BERKELEY — Sonny Dykes must be wondering what he has to do to shake Cal out of a losing streak that is now just shy of two months long.
Not even an improved effort from the Golden Bears' defense — the team's biggest weakness all season — was enough to stop the free-fall from reaching a new low.
Freshman quarterback Jared Goff passed for four touchdowns but was intercepted on consecutive drives in the second half, and Cal couldn't stop Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker in a 33-28 loss to the Wildcats on Saturday.
At this rate, the Bears are going to need a little help and a lot of luck to avoid finishing with their worst record since going 1-10 in 2001.
“The fact that we played better against a good team shows that we are making progress and headed in the right direction,” Dykes said. “But our goal is to win regardless of who we play. To our players' credit, they expect to win and think they can win.”
Unfortunately Cal has only done it once this year, beating Portland State 37-30 on Sept. 7.
Since then it's been an endless stream of frustration and losses.
Goff kept Cal (1-8, 0-6) close against Arizona despite a rocky afternoon.
He completed 34 of 56 passes for 289 yards, and his interceptions came on back-to-back drives. The first came while the Bears were backed up deep in their own territory. The second was in the end zone when Goff tried to force a throw into coverage.
“It was in our grasp and we didn't really grab it,” Goff said. “It really shows that with the team we have we can't make those little mistakes. I can't make those interceptions if we're going to win. It just can't happen.”
Cal's defense bottled up Carey most of the afternoon.
He rushed for 152 yards to top 1,000 for the second straight season but they didn't come easily. The Bears held Carey to two yards or fewer on 15 of his 32 carries, and limited the nation's leading running back to 48 yards total in the second half.
“I thought it was going to be a really good day but shout out to their coach,” Carey said. “They made some adjustments and changes and they were able to focus on me. The yards weren't easy.”
Denker ran for three touchdowns and passed for a fourth to pace Arizona.
A week after setting a school record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in one game, Denker managed just 44 yards on the ground but scored on runs of nine, one and 14 yards. That gave the Wildcats senior a team-leading 11 rushing touchdowns this season, another Arizona record for quarterbacks.
Arizona's third straight win improved the Wildcats to 6-2 (3-2 Pac-12) and makes them bowl eligible for the second time in two seasons under coach Rich Rodriguez.
The home team had won the previous six times in this series between longtime conference rivals before Denker sparked the Wildcats to their first win at Berkeley since a double-overtime victory in 1997.
Denker completed 24 of 38 passes for 261 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown to Nate Phillips in the second quarter.
That was enough for Arizona, which couldn't shake the pesky Golden Bears until Denker's 14-yard score near the end of the third quarter.
“I thought we did a lot of good things defensively,” Dykes said. “Carey got his yards but he carried the ball a bunch and they were tough yards. Offensively we didn't make quite enough plays.”
Little went right for Cal after scoring on its opening possession.
Goff completed passes to five different receivers and capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown throw to Khalfani Muhammad. That put the Bears up 7-0, their first lead in more than 364 minutes.
It didn't last long.
Denker scored on a read-option keeper around the left end from nine yards out to tie the game, then Arizona's defense put the Wildcats in front with a safety.
Arizona thought it had Cal stopped for a safety earlier in the first quarter but an intentional grounding penalty against Goff was waved off. Given a second shot after Carey was dropped for a 1-yard loss on 4th-and-2, the Wildcats cashed in when linebacker Scooby Wright and safety Jared Tevis tackled Bears running back Darren Ervin in the end zone.
Jake Smith's career-best 53-yard field goal extended Arizona's lead to 12-7 with 12:54 left in the second quarter.
Denker's touchdown pass to Phillips helped make it 19-7.
Goff's 17-yard throw to Kenny Lawler trimmed the gap to 19-14 at halftime but the Bears couldn't get any closer.
Arizona opened the second half with a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by Denker's keeper into the end zone from a yard out. Denker's 60-yard completion to Terrence Miller and a pass interference call near the goal line helped set up the score.
Lawler made a stellar one-handed grab of a 3-yard touchdown pass to pull Cal within 26-21 but Goff threw an interception on the Bears' next possession.
Denker's third touchdown run pushed the Wildcats' lead to 33-21 before the Bears made one final push late in the fourth quarter when Goff threw a 29-yard touchdown to Lawler with 1:42 remaining.
Arizona recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt, however, and ran out the clock.