Instant analysis/reaction: Cal outlasts North Texas after late surge, 24-17

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Key takeaways

Cal quarterback Chase Garbers did not throw well, and that’s OK, for now.

The Bears ran back into the tunnel at halftime on top 20-3 over a North Texas team that had shot itself in the foot multiple times up to that point. Garbers went 4-13 in the first half, often electing to extend the play on his feet rather than finding his receivers down the field.

Garbers was given license to do the same in the second half, earning a career-high in carries and yards and making passes only when he needed to. Cal’s offensive line struggled to contain the front seven on the Mean Green defense in pass protection.

Cal has now run for nearly 150 yards in its first three games. That’s great, but when the run option isn’t available against better opposition, Garbers needs to have better decision-making when throwing the football. On almost every pass play, Garbers either held the ball for too long in the pocket, missed an open target and/or got sacked behind the line of scrimmage.

Other than a few big-time completions to wide receivers Kekoa Crawford and Nikko Remigio, Garbers performed poorly and was lucky to have finished the game without a turnover.

Speaking of turnovers, “the takers” of the Cal secondary took once again. Cornerback Traveon Beck caught his first interception at home for the Bears in the third quarter, and although Cal’s offense went 3-and-out in the subsequent drive, the contributions from the defensive side of the ball kept North Texas’ offense from finding a foothold in the game.

 

Cal’s game MVP(s)

Linebacker Cameron Goode was all over North Texas quarterback Mason Fine and his offense before pulling his hamstring on Fine’s sole 68-yard touchdown pass. Goode finished with two tackles for significant losses including a huge second quarter sack.

Cal’s tackling menace Evan Weaver was at it again with 11 total tackles, chasing Fine and North Texas running back Tre Siggers up and down the field throughout the game. The rest of the defense stepped up after a brief surge from North Texas late in the fourth quarter, with the secondary locking down the pass attack.

The Bears’ MVP and top scorer for the game was kicker Greg Thomas, whose three field goals put the game out of reach for the Mean Green. Thomas has converted four of his five field goal attempts so far this season.

 

Eye-opening stat

This may have been Cal’s worst and weirdest offensive performance so far this season.

Garbers finished 9-22 with 129 yards passing and nearly outran running back tandem Christopher Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy, who were held to just 75 yards combined on the ground.

Brown rushed for a season-low but squeezed into the endzone for the second time this season. Head coach Justin Wilcox used the services of Dancy and Alex Netherda as well, giving Netherda his first two carries of the season.

Even though the stats are collectively better on the turnover and production front, the offense never regained control of the game after the first quarter. They only scored 3 points after going up 20-0 late in the first quarter and failed to put away a struggling North Texas defense.

 

Looking ahead

Cal faces another tough road test at Ole Miss (2-1) next weekend, who outlasted Southeastern Louisiana Saturday 40-29 to avoid a shock upset. The Rebels’ offense hasn’t seen a defense remotely near the Bears’ talent level, but their defense can take advantage of Cal’s offense if they continue to play sporadically.

This North Texas performance brought Cal’s biggest deficiencies on offense to the forefront. Garbers and company have a lot of work to do in preparation for their longest road trip of the regular season. 

At the end of the day though, the Bears are 3-0 for the third straight year. Cal is finding a way to win, but there are still more questions than answers.

Spencer Golanka is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.