With 14 seconds remaining in last weekend’s game, the Cal defense was called for pass interference in the endzone on fourth down. It appeared that a Utes touchdown was inevitable with only two yards to go. But the Bears’ defense held up for three more plays and won the game by doing two things it has struggled to do all season ─ stop the run and keep an opponent out of the endzone.
Coming off arguably its best performance of the season, Cal will travel this week to face a lowly Oregon State team, whose lone win of the season came at home against Idaho State, an FCS team. The Bears should expect to win Saturday in Corvallis, Oregon, even if they don’t play as well as they did last weekend.
OSU’s starting quarterback is a redshirt junior transfer, Darell Garretson. He started the season and his career for the Beavers with two decent performances ─ 25-40 for 228 yards, 3 touchdowns and a 135.1 passer rating in a loss to Minnesota followed by 15-30 and 172 yards in Oregon State’s victory, which was dominated by the running game.
“I think the big thing with (Garretson) is he’s improving,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “You watch their tape, and you can see them getting better as a football team and you can see him getting better as a player.”
But despite the mild credit from Dykes, Garretson’s numbers in the Beavers’ last two games have been disappointing, and last week against Colorado, he was benched in favor of true freshman Conor Blount. Garretson is, however, still expected to start this week.
Oregon State does have a few other weapons, with Victor Bolden Jr. playing both receiver and running back and Ryan Nall rushing for 211 yards and three touchdowns in the season. Regardless, the Beavers’ offense has put up rather pedestrian numbers, which even Cal’s 113th-ranked defense in yards per game should be able to handle.
On the other side of the ball, Dykes’ Bear Raid continues to stand among the nation’s best. The Bears sit second in passing yards per game, quarterback Davis Webb leads the nation in total passing yards and touchdowns and Chad Hansen is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns.
But even better for the Cal offense has been the surprisingly quick development of freshman wide receiver Demetris Robertson. He has emerged as a consistent deep threat and a second option for Webb when Hansen isn’t available. His two touchdown catches in each of the past two games are a promising sight.
“(Robertson) gets better every day,” Webb said after the Utah game. “He comes to work every single day with a smile on his face and it shows on Saturday.”
In addition, catches by Vic Wharton III and Melquise Stovall on Cal’s final scoring drive — which culminated in a Robertson touchdown — were crucial in the victory against Utah, and it appears as though Webb is developing a strong rapport with all of his receivers, not just Hansen.
This development in the offense bodes well for the Bears, who before the season were predicted by fans and critics alike to lose many if not all of their final six games. In addition, four of those final six teams — with Washington and Stanford being the exceptions — appear to be the ones underperforming, not Cal, as previously expected.
Instead, the Bears have put up a surprising start to the season ─ without a pick against San Diego State or a three-minute collapse spurred on by two interceptions against Arizona State, the Bears could be undefeated.
With a strong sense of belief on their side after the win against the Utes, the Cal players may be in the best position all season to mount a winning streak and push for a bowl game, which seemed like a ridiculous idea just a few weeks ago. If the Bears are going to surprise fans again and play in the postseason, a seemingly doable victory against the Beavers could go a long way.
Vikram Muller covers football. Contact him at [email protected]