The Holiday Bowl pretty much played to script since Fozzy Whittaker went down: at times anemic offense with flashes of explosiveness, outstanding defense with a few breakdowns. On this cool San Diego night, for the second time in five games starting with that early November afternoon in Columbia, that was enough for a Longhorn victory as Texas beat Cal 21-10.
Texas finished the 2011 season 8-5, a reasonable improvement over the disastrous 5-7 2010 campaign. Mack Brown said there is a “huge difference in 8-5 and 7-6.”“… the guys can walk outta here with their heads up,” Brown added. “We’re not jumping up and down screaming, but this was a pivotal game for us in my estimation to let these seniors go out and show that they’ve got us headed back up the hill where we want to be. We played in the Holiday Bowl in ’03, won a BCS game in ’04 and won the national championship in ’05. We won the Holiday Bowl in ’07 we won a BCS game in ’08 and we lost the national championship game in ’09 so hopefully this is a step forward.”David Ash certainly seemed to take a step forward after a unproductive first quarter. After completing three of seven passes for just five yards in the first 15 minutes, Ash went 11 of 16 for 137 yards over the final three quarters and led the team on three TD drives. He caught one TD pass from Jaxon Shipley and threw another, a 47-yarder, to Marquise Goodwin. His performance earned the game’s offensive MVP honors. “The key for young quarterbacks is what he did tonight, be patient,” offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said, adding the importance of no turnovers to the outcome. Cal turned the ball over five times on one Zach Maynard interception and four fumbles. Texas only scored once off of the Bears’ miscues, but once was enough on a night when the offense turned in several explosive plays, along with several near misses. Marquise Goodwin had three catches for 49 yards but was within inches of a couple more huge plays along the sideline. Jaxon Shipley was also fingertips away from a potential long TD.Cal’s longest play of the night was a 21-yard Keenan Allen reception and its longest run was just 16 yards, also from Allen. The Horns consistently harrassed Maynard, registering six sacks and 13 TFLs. The Bears finished with just 195 total yards.“Excellent defensive performance by Texas,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said.Over the first five offensive series of the game, Texas managed just one first down, and it came on a fourth down QB sneak on the Horns’ opening drive. On six third down attempts on those five series, Texas converted exactly zero. Ash threw past the chains on three of them, but Mike Davis missed two catchable (although high) passes and a wide open Jaxon Shipley couldn’t catch up with an Ash overthrow. The other three attempts harkened back to the horizontal passing game of old. At the end of the first quarter, Texas had just seven total yards. Midway through the second quarter, the sixth series was the charm for Ash and the Longhorn offense. After a terrible Cal punt set Texas up at the Bears’ 48, Ash, operating under center in an I formation, play-actioned to Malcolm Brown before hitting Shipley for 14 on a crossing route. A Brown run up the middle on first down went nowhere, but a fake to Joe Bergeron out of a two tight end set freed Blaine Irby down the middle of the field and Ash laid it in for a 29-yard completion to the five. Then, on first and goal, Bryan Harsin went to his bag of tricks with a handoff-pitch-throw that ended up with Ash on the receiving end of a Shipley throw for the touchdown. That was enough to give Texas a 7-3 halftime lead.Outside of the usual first possession struggles, the Texas defense puts the clamps on Cal in the first half. The Bears drove 40 yards for a field goal on their opening possession but totaled just 33 more yards on 25 plays before the break. Quandre Diggs intercepted Cal QB Zach Maynard at the Texas 43 and Calvin Howell recovered a fumble at the Bears’ 19 on a bad QB-RB exchange, but neither turnover resulted in points when the offense went backwards after each TO (leading to a punt and a Justin Tucker 38-yard miss).Cal opened the second half with a 10-play, 69-yard drive capped by a walk-in, six-yard touchdown run that put the Bears on top 10-7. That drive almost doubled Cal’s offensive output for the game up to that point. Texas took its first drive of the second half 76 yards on just four plays to answer Cal’s long opening drive. The drive may have been set up on the first two plays, the first a 19-yard run by Malcolm Brown and the second a play-action keeper by Ash. After another run up the middle by Brown, Ash executed a perfect play-action fake to Brown and hit Marquise Goodwin behind the Bears’ defense for a 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown. After the Horns’ quick answer, Cal again had some early success moving into Texas territory on just three plays before Calvin Howell forced the Bears’ third turnover of the game. But just like with the first two, the Longhorn offense lost yardage. Forced turnover number four, though, finally resulted in points. Cal went from a first down at the Texas 27 after a short punt (and return) off the goalline by Justin Tucker to a third and 27 at the 44 after a dead ball personal foul. That’s when Adrian Phillips flew into the backfield and knocked the ball loose from a scrambling Maynard. Chris Whaley snatched the ball, setting up the Texas offense at the Bears’ 44. Goodwin took the first play of that drive and started left, cut up the middle and raced to the left sideline before being forced out of bounds at the seven after 37 yards. Two plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Cody Johnson’s four-yard TD run gave the Horns a 21-10 lead and all the scoring it needed.
“We like 13-0, that would be ideal,” Ash said on the 8-5 season. “It is what it is, and we grew from it and we won a Holiday Bowl and there is a lot of good things that happened but we’re on the way up and that’s what we’re excited about at Texas.”