Publish date:

Cal Football: Justin Wilcox Wants the Focus Bears Showed During 2019 Lightning Game

OLB Kuony Deng `doubtful' to face Washington - his season remains in question

What Cal coach Justin Wilcox remembers most about the 2019 game at Washington was not the lightning storm that delayed the game for 2 hours, 39 minutes or the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the Bears consumed while waiting or the fact that the game didn’t end until 1:22 a.m.

What sticks with him is the lesson he tries to impart to all of his players.

The key to the Bears’ 20-19 victory in Seattle, he said, was “Focusing on what makes the difference between playing good football and not playing good football. That’s the next play, it’s the technique and not getting distracted by things that you have zero control over.

“We need to do a better job on that with our own team right now. That team did a pretty good job of it on that day, of not getting distracted and staying focused on what we were there to do.”

Cal (1-2) treks north to play the Huskies (1-2) again Saturday night (6:30 p.m. kickoff) in the Pac-12 opener for both teams. A repeat of the extreme weather conditions the team faced two years ago is unlikely. The forecast calls for a high of 75 degrees in Seattle on Saturday, partly cloudy with just a 7-percent chance of rain.

But there will be issues that arise during Saturday’s 100th all-time meeting between the programs and Wilcox liked the way his team stayed on task in 2019.

“What I’m more concerned with is that we’re doing that now and today,” he said.

The Sept. 7, 2019 victory over the 14th-ranked Huskies was a big one. Cal snapped a 10-year, 15-game losing streak against Top-25 opponents in road games, and halted UW’s home win streak at 15 games.

The game was scoreless with 9:46 to play in the first quarter when it was suspended because of the lightning at 7:51 p.m.

UW coach Jimmy Lake said this week he thought during the delay there was a decent chance the 2019 game would be canceled. Wilcox said he recalls the schools’ athletic directors and the Pac-12 office discussing a range of scenarios.

“Kind of anything and everything,” he said. “What we were trying to do was get through the lightning and start playing again.”

The coaches held brief meetings with players, who then removed their pads to relax. When it became obvious the delay would persist, Cal sent out one of its staff members to retrieve some nourishment.

“You can’t sit there for three hours and bang your head against the locker. You’ve got to come down, get something to eat. We knew it was going to be a little while.

“Had some peanut butter and jellies and relaxed. Once they told us we could play, we went back out there.”

The game resumed at 10:30 p.m. and Cal won it when Greg Thomas converted a 17-yard field goal with 8 seconds left.

Among players still with the Bears, quarterback Chase Garbers passed for 111 yards and ran for 42, despite being sacked three times. Christopher Brooks rushed for 80 yards and Marcel Dancy ran for 72 and scored both Cal touchdowns. Kekoa Crawford caught three passes for 48 yards and Luc Bequette had seven tackles.

DENG DOUBTFUL TO FACE UW: Nothing definitive still on the status of outside linebacker Kuony Deng, but Wilcox didn’t sound convinced he will be back from an undisclosed lower-body injury he suffered two weeks ago at TCU.

“Right now it would be doubtful,” Wilcox said. “We’ll have some more definitive news on Thursday.”

Deng is meeting with specialists between now and then, said Wilcox, adding that he is “hopeful” Deng will be able to play again this season.

Wilcox said senior wide receiver Kekoa Crawford “likely” will be back this week after missing the Sacramento State game.

As for his own health status after undergoing undisclosed surgery last Tuesday to address an old injury that became problematic, Wilcox again downplayed the situation.

“I’m fine,” said Wilcox, who expects to still be on crutches on the sideline Saturday night. “Like I said, this is a temporary inconvenience for me. Other than that, it’s not impacting anything.”

Cover photo of 2019 lightning storm above above Husky Stadium by Jennifer Buchanan, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo