It was one heck of a start. Cal had a 14–0 lead before its offense even took the field. Consecutive pick-sixes on Colorado’s opening drives by Elijah Hicks and Ashtyn Davis set the tone for the game. Things grew worse for Colorado, who could not get out of their own way the entire evening. The Buffs turned the ball over five times in the first half and paired that with a variety of additional bonehead mistakes, effectively handing Cal the game.
Turnover number three came on a fumbled punt return by Ronnie Blackmon deep in Colorado territory. Cal’s offense managed to capitalize, putting the Bears up 21–0. Colorado stopped the bleeding with a solid drive highlighted by a pretty throw-and-catch from QB Steven Montez to standout WR Laviska Shenault Jr. Colorado punched it in to make it 21–7.
Following a Cal three-and-out, the turnover machine was back on for Colorado as K.D. Nixon muffed their second punt of the day. Cal settled for a field goal to make it 24–7 with all of Cal’s points coming off Colorado turnovers.
The second half brought the fear into the eyes of Cal fans that they could possibly lose a game that had been served to them on a silver platter. Cal’s offense, once again, had heavy difficulty moving the football. Cal wanted to avoid turnover and eat clock with the running game. The problem, however, was that they got no push from their offensive line, which was playing without its best player, LT Patrick Mekari. Mekari was on crutches and appears unlikely to play next week in the Big Game. The strengths of Colorado’s defense are their middle linebackers and their interior defensive line. Their weakness is in the secondary, where injuries have really hurt the unit. Cal took advantage of this at times, but was ultimately challenged due to QB Chase Garbers’ struggles and the conservative game plan.
The Buffaloes’ offense had its own problems today, but skill talents like Shenault, Nixon, and Montez made Cal fans remember how this team begun the year 5–0. Colorado cut the lead to 27–21 entering the fourth quarter. Cal’s offense desperately needed an answer and it got one with some major help from a personal foul on Colorado LB Drew Lewis after the Buffs stopped Cal on third down. Garbers connected with Moe Ways in the end zone on the next play to provide a 12-point cushion. Cal held on to this lead and did a better job working clock, including a nearly five-minute drive extended due to a controversial Colorado roughing the punter penalty. Cal wins by a final score of 33–21.
The ensuing game a team plays upon firing their head coach is always an interesting one. This was the case for Colorado today after firing head coach Mike MacIntyre earlier in the week. Sometimes it adds a much-needed spark, but sometimes it leaves a team undisciplined and unprepared, playing without a clear leader on the sideline. The latter was the case for Colorado today as a barrage of mistakes put Cal in prime position to control the game.
Defensively, it was another clinic for the Cal Bears. Colorado has really struggled on the offensive line this season and things have gotten worse due to injury. Cal’s front seven did a good job stifling RB Travon McMillian and the Colorado run game and had one of their best pass-rushing performances of the season. The secondary had another stellar performance, featuring three interceptions with two returned for touchdowns. Safety Ashtyn Davis was particularly spectacular.
Offensively, it was not the performance Cal fans hoped to see, but they played turnover-free and won the ballgame. This game was very similar to the North Carolina victory in Week 1. Cal’s defense put its own points on the board early, but the game got close due to the offense’s inability to sustain drives and add to their lead. Chase Garbers is a work in progress and needs to improve his quickness through his reads as well as his arm strength. Garbers, however, continues to flash his surprising speed and elusive scrambling ability that has become a critical portion of Cal’s offense. Cal also experimented with Brandon McIlwain playing RB and WR, which could be an interesting development moving forward.
Overall, it is a win to feel good about. Cal took care of business amidst the scheduling change to the Big Game and won by two scores. It got closer than Cal fans would have liked and the offense continues to leave much to be desired. However, this is win number seven for the Cal Bears and they are not done yet. Stanford is as beatable as they have been in a long time and it could be a game for the ages.