BERKELEY, Calif. — California has followed a consistent formula in getting off to a 3-0 start under first-year coach Justin Wilcox. The Golden Bears have managed to overcome shaky starts with dominant second halves with help from a vastly improved defense.
Ross Bowers threw a touchdown pass on the opening drive of the third quarter and Cameron Goode added a game-sealing interception return for a touchdown in the Golden Bears 27-16 victory over Mississippi on Saturday night.
“We know the second half is our half,” Bowers said. “We just don’t flinch, whether we could be down, we could be up. This team is always prepared. We’re waiting for the adversity because that’s when we play our top game.”
The Golden Bears withstood two long TD passes by Rebels quarterback Shea Patterson but didn’t allow a score over the final 43 minutes to end the nonconference season undefeated.
Cal has overcome second-half deficits in all three games this season and has outscored the opposition 57-13 after halftime. That has helped the Bears get off to a surprising start to the season under Wilcox and sets up a showdown next week against No. 4 Southern California.
“It’s not always pretty with us but the guys find a way,” Wilcox said. “It’s really the third week in a row that nobody flinched. They came back when things got tough and that’s when we’ve been at our best. That’s a great quality to have.”
The loss ended a long week for Ole Miss (2-1) after interim coach Matt Luke had to miss a day of practice to attend a hearing by the NCAA’s Committee of Infractions and then the team traveled to California for the second time in school history. The Rebels are accused of 21 recruiting violations.
Ole Miss then blew a nine-point halftime lead as Cal took the second-half kickoff and drove 72 yards to cut the deficit to 16-14 on a 19-yard TD pass to Vic Wharton III. Matt Anderson added two field goals for the Bears.
The Rebels still had a chance for a comeback but Patterson was intercepted by Goode, who returned it 32 yards for the score with three minutes remaining.
“The defense played unbelievable and the offense did not,” Patterson said. “A lot of that’s on me. We just have to get back into the flow of things.”
Patterson, who threw for more than 400 yards in each of the first two games, hit DeMarkus Lodge on a 72-yard TD pass and D.K. Metcalf on a 71-yarder in the first half but wasn’t able to do much else. He finished 26 for 44 for 363 yards with three interceptions.
Mississippi: The Rebels self-destructed with 16 penalties for 113 yards, including having 12 men on the field for a punt to extend a Cal drive in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss also was once again unable to generate any kind of running game, gaining just 53 yards on 29 carries. The Rebels were also hurt by a hamstring injury that sidelined kicker Gary Wunderlich early in the game. Freshman Luke Logan badly missed his first career field goal attempt from 48 yards.
“Just from an execution standpoint, we have a lot to get cleaned up,” Luke said.
California: The Bears were once again susceptible to the big play, allowing the two TD passes of more than 70 yards. But they also showed they are vastly improved defensively under Wilcox. Cal had three interceptions and forced punts on five straight drives in the second and third quarters. The Bears also had a solid ground game with Patrick Laird running for 78 yards and a score and Vic Enwere rushing for 75 yards.
Cal played without star receiver Demetris Robertson, who had an undisclosed injury. Ole Miss lost its best wideout in the first quarter when A.J. Brown was hit hard on Patterson’s first interception and left the game with a knee injury. Brown had 385 yards receiving the first two games but didn’t catch a pass against Cal.
POINTS OFF THE BOARD: Anderson kicked a field goal late in the first half but Wilcox took the points off the board when Ole Miss was called for a personal foul on the play. Cal had a first-and-goal from the 9 but the move backfired when Bowers was intercepted in the end zone by C.J. Moore two plays later.
Mississippi: Visit No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 30.
California: The Bears hope to end a 13-game losing streak against USC on Saturday.
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