Bears Knock Off No. 20 Oregon
BERKELEY – It's a cliché that in most cases is worthy of a definitive eye-roll. But when Cal linebacker Kuony Deng says he is playing every game this season like it's his last, it's hard not to lend it some credibility.
And it's hard not to think that attitude helped the Cal football team upend No. 23/21/20 Oregon 21-17 on Saturday at California Memorial Stadium for its first win of the season. Deng forced two fourth-quarter fumbles and had a team-high eight tackles, leading a second-half shutout by the Golden Bears' defense.
With the COVID-19 pandemic making 2020 arguably the most unpredictable and unruly college football season in history, no game is guaranteed. So Deng, a senior, figures any game he gets to play with his teammates is a gift.
"Every week we play a game, in my mind it's our last game of the season," Deng said. "I really don't know what's going to happen from week to week. Every time we play, I literally say to the guys around me that this might be our last game. We want to play as many as possible. That's really the goal."
The Bears know about the uncertainty of 2020 as well as any team. Their season-opener against Washington was canceled, as was their contest at Arizona State the following week. Then Cal ended up hurriedly organizing a replacement game at UCLA with less than 48 hours notice.
"There have been so many circumstances that have made things tough for us," Deng said. "I think we understood that we have a really good football team. Tough circumstances are going to come but we can't fall victim to them. We can't complain.We just have to bounce back. That's exactly what the guys on this football team did today."
The Bears' defense played a terrific second half after allowing two touchdowns in the final 2:08 of the second quarter to allow Oregon to claim a 17-14 lead. Two Ducks plays totaling 107 yards did the damage, but Cal allowed just 261 yards on Oregon's other 58 offensive plays during the game.
The Bears scored the only touchdown of the second half on quarterback Chase Garbers' 28-yard pass to wide receiver Nikko Remigio, who finished with six catches for 81 yards and a score. Remigio made a couple of other pivotal plays during the game, including a tough grab under tight coverage for a first down on 4th-and-3 in the fourth quarter
Remigio, who also made a spectacular diving catch for a 13-yard gain in the third quarter, bounced back strongly from a difficult performance last week during Cal's 24-23 loss to Stanford in the Big Game.
"It means a lot, especially after having a week like last week and not playing my best game and having some big, costly mistakes," Remigio said. "Just to be able to come back this week and regain the trust of my coaches and teammates, it was a great feeling."
The Bears had a laundry list of defensive heroes, from Deng to Cameron Goode's 3.5 tackles for loss to Braxten Croteau's big stop on fourth down to Camryn Bynum's two pass breakups, and more. Croteau came off the edge to throw Oregon running back CJ Verdell back for a loss of 1 yard on 4th-and-1 from the Cal 18 early in the fourth quarter. Later in the fourth, Deng knocked the ball loose from Ducks quarterback Tyler Shough and the fumble was recovered by Goode.
Deng then made the defensive play of the game by jarring the ball away from Oregon wide receiver Johnny Johnson III at the Cal 36 with 52 second remaining in the game. Freshman linebacker Muelu Iosefa recovered, and the Bears were able to run out the clock to secure the win.
"(Deng) came out there with great energy, great intensity and focus," Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. "He made two huge plays at the end of the game. He's a player that's capable of doing that. I'm really proud of him."
The Bears held Oregon – which entered the game leading the Pac-12 in scoring and total offense – to just 132 yards of offense in the second half.
Cal got 1-yard touchdown runs in the first half from Garbers and running back Bradrick Shaw, the latter culminating a 19-play, 80-yard drive.
The win marked the fourth year in a row under Wilcox that the Bears have defeated a nationally ranked opponent.
Cal continues the 2020 season next Saturday at Washington State.