If you have been in a coma for the past two weeks (welcome back in that case and extra thanks for reading my post...I think my last Cal Football recap post was Goff’s last regular season game which was a wild win over ASU), you might not think that California Golden Bears (4-3, 1-3 in Pac-12) defeating the Oregon State Beavers (1-6, 0-4 in Pac-12) is that big of a deal. Even though this afternoon’s victory is the first Cal Football road Pac-12 win in over 3 years, the expectations for a 4-0 or even 4-1 Cal Football team few weeks ago had this game marked as essentially a sure win against the rebuilding OSU team in their first year under Jonathan Smith, who is in his first year as a college head coach. After the terribleness that was the last two weeks of Cal Football, particularly offensively, this 49-7 rout is the much needed reminder that the 2018 Cal Football season may still be a special one (I don’t mean the Rose Bowl, just ending the long losing streak to USC and/or Stanford).
Chase Garbers returned to the QB1 role for the first time in three weeks. Garbers, who did not see any snaps in the past two weeks, was handed a very conservative, run heavy game plan to start the game. On 3rd and 7 in Cal’s 11th offensive play of the game (previous 10 were 7 runs and 3 incompletions), Garbers found Kanawai Noa for a 15 yard completion and a first down. On the very next play, Garbers found Vic Wharton with a 55 yard long pass down the field. While the ball was slightly underthrown for that play to not be a touchdown, Golden Bears got in the end zone 2 plays later on a short pass to Malik McMorris. Bears will not look back after going up 7-0.
Golden Bears had a nice long drive spanning the end of the 1st quarter to the 2nd quarter, including a design QB run by Garbers on 3rd and 13 that netted 20 yards. Brandon McIlwain, who was back to the time share that meant few special plays for him in certain specific situations, had a cameo in picking up a 3rd and 3 with a run near the Oregon State end zone. Garbers reentered the game on the next play and promptly had a miscue with the center to fumble the snap. It was yet another Cal offensive turnover, but at least this was not 6 points the other way.
Cal defense had little trouble holding the pinned back Oregon State offense in their end zone. Cal offense got the ball back with a short field and atoned for their earlier miscue with a beautiful wheel route pass from Garbers to Laird for 29 yards to go up 14-0. Bears’ run-pass option offense found its groove soon after as Laird added a 4 yard touchdown run that included a sweet highlight-reel-worthy stiff-arm of OSU’s Matthew Tago. Bears had a 21-0 lead at the half.
Oregon State played the bulk of the first half without their superstar running back Jermar Jefferson, who leads the Pac-12 in rushing entering this game. Jefferson only had a few cameos in the first half because of a mild hamstring sprain. That injury was not officially disclosed in the injury report. Beavers then lost their starting quarterback Conor Blount for the rest of the game just before the end of the first half when Cal’s Jaylin Hawkins was called for a targeting penalty on a hit to a sliding Blount. Blount did throw an interception to Cal’s Traveon Beck in the Beavers’ previous drive.
Bears, who won the coin toss and chose to defer, opened the 2nd half with another touchdown. Patrick Laird had a 53 yard rumble before Christopher Brown Jr earns the touchdown from 5 yards out.
Playing their backup QB Jack Colletto and backup RB Artavis Pierce for the second half, Oregon State would not just go away. Colletto withstood another targeting penalty against the Bears (Zeanda Johnson is the culprit this time and will miss the first half of Cal-UW next week) and eventually spoiled the Cal defense’s shutout bid by scoring a touchdown on a QB keeper. Even then, Bears still had a commanding 28-7 lead.
OSU gained some momentum by successfully going for an onside kick - I don’t know why the Cal special team did not anticipate that try. Cal defense will quickly take away any OSU hope as Jordan Kunaszyk had a drive killing sack to force another Beavers three-and-out.
Bears dominated the war in the trenches, both offensively and defensively. Cal running games had a lot of room to roam often, recording 305 yards on the ground. Cal defense were able to record 7 sacks on the day as a part of 12 tackles for loss.
Bears tagged on three more scores in the final quarter. Garbers threw his 3rd passing TD of the game when he found Noa for a 24 yard score. Laird nearly got to 200 yards rushing plateau (he finished with 193 yards) when he scored on a 30 yard run. Josh Drayden, who missed the first half of this game because he picked up a targeting penalty last week, scored on a pick-6 in the final minute.
These are not the Sonny Dykes era Bears, but they did nearly #Drop50 points on their opponents in this game with 7 touchdowns (6 offensive, 1 defensive) for 49 points. That is the new highest point output in the Justin Wilcox era, exceeding the 45 points scored on Idaho State earlier this year.
In the postgame interview with the Pac-12 Network, Patrick Laird said that the Cal players had a players-only meeting on Friday that set the tone for this game. Rather than letting the season slide away, as everyone was picking the Beavers to win this game on their homecoming, the Bears stopped the bleeding. Of course, the schedule now gets significantly harder where the Bears will be considered the underdogs in every game.
Despite the score, there were also plenty of mistakes by the Bears both offensively and defensively. At least twice in this one, the Bears were lucky that the runner was ruled down before fumbling the ball. Bears appear to be selling out ball security for a few extra yards at the end of plays. Ball security remains a clear issue for a team that committed so many turnovers in the last three weeks. Defensively, that was two targeting penalties too many. For both of these types of mistake, there is a fine line between playing passionately and playing recklessly.
Is going full time with Chase Garbers the answer? I am not sure. Yes, Garbers had a great game against OSU today, but how much should we attribute to the OSU defensive ineptitude? Brandon McIlwain may have the higher ceiling, but he needs to cut down on the mistakes that Ross Bowers did not make last year and Chase Garbers is making less of this year. How much of those forced throws by McIlwain are not his fault, because the Bears are playing better teams or playing behind? Nonetheless, Garbers earned the right to start against Washington next weekend.
In all 4 of their wins this season, Cal Football did not trail in any of those games. Bears would need to find a way to win a game where they may trail, if they are hoping to return to a bowl game in 2018. This may be the issue with any run-first team like Cal; their passing game alone is not good enough to comeback when the opponents know that they have to be passing.
Who knows how the 2nd half of the 2018 season will go for Cal Football? I’m on the optimistic side that the Bears will upset someone, and we will remember that game/moment if not the season. This week’s victory shows that the team has not given up on the season, maybe you should not as well.