Instant analysis/reaction: Offense explosion earns Cal nail-biting win

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Key takeaway

So, does anyone know what Beau Baldwin ate for breakfast?

Cal is 4-0 for the first time since 2015, and with Utah losing to USC last night, the No. 23 Bears are set to move up the rankings, and are now officially on the map in the Pac-12 race. It is well-known that head coach Justin Wilcox’s defense has the ability to keep Cal in any game this season, but after this performance, the offense might just be able to pull its weight in a tough, upcoming conference schedule. It might sound unbelievable, but the Bears’ offense outplayed its defense today, even with the latter allowing just 20 points.

Baldwin, Cal’s offensive coordinator, called possibly the best game of his stint with the Bears, exploiting the Rebels’ secondary throughout the entirety of the contest. Chase Garbers easily played the best game of his career, but Baldwin’s play designs were a big reason Garbers was able to have his banner day.

The Rebels’ physicality in the trenches made it difficult to run the ball early on, so Baldwin switched it up, utilizing more play action and spreading the ball around. Nine different Bears had receptions, and the four touchdowns were all caught by different players.

This was the most involved Cal’s receivers have been this season by a wide margin, as starters Nikko Remigio, Kekoa Crawford and Jordan Duncan combined for 174 yards on 11 receptions. With a stingy Arizona State defense set to come to UC Berkeley for a nationally televised game next Friday, Baldwin has the chance to make a statement follow-up performance in just a few days.

 

Cal’s game MVP

Chase Garbers — have yourself a game. Against an SEC team in hostile territory, Garbers was the most patient, yet the most explosive he has ever been as Cal’s starting quarterback. The offensive line’s pass protection was there for most of the morning, and Garbers took full advantage, passing for 357 yards and a whopping four touchdowns, both career highs.

Apart from throwing one inexcusable interception, the quarterback was making all the right decisions, going through his reads and putting the ball on target on a variety of throws and routes. After former starting tight end McCallan Castles left the program, Garbers wasted no time meshing with the replacements, finding Jake Tonges for a 60-yard touchdown that would put the Bears up by two possessions.

Garbers used his legs much less often than last week, putting up only 3 yards after 70 last week, but he was taking what the defense was giving him, as any quarterback should. He stood tall in the pocket throughout the game, and was consistently delivering throws that are normally hit-or-miss for him.

 

Eye-opening stat

He came into the game leading all FBS teams in total tackles, and it’s looking like it’s going to stay that way. Mr. Evan Weaver was, once again, everywhere for the Bears. He had a career-high 22 tackles against Ole Miss, one of which was a game-saving goal line tackle with the game in the balance. 

Many football fans are unaware of how tough it is to lead a team in tackles, let alone a conference or the entire nation. With the wide audience this game attracted as a conference crossover, Weaver was eye-opening more so for an audience outside of Cal fans, who already know how dominant he is. His NFL draft stock is improving by the week, and topping 20 tackles in a single game will expedite that process for any prospect.

 

Looking forward

Cal is currently ranked one spot ahead of No. 24 Arizona State (3-0), who plays a gritty Colorado team Saturday evening. The Sun Devils are coming off a win against a quality Michigan State program and have allowed just 7 points in each of their contests so far. As with most games this season, Cal fans can expect a defensive battle, unless the offense that Baldwin put out against Ole Miss proves to be a consistency against tougher defensive units. Running back Eno Benjamin was expected to have a monster year for Arizona State, but he has been held to a measly 3.7 yards per carry and just one rushing touchdown this season.

The top priority for Cal heading into the game should be getting its players healthy, as starting outside linebackers Cameron Goode and Tevin Paul were both out for today’s game, while running back Christopher Brown Jr. was clearly not getting the snap count that he normally does out of the backfield. Additionally, while it did not seem to affect him later in the game, Garbers sat out for a drive after an awkward hit, so recovery will undoubtedly be an emphasis this week for the Bears.

Regardless, Cal should expect a bump up in the rankings in a couple days, even if it’s only a small change. Starting 4-0 is no easy task, and Friday night will say a lot about what this Cal team is made of heading into Oregon the week after, which could likely end up being the Bears’ toughest test of the season.

Shailin Singh covers football. Contact him at [email protected].