4:00 PM ET, August 30, 2003
Memorial Stadium (Berkeley, CA), Berkeley, CA
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Donnie McCleskey summed up California's home opener when he blitzed through the Southern Mississippi line and hit Micky D'Angelo so hard that the quarterback's helmet popped clean off his head.
"That's a pretty good feeling, I've got to say," McCleskey said with a grin.
Reggie Robertson threw two touchdown passes and James Bethea returned a blocked punt for a score as Cal beat the Golden Eagles 34-2 Saturday, shutting out Southern Miss over the final 55 minutes of the schools' first-ever meeting.
Cal (1-1) blocked two punts, and Mike McGrath's interception in the final minute of the first half set up a score. In another impressive non-conference rout under coach Jeff Tedford, McCleskey made 14 tackles at the center of a strong effort by the Golden Bears' defense and special teams.
In addition to McCleskey's eye-popping hit, the Bears had another favorite play: Adimchinobe Echemandu's 60-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. It was a long-overdue highlight for the popular fifth-year senior, whose 127 yards were the best total of a career spent battling serious injuries and academic challenges.
"We're playing together and having fun," Echemandu said. "If you go out there and you're not having fun, you're not going to play well. Today was all about executing, anticipating and having fun."
Robertson was 9-of-14 for 142 yards, throwing TD passes to tight ends Brandon Hall and Garrett Cross while improving his hold on the starting job. J.J. Arrington rushed for 114 yards as Cal racked up 417 total yards against the Golden Eagles' vaunted defense.
"Our offensive line did a nice job of knocking people off," Tedford said. "The defense played awesome. They swarmed to the football ... and special teams did a great job getting after the punter."
D'Angelo passed for 163 yards for Southern Miss, which lost its opener for just the fifth time in coach Jeff Bower's 13 seasons. In their first game ever against a Pac-10 team, the Eagles had their lowest-scoring outing since Tulane shut them out in 1995.
"They whipped us. They did just about everything they wanted to do," Bower said. "The longer the game went on, we just gave up too many big plays."
The Eagles' defense, which features five preseason all-Conference USA picks, was just as good as advertised while making three effective stands near the goal line in the first half. But Southern Miss made huge mistakes on offense and special teams, repeatedly forcing the defense to scramble back on the field after turnovers.
The Bears' special teams had an exciting home debut under new coordinator Pete Alamar. Andy Briner blocked Luke Johnson's punt midway through the second quarter, and Bethea returned it untouched for a score.
"When we knew that they had a new snapper and a new punter, we were going to be able to come in there and heat them up a little bit," Alamar said.
The Eagles' revamped offense under new coordinator Rip Scherer wasn't nearly as impressive. Southern Miss got the game's first points on a safety when Cal punter Lucas Everett fumbled a snap out of bounds, but the Eagles never seriously threatened to score against the Bears' first-string defense, finishing with just 277 total yards.
D'Angelo was 16-of-26, but the junior quarterback took a beating from the blitzing Cal linebackers and defensive backs.
"They got through a few times and caused some problems," D'Angelo said. "Being shut out was definitely a surprise, but we still have our conference schedule to look forward to."
Dustin Almond, who has battled D'Angelo for the starting job since last season, took over in the third quarter. But he couldn't get the Eagles in the end zone on four plays starting from the 1 in the fourth quarter.
The Bears opened Tedford's second season in charge with a competitive 42-28 loss to fifth-ranked Kansas State last week, and an enthusiastic crowd of 33,552 was at Memorial Stadium for the home opener. Cal also debuted its Momentum Turf -- a new artificial-grass surface also used by the Baltimore Ravens.
McGrath intercepted a tipped pass in the final minute of the first half, setting up Hall's 4-yard TD catch. Cal then drove 70 yards early in the second half, with Cross slipping behind the Southern Miss secondary for an easy 30-yard score.
Echemandu, one of three tailbacks getting significant playing time for Cal, sprinted through the Eagles' defense for a score with 10:20 left. It was the Bears' longest rush in three years.