BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Tim Mixon was tired of reacting and
adjusting to Illinois' quirks and tricks. He decided to put the
game away for California with one daredevil punt return.
And 79 yards later, he showed what the Golden Bears can do when
Justin Forsett ran for a career-high 187 yards and two
touchdowns, and Mixon returned a fourth-quarter punt for an
exciting score during 15th-ranked Cal's second-half rally for a
35-20 victory Saturday.
After trailing by 10 points at halftime, Cal won its ninth
straight home game with four touchdowns in 17 minutes spanning the
final two quarters. Forsett did much of the work, seemingly getting
stronger and quicker in the first significant playing time of his
career, but Mixon provided the flair.
Shortly after Forsett put Cal ahead 21-17 with a 2-yard scoring
run early in the fourth quarter, Mixon caught a punt in traffic and
broke three tackles before roommate Marcus O'Keith's crushing block
sprung him down the Cal sideline.
"I had already made up my mind I wasn't going to fair-catch the
ball," Mixon said. "I was going to return it right up the middle.
I knew once I got past the first two guys, I had the opportunity to
score. ... We had to get used to them. They run a very unusual
offense, but as time went on, we adjusted. We adapted."
O'Keith rushed for a late score and caught a 26-yard TD pass
from Joe Ayoob for the Golden Bears (3-0), whose injury-plagued
offense needed nearly three quarters to warm up. Cal played without
star tailback Marshawn Lynch, who sat out with a broken finger, and
starting offensive linemen Aaron Merz and Andrew Cameron, who had
Cal already lost starting quarterback Nate Longshore to a broken
leg in the season opener, but the injured players' replacements
have been uniformly impressive. That's gratifying to Tedford, who
has spent four years building a roster with depth comparable to
rival USC and the nation's best teams.
"We don't even really think about whether we're without
Marshawn or Nate or whatever," Tedford said. "For our kids to
bounce back like that in the second half doesn't surprise me.
That's who they are."
Forsett, an unheralded sophomore from Texas, escaped Lynch's
shadow with his relentless speed, which eventually wore down
Illinois' defense. He rushed for 130 of Cal's 291 yards after
"With the conditioning we have, we were better conditioned than
they were," said Forsett, who chose Cal after Notre Dame backed
out of a scholarship commitment two years ago. "We kind of wore
them out in the second half."
Tim Brasic passed for 228 yards and ran for a score, but the
Illini (2-1) wilted in the second half of their first loss under
new coach Ron Zook. Pierre Thomas was limited to 57 yards rushing
as Zook's inventive offense seemed to run out of ideas and energy
after halftime, when Tedford and defensive coordinator Bob Gregory
made their adjustments.
"We felt like we had them on the ropes, but we made too many
mistakes in the second half," Zook said. "They changed a lot of
things in the second half, some things they hadn't shown before.
... We started to play not to lose, and when you play not to lose,
you're not as aggressive."
Cal went 80 yards for a score in just 1:59 to open the game,
capped by Forsett's 5-yard TD run. But Illinois replied with an
80-yard drive capped by Thomas' 1-yard plunge, then went ahead with
a 16-play drive ending in Brasic's dive early in the second
Cal was embarrassed by Texas Tech's spread offense in last
season's Holiday Bowl, and Illinois' wide-open attack was nearly as
unstoppable in the first half.
Illinois held the ball for 21½ minutes before halftime,
including nearly 13 of the first 16. They converted six of seven
third downs during their two long touchdown drives.
When Jason Reda hit a 36-yard field goal at the halftime gun to
cap another lengthy drive, the Illini headed to the locker room
with a 17-7 lead. The players shouted and raised their helmets
while their vocal cheering section went crazy at Memorial Stadium.
The second half was much different.
"They were bringing different looks and pressuring us more,"
Brasic said. "Sometimes I'd look downfield, and no one was open.
These guys can hit, too."
Ayoob, who went 0-for-10 in his Cal debut two weeks ago, was
1-for-9 in the first half, again missing open receivers and making
poor decisions. Cal fans thought Ayoob, a junior college transfer,
had shaken off his jitters with a four-touchdown performance last
week against Washington.
Ayoob was better after halftime, finishing 8-of-17 for 121