TCU and Cal have never played a game against each other, and now they’re primed to face off three times in the next four years. The bowl pairing in this season’s Cheez-It Bowl, plus a home-and-home scheduled for 2020 in Berkley, and 2021 in Fort Worth.
Second-year head coach Justin Wilcox seems to have the Golden Bears heading in the right direction. They’re sitting at 7-5 after a 2018 regular season that saw them defeat now-PAC 12 champion Washington, and snap a 14 game losing streak to USC with 15 unanswered third quarter points.
This comes after a 2017 season that saw Wilcox guide Cal to wins over North Carolina, Mississippi, and Washington State, but finish at just 5-7.
But despite TCU’s lack of history facing Cal, they’ve seen Justin Wilcox before. Ten years ago, in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl. Wilcox served as Boise State’s defensive coordinator from 2006-2009, leading the Broncos to several top-notch defenses, including the third ranked total defense in 2008.
Patterson made note of the connection during a Sunday afternoon teleconference with him, Wilcox, and a representative from the Cheez-It Bowl.
“What I remember, Justin and his staff, when they were at Boise came and visited us. We have known each other - TCU and Boise have known each other all the way back when Chris Petersen was the head coach. So a lot of respect for what they do, how they do it,” said Patterson.
“Both teams want to be able to end the season playing their best football and putting on a good game. We will try and prepare and give the Cal Bears the best opponent they can possibly have. That’s what Boise and TCU have always done, they were always great ball games. So I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Patterson’s not wrong, Boise State and TCU always did produce riveting games. And that really kicked off in their second meeting, with the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.
Rewind a decade and Justin Wilcox is the defensive coordinator for No. 9 Boise State, having helped the Broncos to a 12-0 regular season, including wins over No. 17 Oregon, led by LeGarrette Blount (this was a year before he punched Byron Hout) and Nevada, led by sophomore Colin Kaepernick.
Wilcox and his Boise State defense, third best in the country, were set to square off in the Poinsettia Bowl against the 10-2 TCU Horned Frogs and their second-best defense in the nation.
Andy Dalton and the Frogs had dropped two games on the season, one to No. 2 Oklahoma in Norman, and one to No. 10 Utah in Salt Lake City (a game that I attended, by the way. I should write that experience up one day, because whooooaaa buddy).
But why was an undefeated Boise State squad in the Poinsettia Bowl? Because No. 7 Utah had already claimed the top at-large spot for the “little guys.” They would go on to thump Alabama 31-17.
So the Broncos and the Frogs met, for the first time in their schools’ history, in what would be a defensive battle.
Boise State jumped out to a 10-0 lead on their first two drives of the game, totaling 107 yards on those drives. After that, TCU’s vaunted defense kicked into high gear, and the Broncos gained just 143 more yards the rest of the game.
The Broncos took a 13-0 lead in the second quarter behind the leg of Kyle Brotzman (who, two years later, would miss a kick against Nevada, sending TCU to the Rose Bowl). The Broncos only gained five yards on the drive, but were set up by a long interception return by Byron Hout, who picked off Andy Dalton and took it 62 yards down to the TCU 11.
An Aaron Brown rushing touchdown just before halftime cut into the Broncos lead, and gave TCU the spark to finish the game strong.
In the midst of TCU’s comeback, Boise State running back Ian Johnson noticed something about the Frogs.
“They had better athletes than we’ve ever seen,” Johnson said. “They played with so much heart. You didn’t look over there one time and say, ‘We broke them.’ They knew they were going to come back and they believed in themselves the whole time.”
Defense continued to be the theme in the third quarter, with both teams struggling to move the ball efficiently. Brotzman missed a 38-yard field goal that would have given Boise State a nine point advantage, and a Ross Evans field goal cut into Boise’s lead a bit more, but that was all the scoring in the third frame.
In the fourth, Joseph Turner’s 17 yard touchdown run gave the Frogs their first lead of the game, 17-13, with just under nine minutes remaining in the contest. Kyle Brotzman would bring Boise State to within one, with just under five minutes remaining in the game.
After a TCU punt, Boise State took over with 1:47 remaining in the game. On the Broncos first play of the drive, Stephen Hodge picked off Kellen Moore, seemingly ending Boise State’s hopes.
A TCU turnover on downs (Andy Dalton was taking a knee) with just six seconds left gave the Broncos one last desperate hope, but Boise State fumbled, and Matt Panfil jumped on the ball, ending the comeback attempt and the game.
After the game, Joseph Turner told ESPN, “We just wore them down. They can’t last forever.”
When it was all said and done, Boise State gained just 250 yards of offense, including a measly 28 yards rushing. The Frogs’ vaunted defense got the better of Boise State’s offense, and TCU’s offense gained 472 yards against Justin Wilcox’s no. 3-ranked defense.
Ten years later and Wilcox still has a tremendous amount of respect for Patterson and TCU.
“I got the chance to compete against them when I was at Boise State, and always had respect,” Wilcox said on Sunday, “The things they’ve done, defensively obviously, and offensively. Coach Patterson has won a lot of games over a long, long time so obviously it’s an exciting matchup. Our guys were fired up. We are going to get to see them again in a couple years, but being a football guy, especially a defense guy, I have always had a lot of respect and enjoyed watching his teams play.”
This year, Cal’s defense was great, as we can now expect from a Justin Wilcox-led program. The Golden Bears ranked 16th in total defense in the country, 24th in passing defense, and 31st in rushing defense.
They also have the No. 12 defense according to Bill Connelly’s S&P+ ratings (TCU’s is 23rd).
According to our own Parker Fleming, stats genius, TCU and Cal are going to have a knock-down, drag-out, U-G-L-Y football game.
Initial Thoughts - should be an ugly (low-scoring) matchup. S&P+ looks to have TCU as a narrow (~1 pt) favorite on neutral site.— Parker FOW (@parker_FOW) December 2, 2018
Cal gave up 20+ points 7 times, scored 20+ 7 times. (TCU (5, 7 ))
OFFENSE (S&P+ Rank):
TCU 99th, Cal 121st
DEFENSE (S&P+ Rank):
TCU 23rd, Cal 12th https://t.co/wfZmnc2oCc
We’ll see what happens on December 26th, but we very well could see another 17-16 final, just like ten years ago in the Poinsettia Bowl.