Justin Wilcox stayed at Cal with hopes of making Bears a contender

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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BERKELEY, Calif. — After five mostly mediocre seasons at California, coach Justin Wilcox could have been forgiven if he had decided to go after the head coaching job at his alma mater Oregon.

But instead of trying to escape to a school with more resources and a much better recent history, Wilcox chose to stay at Cal where he still believes he can turn the Golden Bears into a Pac-12 contender.

“The goal is to win the Pac-12 championship,” he said. “That’s been our goal. We work every day toward that. We know that’s a lofty goal. With the guys on the team, the people in our building, that’s what the goal is, where it’s been set. We have conviction that if we take care of the things we can control, we give ourselves an opportunity to attain it.”

The Bears haven’t come close since the heyday of Jeff Tedford about 15 years ago. Cal has a 26-28 record in five seasons under Wilcox, including a 15-25 mark in the conference as he has done a much better job rebuilding the defense than he has developing a top-flight offense.

Cal ranks last in the conference in scoring and sixth worst in the Power 5 at 23.2 points per game since the school replaced the offensive-minded Sonny Dykes with the defensive-oriented Wilcox in 2017.

Finding a way to fix that with mostly new personnel on offense will go a long way to determining whether Wilcox’s goal of competing for a conference title will ever become a reality.

“We are inexperienced on offense at a number of positions, but we feel the talent is probably greater than what we’ve had,” Wilcox said. “The skill positions, we feel like we’re going to have some more guys create explosive plays. We as coaches have to put them in position to do that.”

UNDER CENTER

The Bears lost almost all of their top skill position players on offense in 2022 with the biggest change coming at quarterback where Purdue transfer Jack Plummer replaces four-year starter Chase Garbers.

Plummer threw for 3,405 yards in 17 games for the Boilermakers with 26 TD passes and 10 interceptions. He started the first four games last season with seven TD passes and no interceptions before being replaced with a 3-1 record, leading to his transfer after the season.

“He’s probably a bit better than we thought,” Wilcox said. “A very heady guy. He’s played college football at a high level. He can throw the ball. Jack is a passer. It’s very natural for him to deliver it. We’re excited about where he’s going.”

CLOSE CALLS

Despite the woes on offense and local COVID restrictions that hampered the team late in the season, Cal still had a chance for a much better record in 2021. Five of the seven losses last season for the Bears came by seven points or less as Cal was in nearly every game.

KEY RETURN

Cal is excited about the return of versatile defensive lineman Brett Johnson, who missed last season after suffering a serious hip injury in a car accident. Johnson has the ability to play inside and outside on the line and should anchor the front for the Bears defense.

FAMILY TIES

The Bears defense should get a boost from a transfer who’s very familiar with the defensive staff. Linebacker Jackson Sirmon transferred from Washington to play for his father, Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon. Jackson Sirmon had 91 tackles last season for the Huskies.

SCHEDULE STUFF

The Bears open the season with nonconference home games against UC Davis and UNLV. Then things get tough with a visit to No. 5 Notre Dame. Cal gets a break by playing Colorado instead of Utah from the old South Division. After back-to-back home games to end October against Washington and No. 11 Oregon, Cal plays three of its four November games against in-state rivals No. 14 USC, Stanford and UCLA.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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Lee Coleman/Getty Images
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.