SAN DIEGO--The opportunities kept coming for the Texas Longhorns, and when they finally capitalized on a takeaway, UT ended its season in dominating fashion.
Texas forced five California turnovers, including four fumbles, and pulled away from the Golden Bears in the second half to win the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, 21-10, on Wednesday night at Snapdragon (Qualcomm Stadium).
"This has got us headed in the right direction," said Texas coach Mack Brown, who improved to 9-4 in bowl games at UT.
After failing to convert the first three takeaways into points, Longhorns running back Cody Johnson rumbled for a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that capped a 3-play, 44-yard drive following UT's third fumble recovery.
The Longhorns (8-5) forced a pair of turnovers in the first half: Quandre Diggs' team-high fourth interception, and a fumble recovery by Calvin Howell. Still, Texas couldn't capitalize and the takeaways led to a punt and a missed field goal from 38 yards. Reggie Wilson fell on another Cal fumble in the third quarter, but the Longhorns again failed to get points out of it.
"We didn't take advantage of the turnovers early in the game," Brown said. "But the defense just took over. We made some good adjustments at halftime and made some plays."
While the defense was busy wreaking havoc in the Bears' backfield, the Texas offense struggled to find any sort of rhythm. UT was sloppy in the first half, with six penalties for 40 yards, including an illegal formation that wiped out a first down on a fake punt. The Longhorns mustered only seven yards in the first quarter and went three-and-out on four of their first five drives.
With freshman quarterback David Ash unable to move the ball in his sixth career start (and first since Nov. 19 against Kansas State), the Longhorns needed all the chances they could get. And the defense delivered with its seventh game with at least two takeaways.
"They put their hands on the ball, hats on the ball and stripped it," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "We didn't do a good job of protecting the ball."
Stagnant on offense for most of the first half, the Longhorns used a trick play to reach the end zone. Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley took the ball on an end around, and then threw to a wide-open Ash for a 4-yard score to put Texas in front, 7-3. Shipley's third touchdown pass of the year was an exclamation point on a 4-play, 48 yard drive that had more first downs (2) than the Longhorns managed in their opening five possessions (1).
Texas outscored Cal, 21-7, after its dreadful first quarter. The Longhorns defense only budged on the Bears' first drive of each half, surrendering a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter and a four-yard touchdown run in the third.
Ash connected with Marquise Goodwin for a 47-yard score on UT's first possession of the third quarter. His first touchdown pass in six starts put Texas ahead, 14-10, providing a swift response after Cal (7-6) briefly took the lead with a touchdown to open the second half.
Texas did not have a turnover for the first time in one of his starts and Ash was 14 of 23 for 142 yards.
"The Longhorns are on their way up, pretty soon we'll be back in the BCS," said Ash, who was named the game's offensive MVP.
Goodwin sparked the Longhorns in the second half, first with his touchdown grab and then with a 47-yard run that set up Johnson's score. The wide receiver nearly skipped his junior season to focus on his track and field career, but rejoined the team after the season-opener--a decision that certainly paid off in the season-finale.
"What Marquise has done this year is unbelievable," Brown said. "To come back and show his passion to play has been unbelievable. He saved us because we weren't very deep at wide out. He can change a game."
Texas limited Cal to 195 total yards (188 pass, 7 rush) and sacked Cal quarterback Zach Maynard six times.