushing attack that amassed 354 yards against the Wildcats.
“I mean, we couldn’t stop the run,” Fisch said. “When you can’t stop the run, you run into the issues of you have to try to press and I think we started pressing there at the end. We started turning the ball over in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what cost us but as we’re building this thing, we know that there’s going to be games like this. We just can’t have too many of them in a row. We know what we have to fix and we’re gonna be determined to do that.”
Although Cal ran at will and its quarterback, Jack Plummer, looked like Jake Plummer, Arizona was not in despair until 5:51 remained in the game.
At that point, Arizona trailed 42-31 and advanced the ball from its 30 to the Cal 33.
That’s when Fisch had visions of pulling out a 45-42 win.
Instead, he saw his quarterback throw in an interception on a second-and-10 play.
Two plays into Cal’s ensuing possession, Ott broke free for the 72-yard score to the build the margin to 49-31.
Fisch still harbored hope, as he should as the head coach.
“I just wanted to get a nice drive together and make it 49-38 and see what happens next,” he said. “Unfortunately, we forced it (with another de Laura interception in the end zone on a first-down play with 3:51 left).
“I’ve gotta call better plays.”
DORIAN SINGER 😳
— Arizona Athletics (@AZATHLETICS) September 25, 2022
De Laura attempted 45 passes and completed 27 of them for a career-high 401 yards with two touchdowns and the two demoralizing interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Plummer, the older brother of Arizona’s Will Plummer, completed 18 of 28 pass attempts for 245 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Will was Arizona’s starting quarterback last season when the Wildcats ended the longest losing streak in college football at the time — 20 games — by beating Cal 10-3 at Arizona Stadium.
Arizona was trying to lift itself off the mat in that game, and California had seven starters and most of its coaching staff stay home at Berkeley due to COVID-19 protocol. The Wildcats had 331 yards of total offense while Cal mustered only 122.
What a difference a year makes.
Jaydn Ott’s 274 rushing yards are the third-most in a single-game in Cal history
— CalFootballPR (@calfootballpr) September 25, 2022
The 213 yards for Arizona in the first quarter Saturday — when the Wildcats took a 14-7 lead — are the most allowed by California in six seasons with Justin Wilcox as coach.
California, which amassed 599 yards of total offense, wound up tying the most points in a game under Wilcox. The Golden Bears beat Oregon State 49-7 in Corvallis, Ore., in the 2018 season.
“We have to coach better. We have to play better. We have to learn from every opportunity we have,” Fisch said. “We’re trying to build this program for sustained success, and these games are going to occur. They just can’t happen back-to-back.
“We can’t have another game like this next (week at home against struggling Colorado). We’re just going to continue to build off the success of the last game and learn from it.”
Things we love to see. ⬇️⬇️⬇️
— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) September 24, 2022
— Arizona had two 100-yard receivers in the game: Jacob Cowing finished with a career-high 133 yards on a career-high eight catches and Dorian Singer, who made a spectacular one-handed reception that led to a touchdown-scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, had a career-best 103 yards on eight receptions.
— Former walk-on Tanner McLachlan, a tight end, hauled in a career-high six catches for 88 yards.
— FIve-star prospect Tetiora McMillan had three catches for 59 yards with a touchdown.
— The 274 yards rushing by Ott is the most by an opposing back since Colorado running back Jarek Broussard rushed for 301 against the Wildcats in 2020 (a game won by the Buffaloes 24-13 at Arizona Stadium).
— Michael Wiley, who had the game-winning touchdown run last year against Cal, finished with 79 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown Saturday. His three touchdowns this season through four games matches his career-high for a season (2020).
— A tough turn of events for Arizona occurred in the second quarter when it appeared that Jerry Roberts made a fascinating one-handed grab for an interception before the ball hit the ground. Instead, the referees overruled the call after watching the replay. Four plays later, Jack Plummer completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Michael Sturdivant although it looked like Sturdivant got only his right foot in bounds. The referees’ call stood after replay, allowing Cal to tie the game at 14 with 11:56 left before half.
— Cal’s 9.3 yards a carry (38 rushes for 358 yards) is a single-game record against Arizona, topping the 9.02 mark at UCLA in 1972 (56 for 505).
— Redshirt freshman safety Isaiah Taylor set a career high with seven tackles, which tied for the team lead. He entered the game with just one career tackle in five games played.
ARIZONA 2022 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
|Sep 3||at San Diego State||W, 38–20||34,046||1-0||0-0|
|Sep 10||Mississippi State||L, 39-17||46,275||1-1||0-0|
|Sep 17||North Dakota State||W, 31–28||41,211||2-1||0-0|
|Sep 24||at California||L, 49-31||37,216||2-2||0-1|
|Oct 15||at Washington|
|Nov 5||at Utah|
|Nov 12||at UCLA|
|Nov 19||Washington State|
|Nov 25||Arizona State|
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.