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2011 Holiday Bowl Recap

Cal Golden Bears vs Texas Longhorns - Texas 21, California 10

The Texas Longhorns might have won the 2011 Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, but it’s just as reasonable to say that the California Golden Bears lost it. Indeed, one of the most striking aspects of this clash on Wednesday night is that the winning team really wasn’t very impressive at all.

California was supposed to be a relatively easy mark for Texas. The Golden Bears drifted through a decidedly mediocre 7-5 season in a woefully bad Pac-12 Conference. Texas finished 7-5 after 12 games as well, but the Longhorns played in a Big 12 Conference that was stacked from top to bottom. Cal played an elite team once in a while in 2011, while Texas played upper-tier opponents on a regular basis. Texas didn’t own a particularly formidable offense, but given the struggles of Cal’s offense under quarterback Zach Maynard, the Longhorns were supposed to frolic in Southern California. They won, but they didn’t flourish, and for that reason, their win won’t be seen as a complete and unqualified success.

Texas led, 14-10, midway through the third quarter of a tense game whose flow and momentum were up for grabs. Cal’s offense, which motored down the field for a touchdown at the start of the third quarter, was on the move again in Texas territory. The Longhorns – one of the premier programs in college football – missed a bowl outright in their disastrous 2010 season. A loss to Cal in a bowl game would have given coach Mack Brown’s outfit another black eye. A national television audience wondered if California could push through to the finish line, but it was at that very moment when the Golden Bears literally lost hold of the ball and – in the process - allowed a significant opportunity to slip through their fingers.

Just when a touchdown drive and a 17-14 lead seemed like an increasingly likely scenario, Cal running back Isi Sofele fumbled on a first-down carry to put an end to the Bears’ promising downfield march. After that point in time, Cal never again mounted a serious scoring threat. Texas’s defense surged, roaring into the Bears’ backfield on a night when the Horns collected six sacks of Maynard. Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz watched with delight as his charges buried the Bears over the game’s final 20 minutes. California finished with just 7 yards rushing and under 200 total yards.

This explains how Texas won by 11 points despite its own puny offensive numbers.

The Longhorns might have won, but they didn’t look good doing it. Texas needed each and every one of Cal’s five turnovers to prevail. No, the Longhorns didn’t score on four of the Bears’ many giveaways, but those turnovers repeatedly robbed Cal of field position and momentum. Had coach Jeff Tedford’s Bears been better at securing the pigskin, Texas might have trailed in the fourth quarter. As it was, the Longhorns collected only 255 yards of offense and suffered because of deficient play by quarterback David Ash, who missed open receivers downfield on pass plays that would have gained at least 40 yards. Texas’s offense was never very consistent; the Longhorns played poorly enough to get thrashed on Wednesday, but Cal wasn’t good enough to take advantage. Texas scored more points and must therefore be seen as the victor, but California will be remembered as the team which lost this game despite owning many chances to author a different narrative.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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