Cover Photo Credit: Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
It took over two, long, painful years, but it is finally over. For the first time since October of 2019 at Colorado, the University of Arizona Wildcats can call themselves winners. It was not a pretty game, not at all as a 10-3 final score indicates.
Going into the weekend, the California Golden Bears were 3-5 and coming off of two straight victories at home against Colorado and Oregon State, both results convincing ones. Unfortunately for Cal, that momentum was nothing with the news that 24 players would be out for their game at Arizona, partially from injury but largely from Health and Safety Protocol being enforced in light of multiple positive Covid tests on the team. Among those unable to play were starting QB Chase Garbers, most of their offensive line, and both starting interior linebackers. Backup QB Ryan Glover would make his debut out of necessity.
On the other side of the ball, Arizona was of course coming into the game 0-8 on the year with their losing streak now at 20 thanks to a loss at USC the week before. The week before that they lost a narrow game at home against Washington 21-16 that helped prolong the losing streak, but their 41-34 finish against USC gave some hope to build upon. Their defense once again came in as one of the stronger ones in the nation, emphasizing the offense had been struggling and would continue to.
A casual football fan would not be to blame if they wanted to miss watching this game. It was completely scoreless until the 3rd quarter.
The first quarter was highlighted by Arizona driving into the Cal redzone on the first drive before QB Will Plummer's pass was batted up at the line of scrimmage and intercepted, ending any momentum for the quarter. In the second quarter, a nearly identical play happened, this time just outside the redzone as backup QB Luke Ashworth's (Plummer left temporarily due to injury) first pass of the day was tipped and picked off, further stalling any momentum that was gained.
Both teams entered halftime completely tied up at 0-0 in what had devolved into a game to be expected from a team of backups against a weak offense. Cal had barely gained 66 yards of offense over the first 30 minutes, punting seven times. On the Arizona side, they had gained 179 yards but had been incapable of making it into field goal range without turning over the ball. Cal QB Ryan Glover was 5-15 with only 40 yards while Plummer was 9-16 with 75 yards and the interception.
If you are a punting fan, you would have enjoyed the first 10 minutes of the 3rd quarter. Will Plummer threw his second interception of the game, this time on trying to find a target deep in double coverage. It wasn't until there was 5:46 left in the quarter that the Wildcats got into field goal range and stalled out, electing to have K Tyler Loop boot a 29-yarder through the uprights for 3 points. 3-0 Wildcats after nearly 40 minutes of the game had passed.
The Golden Bears, now seeing that offense is actually possible, proceeded to drive down the field in order to respond with their own field goal. With 2:09 left in the quarter, Cal K Nick Lopez nailed a 34-yarder to once again make the game level at 3-3.
From here it would be another 15 minutes until another score would occur. Both teams traded punts throughout the 4th quarter until the Wildcats gained some momentum. Coach Jedd Fisch put Stanley Berryhill III, Arizona's star player, in as the punt returner and he responded by taking one and putting the Wildcats in a good position to drive at their own 45. Eight plays later, the Wildcats found themselves in the endzone as RB Michael Wiley drove through the gap the offensive line created for a 10-yard rush and a score. An extra point later, it was now 10-3 Wildcats with 2:17 left in the game.
Cal got the ball back and simply ended up punting. With the ball and the stadium (mainly ZonaZoo) getting antsy, Will Plummer kneeled down a couple of times and it was over. For the first time in two years, the Wildcats had won. ZonaZoo fans dressed in red for the homecoming red-out climbed over the railing and ran onto the field to celebrate with their players, happy it was over. The first win in Jedd Fisch's tenure had finally been achieved.
On the stat sheet, the game was just plain bad. Cal was held to only 122 yards of total offense with Ryan Glover's struggles visible to all. He finished the day 11-29 with only 94 yards. The Cal punter Jamieson Sheahan punted 11 times for a total of 518 yards.
For Arizona, Plummer finished his game 16-28 with 129 yards and 2 interceptions while also running for 68 yards on 11 attempts, leading the team. His grit was also on display as he left the field on multiple occasions, returning each time to finish the game. Kyle Ostendorp, the Arizona punter, punted 7 times for 351 yards with four in the 20-yard line, earning him Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week. Kyon Barrs, one of Arizona's nose tackles on the defensive line, also notched himself the Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week with 5 tackles and 2.5 sacks, making an impact in the game.
In the end, this game was the ugly mess everyone should have expected. Cal moves on to play 4-5 USC at home in Berkeley while Arizona plays host to 6-3 Utah who just annihilated Stanford 52-7 on the road.
Good luck boys.