Coming into this game, there were questions about how the California Golden Bears’ defense would hold up against a mature quarterback with quality offensive weapons. There were more internal questions that needed to be answered also, like who would be starting at quarterback for the Bears. This road game was a test for the Bears, as they played a legitimate BYU Cougars team that played extremely well in their win over the Arizona Wildcats in week one.
First Half Analysis
Early on, I felt issues of last year had resurfaced—specifically the issue of tackling. Though we weren’t the sharpest in this to begin the game, Cal was able to force BYU to punt on back-to-back possessions to start the game.
The Bears offense came out on the first drive not looking in-sync. Chase Garbers started the game playing nervously, making a couple bad throws on the first drive. An issue in this game was the size of the BYU defensive line and their ability to deflect passes. The first offensive drive for the Bears included some penalties, which was something we had a lot of.
Both the offense and defense improved mightily in their second drives. On defense, Evan Weaver and Jordan Kunaszyk both made their presences known with 12 tackles for the game. On offense, Garbers had calmed down, gained composure, and led the offense. He shared the field with Brandon McIlwain, often substituting multiple plays per drive.
The first points of the game were scored when Garbers found Patrick Laird in the back of the endzone for a catch. The Bears went up 7–0 on that drive, but BYU followed up with a field goal. The Bears rattled BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum with blitzes all night. Senior OLB Alex Funches is an unsung hero of this defense—and has been for some time. His ability to bring pressure and somehow get past the opposing offensive line to disrupt quarterbacks in amazing.
At the half, the score was 7–3 in favor of the Bears and Squally Canada had carried the ball 12 times for 54 yards; after the half, he would not be much of a factor at all. By the half, BYU had more yards, more third-down conversions, and more time of possession, but only scored a field goal to show for it.
In the second half, some things got better and others got worse. In the first half, Garbers shined; in the second, Brandon McIlwain made it clear through his play that the starting QB role is still up for grabs. He started the second half with key runs on back-to-back drives. Chase Garbers returned the competition finding Kanawai Noa on a delayed wheel route—which he took in for a touchdown with a little over 12 minutes in the half to extend the lead 14–3.
DON’T GET TOO HAPPY TOO SOON.
Tevin Paul made a crucial stop on 3rd and 4 for the Cal defense on the next drive. Though when Cal got the ball back, RB Derrick Clark fumbled the ball while being tackled to the ground—fumble-6 BYU. We made many mistakes on both sides of the ball—whether it was penalties or simple mistakes that were costly for the offense—but the team weathered the storm and stayed composed. The run game for BYU became non-existent. Canada finished the night with 16 attempts for 49 rushes, half of what he had last week against Arizona.
Things began to get fishy for the Bears at some points of the second half. Beyond the Clark fumble, Vic Wharton muffed a punt return, giving BYU the ball back in the red zone. Though in these situations, none of the players dropped their heads—they stayed determined to make up for their mistakes.
The defense gave us glimpses of a week ago as they found a way to create turnovers in the second half, specifically in the fourth quarter. BYU had a difficult time finding the end zone until late in the game. Prior to this, Mangum threw two interceptions that were costly for the Cougars. It seemed that every throw for him downfield became more and more dangerous each time he threw it.
The game came down to the same finish as last week—the opposing team scoring, then trying to get the ball back by performing an onside kick. Luckily this onside kick was an easy grab for Jaylinn Hawkins. Though BYU still had timeouts to use, Brandon McIlwain ran the ball himself—leading to a first down that secured the victory.
-The offensive line did a good job of protecting the QB. BYU’s front four were very big, but our guys found a way to keep them away from Garbers and McIlwain.
-Brandon McIlwain ran the ball very effectively. He looked good in the shotgun formation, and was very crafty in finding holes in the defense to run through.
-Cal had a lot of penalties, many of them unnecessary. Furthermore, they look sloppy on some plays. They will need to clean this up as they enter Pac-12 play where they will need to play near-perfectly in order to win.
-The defense is legit. This is a complete defense that again shows why they are legitimate contenders against any offense they face this season.