Aug 30, 2003
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
BERKELEY, Calif. - Reggie Robertson threw two touchdown passes and James Bethea returned a blocked punt for a score as California beat Southern Mississippi 34-2 Saturday in the Golden Bears' home opener.
Adimchinobe Echemandu rushed for a career-high 127 yards - including a 60-yard TD run - and tight ends Brandon Hall and Garrett Cross caught scoring passes as Cal (1-1) shut out Southern Miss over the final 55 minutes of the schools' first-ever meeting.
The Bears got another impressive non-conference rout under coach Jeff Tedford with hard-hitting defense and fine special-teams play. Cal blocked two punts, and Mike McGrath's interception in the final minute of the first half set up a score.
Robertson was 9-of-14 for 142 yards, 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.
Micky 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.
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 and finished with just 277 total yards.
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.
D'Angelo was 16-of-26, but the junior quarterback took a beating from the blitzing Cal linebackers and defensive backs. Donnie McCleskey popped D'Angelo's helmet off his head with a crushing sack late in the first 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.