Cal falls to TCU in bowl game for the ages

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So apparently defense can’t win championships — all on its own.

In a game that threatened to have more turnovers than points, it was Cal who walked out of Chase Field with the 10-7 loss, despite its defense being stingy in points for the entirety of the game.

The Bears gave up just 28 passing yards. TCU quarterback Grayson Muehlstein had nearly as many interceptions (4) as completions (7). Cal safety Jaylinn Hawkins had three picks, and inside linebackers Jordan Kunaszyk and Evan Weaver had yet another phenomenal game, with each registering 14 tackles. But it still wasn’t enough — in a game that might go down in infamy as the best-worst bowl game ever.

“We put ourselves in a position to win a bowl game against an excellent program, and it hurts,” head coach Justin Wilcox said. “Losing sucks. You get kicked in the guts. And we have to own that.”

The interception may have been Cal’s best offense on Wednesday night, but it was TCU’s, too. Bears starting quarterback Chase Garbers was 12-of-19 for 93 yards — but he threw three interceptions. Chase Forrest, who came in to start the second half, went 5-of-14 for 71 yards — and he threw two interceptions.

Wilcox said after the game that the decision to switch quarterbacks was designed to spark an offense that hadn’t just struggled on Wednesday night but had struggled all season.

“Chase Forrest had practiced really well in the bowl practices, and we wanted to give him a shot. So we did,” Wilcox said. “Chase Forrest hasn’t played much, and that’s a tough position to be in.”

Wilcox added that despite the outcome of the game — and the throws that Forrest certainly would like to have back — what the redshirt senior has meant to this team can’t be quantified by a single outing.

“I would rather sit and talk about what Chase Forrest has done for the program off the field that nobody really sees because he’s been a guy that’s helped us — helped us along the way in so many different ways,” Wilcox said. “So I know it crushes him, it kills him. But, in the end, Chase Forrest is a better man because of his time at Cal Football, and we’re better off for having him, even though it didn’t turn out that way tonight.”

Cal’s running game struggled to ever get going, with Patrick Laird only mustering up 29 yards; he sat out for the entirety of the second half with an apparent left shoulder injury. In his stead, Chris Brown had just 59 yards. The Bears’ eight receivers combined for 164 yards — and no touchdowns. Cal’s lone score of the game came in the first quarter when Garbers ran the ball into the endzone on a designed sneak.

Defensively, it was a game for the ages. The nine total interceptions tied the record for most picks in a bowl game. Kunaszyk said that as many games as he’s played in, he’s not sure he’s ever been in a game quite like the one on Wednesday night.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come through as a defensive unit when the team needed us to,” Kunaszyk said. “But I’m just really grateful for this group. I’m grateful for this coaching staff. I’m grateful for so many things. And it’s unfortunate that it ended like this, but yeah.”

Hawkins, with his three interceptions and six total tackles, was the Defensive MVP of the game.

“It was just my defense, man, just the front seven,” Hawkins said. “It’s just the communication, everybody communicating, everybody being on point. That’s when big plays come, when everybody’s doing their job and everybody’s playing for each other. We’re a family, so whoever gets a pick … we all contribute to that, and we all play hard together.

“And, you know, we’re family.”

This article originally appeared here.

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