The California Golden Bears (3–0) wrapped up their non-conference schedule with a 45–23 win—the highest-scoring result by the Bears in Coach Justin Wilcox’s tenure—over Football Championship Subdivision foe Idaho State (1–1) Saturday.
Working our way to 3-0. #EarnIt pic.twitter.com/rCieJP6ZlO— Cal Football (@CalFootball) September 16, 2018
Cal fans seemed to forget about quarterback Ross Bowers—who threw more than 3,000 yards last season—as redshirt-freshman Chase Garbers led the Golden Bears to victory with a contribution of 224 passing yards including three touchdowns and one interception. Garbers set career highs in completions (20), passing yards, and touchdown passes.
With the win against the Bengals, Coach Wilcox maintains his perfect record (6–0) against non-conference opponents in two seasons, including three games against Power Five teams (the North Carolina Tar Heels in a home-and-away series and the Ole Miss Rebels at home). The Bears improve their all-time record against FCS teams to 10–0.
The Cal offense had a slow start marred by mistakes and blown reads on plays, which led to several third-and-out drives. Major plays—including a 40-yard gain by senior running back Patrick Laird and a 20-yard wide-open wheel route to senior tight end Ray Hudson—were negated by penalties and a dropped pass, respectively, in the first quarter.
“Fifteen-yard penalties, pass interference, face-mask on a third down, third-down pass interference, fourth-down pass interference that they end up scoring on, running into the punt return. We can’t have that,” Coach Wilcox said plainly after the game.
Despite the initial malaise, California still outgained Idaho State 297 to 121 in total yards in the first half. Garbers demonstrated why he is the starter, exercising great patience to find junior wide receiver Jordan Duncan left open in the end zone on two separate occasions in the second quarter. Duncan ended the game as the most productive receiver with four passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns.
As many expected this week, the Golden Bears defense was dominant. California kept its opponent scoreless in the first quarter for the third time this season. The defense held the Bengals to 26 total yards in the first quarter and conceded zero first downs. By halftime, typically rush-heavy Idaho State had just 47 out of its 121 total yards from plays on the ground.
Ending the first half up 28–3, California—which opened as 38-point favorites among odd-makers this week—looked like its offense was getting into gear for the first time this season.
The Bears started to create some separation in the second half thanks to career-first touchdowns from redshirt-senior tight end Jake Ashton, sophomore wide receiver Jeremiah Hawkins, and quarterback Brandon McIlwain’s first passing touchdown.
Garbers connected with Ashton for a 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter thanks to solid blocking from the offensive line. The tight end was left uncovered and brought the Bears up 38–9 with his first career catch; the Idaho State score was thanks to redshirt-junior defensive end Luc Bequette blocking an Idaho State point-after attempt in the third quarter.
After a sack by freshman nose guard Aaron Maldonado quickly ended an Idaho State drive, McIlwain connected with Hawkins for a four-yard touchdown pass just two minutes later. The quick score to make the game 45–9 was set up by a stellar 46-yard punt return by freshman wide receiver Nikko Remigio.
Also notable was the fancy footwork of junior running back Marcel Dancy. Dancy contributed a five-yard run—his first career touchdown—for the Golden Bears’ score in the first quarter and ended the game with 80 yards, including a long run of 18 yards. Throughout the second half, Dancy appeared to be auditioning for a reality TV dance show, avoiding Bengal defenders’ tackles with spins and narrow play on the sideline.
As is the case for match-ups against FCS teams, Idaho State was allowed two touchdowns in the last five minutes to bring the final score to 45–23. Bengal quarterback Tanner Gueller found his favorite target, brother Mitch, who hauled in 156 yards and a touchdown in “garbage” time. The Bears racked up 482 total yards on Saturday and conceded 319 to the Bengals—198 total yards in the second half.
- Although he played in all 12 games last season, Saturday was the second time the mercurial quarterback Bowers did not play a single minute. Far from a three-quarterback system, Coach Wilcox seems to be set on giving Garbers the most minutes with McIlwain providing an occasional change of pace with designed quarterback runs and smart option reads on short downs.
- McIlwain showed excellent judgment today. Given an entire drive in the second quarter, McIlwain demonstrated that while he isn’t always able to create explosive plays like Garbers, he is consistent in producing positive plays. McIlwain was the most successful rusher on short-yardage situations for the Bears in the first half.
- Cal’s defense forced ground-and-pound Idaho State to throw the ball and showcased why they are elite playmakers. The Bears limited the Bengals to an average 3.1 yards per rush. Notably, The Takers—who led the nation with six interceptions going into Saturday—claimed another victim when Ashtyn Davis stepped in front of a pass from Gueller. While Idaho State is an FCS team, the defense’s strong play doesn’t seem to be a fluke.
- Coach Wilcox, who appeared to be jotting down his players’ mistakes during the game, should take note of wide receiver Vic Wharton III’s recent fumbles. In the second quarter, his fumble ended a promising drive by McIlwain as he was looking to gain extra yards after the catch. Last week against BYU, Wharton III also fumbled a punt giving the Cougars an opportunity to play catch-up.