The game remained in the balance when the Colorado defense put together one of its most timely stops of the season.
While the Buffaloes eventually held off Cal for a thorough 44-28 homecoming victory Saturday at Folsom Field, the Golden Bears had a golden opportunity to make it a far more stressful game for the Buffs immediately after halftime.
Trailing CU 27-14 at the break, Cal promptly went on the march after receiving the second-half kickoff, mixing its rushing attack and short passing game to move inside CU's 40-yard line. A touchdown at that stage would have pulled Cal within a touchdown with the better part of two full quarters to go. Derek McCartney and Jase Franke, however, made certain that didn't happen.
On first down from the CU 37, McCartney batted down a pass from Cal quarterback Ross Bowers. Franke completed the defensive stop, throwing Cal running back Patrick Laird for a five-yard loss on second down before batting down Bowers' third-down attempt.
Cal was forced to punt and never truly threatened the Buffs' advantage the rest of the way.
"We just knew that we needed to come out and do our job," McCartney said. "Each guy has got to do their job on defense, and from there people can make plays. That's what we tried to do and it worked out for us. We knew they were going to come out and be ready for us in the second half, so we had to come out ready as well."
After that series, the Buffs' defense recorded three consecutive three-and-outs, getting off the field quickly to allow the CU offense to slowly pad the lead.
While Cal finished with 435 total yards, that figure was padded by two late Golden Bears drives when CU was firmly in control — and one of those late drives ended with Nick Fisher's highlight-reel 100-yard interception return for a touchdown that would have been credited as a 109-yard return at the NFL level.
"Mac talks about us being brothers and playing for each other all the time," Fisher said, "and I feel like that's what we did this week."
Cal managed just 61 yards rushing — the lowest mark produced by CU's defense during Pac-12 Conference play and a significant step forward for a unit that had allowed 295.7 rushing yards per game and 7.2 yards per attempt over the previous three contests. Though Cal was forced to throw late, the Golden Bears still averaged only 2.4 yards per rushing attempt.
"A lot more effort. We made all the corrections," Franke said. "I think we've always had the heart. It was just getting everything straightened out. I don't think I did anything to help the momentum. I think everybody just kept playing and remembered everything that we did and emphasized in practice."