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California Perseveres in Season Opener, Defeats UC Davis 27-13

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Golden Bears earned 471 yards Saturday, including 233 on the ground

NCAA Football: UC - Davis at California
California running back Christopher Brown, Jr. rushed for 197 yards Saturday and one touchdown.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The California Golden Bears (1-0, Pacific-12) welcomed its fans with its tenth straight win against the UC Davis Aggies (0-1, Big Sky) Saturday. With the 27-13 victory, the Golden Bears’ streak of home openers now stands strong at six wins.

As expected by many ahead of the game, turnovers were plentiful in Strawberry Canyon. While California returned many defenders from last season, its much-vaunted secondary was not responsible for any. Instead, the Golden Bears coughed up the ball to the visiting Aggies four times—two at the hands of quarterback Chase Garbers.

UC Davis, ranked fifth in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll going into the contest, came to Berkeley, Calif., hungry for an upset. The Aggies defeated the San Jose State Spartans of the Football Bowl Subdivision 44-38 to start last year’s season.

Much to the chagrin of California faithful, the offensive unit’s malaise carried over from last season. Head Coach Justin Wilcox’s side endured yet another slow start. Safety Ashtyn Davis fumbled the ball just six seconds into the game on the opening kick-off. The turnover set up a short 21-yard Aggies drive, which ended with a two-yard touchdown that was the Aggies’ only offensive touchdown, for sophomore running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. Despite the positive turnover margin for UC Davis, the Aggies scored just these seven points from California turnovers on the day.

“I think we were lackadaisical to start in a way… we regrouped, and we came back in the second quarter and the second half and did what we do,” Garbers reflected after the season opener. The California quarterback completed 16 passes on 28 attempts for 238 yards and two touchdown passes, both to former Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Kekoa Crawford.

Overcoming their sluggish start, which saw the home side concede 10 straight points in the first quarter, California reversed its fortune to end the first half. The Golden Bears put up 13 unanswered points, including two consecutive scoring drives—capped off by a 37-yard touchdown caught by Crawford and a 44-yard Greg Thomas field goal, respectively—in the middle of the second quarter.

The touchdown was Crawford’s first career reception for California. He led the home-side receiving corps with two scores and 84 yards and an average of 27 yards per reception. His second touchdown, a 26-yard catch in the end zone in the fourth quarter, had initially been tipped by UC Davis sophomore cornerback Jaylin White.

A bright-side for California was its offensive line. “[California] did a really good job as far at staying on their blocks,” UC Davis linebacker Nas Anesi said after the game. The Golden Bears outgained the Aggies on the ground by nearly three-to-one: 233 yards to 83.

Christopher Brown Jr. gained 197 yards, including one touchdown, in his first career start. The sophomore became the second California running back after Jahvid Best to rush at least 100 yards in their career debut. Best had run for 111 yards in 2008, the Golden Bears’ season opener against the Michigan State Spartans.

California will travel to Seattle next week for its matchup against the No. 13 Washington Huskies, who it upset 12-10 last October. The Golden Bears’ first contest away from home starts at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time. Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the game.