BERKELEY, Calif. — Sam Jackson V scampered for a 27-yard touchdown to give California its first lead early in the second half as the Golden Bears rebounded from a sluggish start on Saturday to beat Idaho 31-17, avoiding what would have been their first defeat to an FCS opponent.
Cal (2-1) fell behind 17-0 early but rallied with 31 straight points, dominating the second half behind a strong run game and a defense that pitched a shutout after halftime. Cal finished with 256 rushing yards to Idaho’s 108 and forced three turnovers while not committing any.
Cal coach Justin Wilcox said he expected a much better start. He felt that his team was ready to play — but they “just didn’t play well.”
“It was great to see the guys battle through that,” Wilcox said. “You don’t want that to happen, but it did. I’m proud of how they fought through it. We played better throughout the game. It just felt real streaky on our part.”
The Bears opened up their first double-digit lead late in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Ifanse, filling in for injured starter Jadyn Ott. Ifanse finished with 137 yards on 22 carries, and the score gave Cal a 28-17 lead heading into the fourth. A Vandals’ fumble and recovery by Cal on the next Idaho possession gave the Bears some breathing room.
“Our goal is three turnovers a game so we can give the ball back to the offensive guys, so they can put points on the scoreboard,” said defensive back Nohl Williams, who had an interception in the second quarter.
Jackson came off the bench in the Bears’ loss to Auburn last week and started Saturday. His touchdown put Cal up for good, after it seemed the Bears were in danger of a home upset. Idaho (2-1) was looking for its second straight win over an FBS opponent, coming off a resounding 33-6 win over Nevada last week.
The TCU transfer said he doesn’t have much experience, with Saturday being the first full game at the collegiate level.
“So I feel like seven or eight games, it’ll be like night and day, honestly,” Jackson said.
Gevani McCoy, who was 24-for-42 passing for 248 yards, led the Vandals to a 17-0 start. After a field goal on its first drive, Idaho found the end zone late in the first quarter on a 19-yard run by Anthony Woods, who turned a broken play into a touchdown that put Idaho in front 10-0 after a quarter.
Idaho scored on its first drive of the second quarter, when McCoy scrambled up the middle on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line.
Cal responded with 14 unanswered points before halftime on passing touchdowns on consecutive drives by Jackson. The quarterback threaded the needle to Jeremiah Hunter for a 20-yard touchdown pass, then after the Bears stopped Idaho on on downs, found a wide-open Trond Grizzell for a 36-yard score for his first career touchdown catch.
Idaho entered the game winless against Cal in four tries and the game was the first meeting between the schools since 1934.
Idaho head coach Jason Eck said he thought his team had control of the game up 17-0, but didn’t elevate their game after Cal found a rhythm. Eck called the Bears’ defensive line the best the Vandals would face all season.
“There will be some positives we can build on, but we’ve got to play better,” Eck said. “Cal’s a lot better than Nevada, and we’re going to play other teams that are a lot better than Nevada in conference.”