AUSTIN — At moments, Jerrod Heard made Texas’ fans forget all about their concerns.
But the Longhorns’ defense ruined everything.
During the first half, Texas’ redshirt freshman quarterback dazzled, completing 11 of his first 15 passes for 222 yards while rushing for 54 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
In the process, the Longhorns built a double-digit advantage, 24-14, with 92 seconds remaining before halftime.
Then, it all fell apart.
After holding the Golden Bears out of the end zone on four of their first six possessions, Texas’ defense collapsed, allowing California’s high-powered offense to catch fire, scoring 31 unanswered points before holding on for a 45-44 victory.
Despite posting a season-high 650 yards of total offense, Texas head coach Charlie Strong said it was not enough to compensate for his team’s defensive woes.
“I’m excited about our offense,” he said, “but it is being negated by how poorly we are playing on defense.”
Coming into the contest, the Bears averaged 54.0 points per game, and while they got off to a slow start, it took less than two minutes to rediscover their rhythm.
Led by quarterback Jared Goff, Cal closed the first half with 10 consecutive points as Vic Enwere capped off a 40-second, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run before Heard’s lone interception moments later set up a successful 34-yard field goal from kicker Matt Anderson with four seconds left in the first half.
And from there, the rout was on.
The Bears outscored the Longhorns 21-0 in the third quarter to blow the game wide open or so it appeared.
After falling behind 45-24, Texas scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, pulling within a single point on the heels of Heard’s 45-yard touchdown run with 1:11 remaining, but Nick Rose missed the extra point, and Cal (3-0) escaped Austin with a narrow win.
“I thought the extra point was automatic,” Strong said. “I didn’t even look. ... Then, all of a sudden, I saw one of Cal’s players running down the field, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Early on, thanks to Heard’s playmaking abilities, Texas (1-2) was poised for an upset.
After falling behind 7-0, Heard, who accounted for more than 500 yards of offense and three touchdowns, engineered three consecutive scoring drives, posting the Longhorns’ first points of the game on a 2-yard run with 5:16 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Texas senior running back Johnathan Gray recorded a pair of touchdowns, scoring on runs measuring 4 and 6 yards to put the Longhorns ahead 24-14, but it would not hold.
Cal rushed for 143 yards in the third quarter, sandwiching touchdowns from Enwere and Khalfani Muhammad around Goff’s 3-yard scoring pass to Kenny Lawler to open a 45-24 cushion.
For the game, the Bears posted 548 total yards of offense as Goff completed 27 of 37 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns with Lawler hauling in six passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, Muhammad ran for 164 yards on just 10 carries.
The scoring drought ended early in the fourth quarter when Heard rushed for a 13-yard touchdown, and with three minutes remaining in the game, Texas sophomore D’Onta Foreman broke free for a 27-yard touchdown. Less than two minutes later, Heard scored to trim the deficit to a point, but the Longhorns could not complete the comeback.
Heard threw for 364 yards (20-31-1) and rushed for 163 yards, while Daje Johnson caught five passes for 145 yards.
“He’s exciting,” Strong said of Heard, “and he has brought excitement to this team. On the sideline, when our offense takes the field, all the guys are just locked in.”
Despite the outcome, Strong believes the performance is something to build on.
“The team grew up tonight,” he said. “I watched them come together. Nobody had a selfish attitude, and they just continued to scratch until they got back in the game.”