The difference in Cal’s offensive performance between their clashes against UCLA and Oregon State could not have been more pronounced. Whatever the blue and gold put in their cereal Saturday morning was clearly effective in the first half as the Bears steamrolled the Beavers with 317 yards of total offense.
Mistakes on special teams, the ceding of massive runs to Jermar Jefferson and the stalling of that same offense after break doomed Cal to an 0-2 start, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the blue and gold were in rhythm for the first two quarters.
Quarterback Chase Garbers’ deep passes were an important part of the Bears’ potent early attack. Six of Garbers’ seven pass plays, which gained more than 15 yards, came in the first half, including a 44-yard bomb to Kekoa Crawford, a 33-yard pass to Jake Tonges and a 52-yard nuclear strike to Makai Polk, where Garbers targeted Oregon State redshirt freshman Alex Austin.
Polk and Crawford both proved far faster than the Beavers’ man coverage could handle, speeding by cornerbacks and safeties whenever Oregon State tried to match up one-on-one. After spending an entire half watching his receivers burn the opposing defensive backs, Garbers put that speed to use when he hit Crawford on a post route to give Cal the lead in the second quarter.
On 2nd and 9, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave brought an extra player into the backfield, sacrificing a receiver for fullback Drew Schlegel. The Beavers stacked the box accordingly, leaving man coverage on the outside and one high safety to deal with Trevon Clark on the left and Crawford on the right.
A fake handoff to running back Marcel Dancy and a short slant from Tonges held the Oregon State linebackers’ attention, but Garbers’ eyes were elsewhere as Schlegel leaked out to the right as the check down option and Crawford and Clark sped downfield.
Cal’s star quarterback avoided the pressure — he stepped up in the pocket while the offensive line held firm. At the second level, Oregon State’s linebackers split to cut off Garbers’ short options. Inside linebacker Omar Speights reached Dancy, while outside linebackers Hamilcar Rashed Jr. and Riley Sharp sprinted to cover Tonges and Schlegel, respectively. Schlegel stayed open, still leaking outside in case Garbers wants to dump it off.
That option became rapidly unnecessary as the Beavers could not breach the Bears’ blockers and Garbers shifted forward. Crawford ran underneath Oregon cornerback Nahshon Wright, using his speed to create a foot of separation. Clark ran his route just above his teammate and picked off the lone safety, leaving the would-be touchdown wide open.
Garbers did not miss, letting an absolute dime fly from his fingers. By the time the ball had left his hands, it was already too late. Crawford had left Wright in the dust, and 21 yards later, he let him know it. After catching the ball in the corner of the endzone, the Cal wide receiver celebrated his first touchdown catch of the season. The blue and gold led 17-14.
Crawford racked up 141 yards on 10 receptions while Garbers would toss three touchdowns and throw 315 yards. It wasn’t enough, however, as a late interception sealed a Cal loss. The Bears’ offense was less effective in the second half, and the team was less potent downfield.
In last year’s Big Game, Garbers threw for 285 yards and a touchdown. He and his receiving corps will hope to improve on last year’s and last week’s performance when the Cardinal visits Berkeley this Friday.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers football and is the deputy special issues editor. Contact him at [email protected].