AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)—Struggling with Air Force’s unbalanced offensive line, California was in danger of another disappointing loss to the Falcons.
A little work on the sidelines and some adjustments at halftime by the Golden Bears turned the game into a rout.
J.J. Arrington ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns and California finally figured out Air Force’s unorthodox scheme, helping the 13th-ranked Bears pull away in the second half of a 56-14 victory Saturday.
Air Force knocked off Cal the last time the Bears were ranked in 2002 and another upset appeared to be brewing when the Falcons were within seven points at halftime.
Unable to figure out Air Force’s unbalanced offensive line—three linemen on one side of the ball, one on the other—the Bears spent much of the first half shifting around trying to decipher where to line up. That usually left the lineman out of position, not a good thing against the disciplined Falcons and their triple-option attack.
Once they worked things out, the Bears dominated the second half.
“They had a formation in the first that we hadn’t seen before and the kids had a hard time getting lined up to it,” Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. “We just got them settled down in the locker room and put all the sets on the board, and we just knew if we could just get aligned right we’d be OK. And that’s what we did. The guys got aligned right and we had a great second half.”
They sure did.
Taking advantage of the confused Bears, Air Force had 214 yards on its first three drives, scoring two touchdowns. But after Cal got itself aligned correctly, the Falcons managed just 12 yards in their next four drives. Air Force finished with 271 total yards—56 in the second half.
“I thought the first half we played well and moved the ball,” said Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney, who finished with 75 yards on 18 carries and was 9-for-15 for 89 yards passing. “In the second half, credit Cal for making some good adjustments. But there’s no excuse for that. We’ve still got to go out and make plays.”
The defense wasn’t much better, giving up the most points on opening day in school history.
Cal’s offense got off to a quick start and never really slowed. The Bears had touchdowns on their first three possessions and put the game away with five more in the second half. Cal finished with 573 yards to survive a difficult opening road test in a season that started with the school’s highest preseason ranking in 50 years.
“We were just running just the base plays and they just couldn’t stop it,” said Aaron Rodgers, who was an efficient 11-for-16 with no interceptions. “Our line dominated the line of scrimmage and made some huge holes.”
It just took a little while for Cal to shake the pesky Falcons.
Cal used a mix of short passes and runs behind the tackles to move 80 yards in 12 plays on its first drive. Arrington capped it with an 11-yard touchdown run, taking off right and cutting back through a hole up the middle to score easily.
Then Air Force did what it does best: control the clock.
With Carney looking more like a veteran than the first freshman quarterback to start on opening day, the Falcons chewed up more than 6 minutes on their first drive. Carney finished off the 17-play, 77-yard march, hitting Robert McMenomy on a 10-yard touchdown pass over the middle.
Cal didn’t waste any time answering, moving 80 yards in eight plays for another Arrington touchdown run. This time the senior took off left and cut back to the middle to go in untouched for a 4-yard score.
Air Force kept churning away on its next drive until Cal’s Matt Giordano stepped in front of Andy Messerall for an interception at the Bears’ 9-yard line. Arrington went 89 yards up the middle on the next play, setting up Rodgers’ 1-yard touchdown dive that made it 21-7.
But Carney shrugged off the pick, keeping Air Force’s option in a rhythm on an 80-yard drive that ended with fullback Dan Shaffer’s 2-yard touchdown on an option up the middle.
Air Force’s defense finally stiffened after that, forcing Cal to punt twice to end the first half just seven points behind.
“We came out in the second half right where we wanted to be,” Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry.
But it didn’t last.
Arrington scored on a 1-yard dive over the top to open the third quarter, then Chase Lyman followed with a 78-yard touchdown catch after cornerback Nate Allen slipped with just over a minute left.
Terrell Williams opened the fourth quarter with an 11-yard touchdown run, Marshawn Lynch scored on a 43-yard run and Justin Forsett capped the 35-point half with a 13-yard touchdown run.
“I felt like our team did a nice job of keeping their poise because for a while it looked like it was just going to go back and forth,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said.