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Ott and California’s defense step up in 24-21 win over Arizona State

California running back Jaydn Ott (1) runs against Arizona State linebacker Caleb McCullough (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

California running back Jaydn Ott (1) runs against Arizona State linebacker Caleb McCullough (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)sohn)

BY MICHAEL WAGAMAN contributing

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Jaydn Ott rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown, California’s defense made a pivotal interception then forced a turnover on downs to stop Arizona State’s final drive, and the Golden Bears beat the Sun Devils 24-21 on Saturday.

Sam Jackson V passed for 130 yards and a touchdown as the Golden Bears (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) bounced back from last week’s lopsided loss to No. 8 Washington to beat the Sun Devils for the second time in the last five meetings between the conference rivals.

“That’s all offensive line, they came out ready to play,” Ott said. “They were getting movement on the first level on to the second level. That opened up the holes and we were able to chunk away 4- or 5-yard runs every time.”

Cal’s defense came up big despite allowing 430 yards. The Bears held the Sun Devils to 3 of 15 on third downs.

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“Liked the win, that’s what we needed badly,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said “We just have to learn how to eliminate some of these things that are giving us so much trouble, offensive penalties. Defensively it’s like playing good, playing good, then a bust. It was really throughout the game.”

That was a sentiment shared by many of the Bears players.

“It starts with me and we kind of came out a little flat,” Jackson said. “I don’t think I played too well. I just have to slow the game for myself. I knew what I had, got excited, and I just missed a lot of throws.”

Trenton Bourguet passed for 344 yards for the Sun Devils (1-4, 0-2). Cam Skattebo added 59 yards on 24 carries.

With their quarterback situation in flux all season as Jackson and Ben Finley have vied for the starting job, the Bears focused on their running game against the Sun Devils.

Isaiah Infanse ran for 26 yards and a score while Jackson scrambled often and had 49 yards on two keeper plays wiped out by penalty.

There wasn’t much Arizona State could do to contain Ott until late in the fourth quarter. Cal’s sophomore repeatedly broke the Sun Devils’ front line and made big, physical gains while helping the Bears find some consistency to their offense.

Ott scored Cal’s first touchdown of the second half on a 2-yard run following an interception by nickel back Matthew Littlejohn.

Bourguet came back and scored on a 3-yard keeper then made the two-point conversion to pull the Sun Devils within 24-21.

Cal missed a chance to seal the win when Ott was stopped short on a 4th-and-goal from the 1 but Arizona State couldn’t capitalize. Defensive back Patrick McMorris knocked down Bourguet’s last-ditch throw on fourth down.

Arizona State tried to get tricky on its second scoring drive but had to settle for a field goal after a penalty erased a touchdown.

Skattebo lined up in the shotgun and took a direct snap then made a short shovel pass to Elijah Badger who was in motion and scampered into the end zone untouched. Cal challenged the played and the touchdown was overturned due to an illegal substitution.

THE GAMBLER

The Sun Devils went for it on fourth down five times, three in the first half, and converted twice. They were lined up for a fourth try in the third quarter before a penalty moved the ball back, forcing Arizona State to settle for a field goal. Sun Devils’ coach Kenny Dillingham has been willing to gamble in those types of situations all season.

“We knew going into the game they were going to be really aggressive,” Wilcox said. “If you’re going to go for it that many times, there needs to be a consequence. If we stop them on fourth down we have to, in turn, put the ball in the end zone. That’s momentum.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Arizona State: The Sun Devils had plenty of chances to take control of the game but couldn’t make a play big enough to sway momentum in their favor. They also hurt themselves by failing on their fourth-down attempts. On the bright side Jalin Conyer’s caught a short pass from Bourguet in the first quarter to take sole possession of the school record for receptions by a tight end. It was the 56th catch of Conyer’s career, breaking a tie he shared with Chris Coyle.

California: The Bears were in desperate need of a win of any kind and they’ll definitely take a victory over Arizona State to get back on the winning path. It wasn’t always pretty, like a lot of Cal’s games this season, but it was enough to get the W.

UP NEXT

Arizona State: The Sun Devils return to Mountain America Stadium to host Colorado and head coach Deion Sanders on Oct. 7.

California: Hosts No. 19 Oregon State at Memorial Stadium next Saturday.