BERKELEY, Calif. – Justin Forsett ran for a career-high 187 yards and two touchdowns, and Tim Mixon returned a fourth-quarter punt 79 yards for a score during 15th-ranked California’s impressive second-half rally for a 35-20 victory over Illinois on Saturday.

Marcus O’Keith rushed for a late score and caught a 26-yard TD pass from Joe Ayoob for the Golden Bears (3-0), whose injury-plagued offense needed nearly three quarters to warm up. Cal played without star tailback Marshawn Lynch, who sat out with a broken finger, and two starters on its powerful offensive line.

Trailing by 10 points at halftime, Cal won its ninth straight home game with four touchdowns in 17 minutes spanning the final quarters. Shortly after Forsett put Cal ahead 21-17 with a 2-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter, Mixon caught a punt in traffic and broke three tackles before sprinting down the Cal sideline for an electric score.

Forsett, an unheralded sophomore from Texas, escaped Lynch’s shadow with his relentless speed, which eventually wore down Illinois’ defense. He rushed for 130 of Cal’s 291 yards after halftime.

Tim Brasic passed for 228 yards and ran for a score, but the Illini (2-1) wilted in the second half of their first loss under new coach Ron Zook. Pierre Thomas was limited to 57 yards rushing in Zook’s inventive offense, which seemed to run out of ideas and energy after halftime.

Cal went 80 yards for a score in just 1:59 to open the game, capped by Forsett’s 5-yard TD run. But Illinois replied with an 80-yard drive capped by Thomas’ 1-yard plunge, then went ahead with a 16-play drive ending in Brasic’s dive early in the second quarter.

Cal was embarrassed by Texas Tech’s spread offense in last season’s Holiday Bowl, and Illinois’ wide-open attack was nearly as unstoppable in the first half.

Illinois held the ball for 211/2 minutes before halftime, including nearly 13 of the first 16. They converted six of seven third downs during their two long touchdown drives.

When Jason Reda hit a 36-yard field goal at the halftime gun to cap another lengthy drive, the Illini headed to the locker room with a 17-7 lead. The players shouted and raised their helmets while their vocal cheering section went crazy at Memorial Stadium.

Ayoob, who went 0-for-10 in his Cal debut two weeks ago, was 1-for-9 in the first half, again missing open receivers and making poor decisions. Cal fans thought Ayoob, a junior college transfer, had shaken off his jitters with a four-touchdown performance last week against Washington.

Ayoob was a bit better after halftime, finishing 8-of-17 for 121 yards.

Right guard Aaron Merz and left tackle Andrew Cameron sat out for Cal because of injuries kept quiet during the week, though center Marvin Philip played despite his own ankle injury. The Bears also played without injured starting linebacker Greg Van Hoesen and defensive end Tosh Lupoi.

AP-ES-09-17-05 2017EDT

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