The streak that had haunted Cal football for more than three years came to an end in undramatic fashion this weekend, with the Bears notching their first conference road win since September of 2015 in a 49-7 beatdown of Oregon State in Corvallis.
“No road win in three years, that’s a long time,” said quarterback Chase Garbers. “It was good to get this win and check off that box. That says something about this team.”
Shutting down the Beavers’ above-average offense is an accomplishment on paper, but the Bears were able to do it in such blasé fashion that it felt like an inevitability right from the get-go. What had been an ineffective Cal pass rush over the past few weeks gained some confidence back by stringing together seven sacks on the afternoon.
More importantly, freshman running back Jermar Jefferson, who had terrorized defenses up to this point to the tune of nearly 150 rushing yards per contest, barely played while dealing with a hamstring injury this week, and the Beavers clearly couldn’t make up for his absence.
With room to breathe, the Bears’ offense had some fun for the first time in a while. Garbers took back the reins as starting quarterback after a bumpy three-week experiment with Brandon McIlwain taking the majority of Cal’s snaps. Meanwhile, in the backfield, a rejuvenated Patrick Laird went off for 193 yards on the ground, and Cal made a bottom-10 defense look like just that.
“Chase is always a steady guy, and we thought we needed to give him an opportunity to give us a spark,” said head coach Justin Wilcox.
The fun got started with a little less than five minutes remaining in the first quarter, when Vic Wharton III beat his defender badly with a slant-and-go move and was ready to sprint freely down the field — but Garbers’ heave was badly underthrown. Still, Wharton managed to double back and, unbothered by defensive holding, made the catch, moving the Bears inside the Beavers’ 5-yard line. A simple toss and catch to Malik McMorris off of play action gave Cal a 7-0 lead — Garbers’ first touchdown since Week 3 against Idaho State.
Although Cal’s next drive ended in ugly fashion, it was nonetheless more impressive on Garbers’ part. The redshirt freshman hit Moe Ways on a tightly guarded slant, quickly found Kanawai Noa for 25 yards after nicely reading a zone blitz and converted on third down and long on a designed quarterback draw.
The Bears looked poised to score on first and goal from the 2-yard line, but a bad snap somehow ended up high in the air, and the Beavers found their way to the loose ball first.
Luckily for Cal, Oregon State couldn’t make them pay for that mistake at all, its offense having gone fully limp by this point. The Beavers gained precisely 0 yards before having to punt it away, with the Bears only needing to go 40 yards for a touchdown. The bulk of that work was done on a 29-yard touchdown reception for a wide-open Laird after a wheel route.
“There was a certain personnel we thought we could exploit with me one-on-one with one of their linebackers or rush ends,” Laird said. “I ran the wheel and it worked.”
After another three and out by a Beavers offense that had seemingly rolled over despite Jefferson making a cameo appearance, Laird put together four touches, 36 yards and a rushing touchdown to put Cal up 21-0.
Oregon State had a chance to do some damage at the very end of the half, after quarterback Conor Blount got loose to scramble for 18 yards, with 15 additional yards tacked on from a targeting penalty on Jaylinn Hawkins, who was disqualified for the second half. But third-string quarterback Jack Colletto was unable to do much, and the half ended with the Bears up three scores.
Blount was ruled out for the remainder of the game, and Colletto looked the part of a third stringer on a 1-6 squad. Blount wasn’t exactly impressive, but he was able to make Cal defenders break a sweat. Aside from a nicely orchestrated drive in the third quarter, Colletto put less stress on the Bears than a Friday walkthrough.
The second half made it quickly apparent that the Bears weren’t going to have much to worry about. Laird ran right past Beaver linebackers to rush for 53 yards on the first play of the half, and a minute later, Christopher Brown Jr. walked into the end zone to put Cal up by four touchdowns.
Oregon State managed a touchdown in the second half, and Garbers strung together some nice throws, including a 24-yard touchdown strike to Noa, but everything after Cal went up 28-0 simply had the feel of two programs playing out the clock.
Cal avoided dipping below .500, but with two powerhouse opponents coming to California Memorial Stadium in the coming weeks, the Bears will have to find offense against much tougher opponents. Cal received an “A” on Saturday, but on a significant curve, and the rest of its schedule won’t be quite so friendly.