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Cal's Lopsided Loss to UCLA Leaves a List of Ugly Issues

Bears will finish with a losing conference record for the 12th straight year

This was totally unexpected.

Cal was playing its best football of the season coming in, with the prospect of a bowl bid as incentive, and the Bears got outscored 25-0 in the second half and lost to UCLA 42-14 Saturday night in Pasadena.

It leaves with a laundry list of ugly issues for the Golden Bears:

---Cal will not be going to a bowl game. The long-shot chance of getting a bowl bid with a 5-7 record if there were not enough bowl-eligible teams to fill the 82 slots available to FBS teams disappeared shortly before kickoff, when four teams won their sixth game of the season to become bowl-eligible. If fewer than 82 teams had been bowl eligible, the Bears might have earned a bowl berth with a 5-7 mark based on its good Academic Progress Rate (APR), which is the deciding factor when there are not enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all the bowl spots. But when UCLA kicked off, there were 83 bowl-eligible teams for 82 spots -- i.e., none for 5-7 teams.

So Cal had to win its last two games to finish 6-6 to get to a bowl, and coming short in this fashion is not easy to swallow.

"It sucks obviously," Cal quarterback Chase Garbers said.

---The Bears (3-5 in the Pac-12) will finish with a losing conference record for the 12th consecutive season. Not since 2009, when the Bears finished 5-4 in the Pac-10 under Jeff Tedford, have the Bears had a winning conference record. They needed to win their final two games this season to end that streak, and that won't happen.

---Cal (4-7) will finish with a losing overall record for the second straight year, although you could excuse last season's pandemic-impacted 1-3 season.

---The Bears (3-5 in the Pac-12) will finish with a losing conference record for the 12th consecutive season. Not since 2009, when the Bears finished 5-4 in the Pac-10 under Jeff Tedford, have the Bears had a winning conference record. They needed to win their final two games this season to end that streak, and that won't happen.

---UCLA rolled up 282 yards on the ground against Cal, which came into the game leading the Pac-12 in run defense, allowing an average of 121.5 yards per game. Last week, Stanford had gained 43 yards on the ground against Cal, but UCLA recorded more rushing yards than any Cal opponent this season. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (102 rushing yards) and running back Zach Charbonnet (106) both had over 100 yards. Cal opponents had averaged 3.6 yards on the ground in the first 10 games. UCLA averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

---UCLA scored 42 points, the most by a Cal opponent this season, and the 28-point margin of defeat represented Cal most lopsided loss of the season. The Bears have not lost by a bigger margin since 2019, when they lost to Utah 35-0 when Cal was playing with its third-string quarterback. It was the most points Cal has given up in a game since they lost to Oregon 42-24 in 2018.

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox could not pinpoint a particular area that was the difference in the game.

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"Pick a matchup," he said, "They beat us everywhere."

---Garbers had been improving throughout the season and was playing the best football of his career coming into the game. In fact, he was playing the quarterback position as well as anyone in the conference. But against UCLA, which began the day ranked last in the conference in passing yards allowed per game, he was just 16-for-31 for 125 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating of 72.6 for the game was his lowest of the season.

A lot of the problems in the passing game were not his fault. UCLA plays a high-risk style of defense with a lot of blitzes, and Cal was ineffective in pass protecting, yielding four sacks, and the Bears were unable to create the explosive plays needed to beat that kind of defense.

---The most surprising aspect of Saturday's loss was how thoroughly Cal was defeated after the Bears had played so well in recent games.  Cal had won three of its previous four games, the one loss in that span being the 10-3 defeat against Arizona when 24 Cal players, including 10 starters, were unavailable because of COVID issues.  The Bears had beaten Oregon State and Stanford in consecutive games and were coming off that nearly perfect 41-11 victory over the Cardinal. 

"We expected to play better than we did, that's for sure," Wilcox said.

Cal was was peaking, or so it seemed. Saturday's performance came out of the blue.

"Yeah, extremely surprised," said Cal receiver Nikko Remigio, who gave the Bears a chance with two good kickoff returns. "We were confident. We had shown great flashes over the past few weeks. We were executing in all phases. We just came up short tonight, so I'm very surprised."

Everyone was surprised.

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Cover photo of Zach Charbonnet is by Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports

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Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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