Instant analysis/reaction: Cal buffs out scratches, beats Colorado

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Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff

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Game summary

Cal earned its second win of the season in a solid 26-3 victory over Colorado. The Bears found themselves up 20-3 heading into the locker room, and a stout defensive performance kept the Buffs well out of reach for the rest of the afternoon.

Key takeaways

Cal looked balanced for the first time this year

The first few weeks saw Cal’s offense and defense trade off poor performances. The Bears finally looked like a complete team in this one, as the defense gave up just 104 yards while the offense looked much more creative and in sync. For example, on third-and-1 midway through the third quarter, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave called a fake QB dive pitch play to running back Christopher Brooks to pick up the first down. Creativity and execution like that would have been game-changing last week against Oregon, but for Bears fans, the change is better late than never. 

Making plays in the backfield made the difference 

Cal had a season-high seven tackles for loss before the end of the first half, as well as three sacks through the end of the second quarter. A touchdown before halftime would have been huge for Colorado, which trailed 20-3 at the start of its final drive of the half. But the Bears instead forced a punt thanks to a sack by Elijah Hicks on second down and QB hurries from Muelu Iosefa and Trey Paster on third down. Hicks’ interception early in the fourth quarter was not by accident — Cal’s defensive line had been getting to Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis all afternoon, and a misplaced throw seemed inevitable.

The Bears played with swagger 

Mishaps and embarrassment have defined Cal’s 2021 season. Missed PATs, busted plays in high pressure situations and half-empty (not half-full) stadiums all seem to be common occurrences this year. And while turnout at Memorial Stadium was subpar, to say the least, the Bears finally looked like a competent football team this afternoon. Kicker Dario Longhetto made all four of his attempted field goals, including two from 49 and 51 yards, and the defense allowed just one play over 15 yards. The Cal sideline exuded confidence for a change.

Cal’s game MVP 

Chase Garbers managed this game to near perfection. The fifth-year player and fourth-year starter looked the part, breaking off a few long runs, hitting accurate long passes and, when necessary, scrambling for a few yards to put the Bears in manageable situations. He had a single game career-high 77 yards rushing well before the first half came to a close and finished with 225 yards passing.

To top it all off, his 39-yard scramble in the first quarter made him Cal’s all-time leading rushing quarterback, breaking Joe Kapp’s previously held record of 931 rushing yards.

Eye-opening stats

The Bears had just nine sacks through their first six matchups but finished with six against the Buffaloes Saturday afternoon. 

The Buffs’ offense averaged just 2.3 yards per play this afternoon. By way of comparison, the team with the fewest yards per play in college football this season (University of Louisiana at Monroe) averages 3.95 yards per play.

Cal’s 12 tackles for loss alone resulted in a loss of 46 yards for the Buffs.

Looking forward

Next Saturday, Cal will take on Oregon State (4-2) in Strawberry Canyon for the Bears’ second-to-last home game of the season. The Beavers currently sit in second place in the Pac-12 North behind No. 10 Oregon and have shown improvement since finishing 2-5 last year but are not exactly an elite team. Case in point, Oregon State gave up 399 passing yards to Washington State two weeks ago in a 31-24 loss, the Beavers’ first loss since their season opener against Purdue. A balanced performance like the one Cal fans saw today will give the Bears a great chance to earn a second consecutive win, something that seemed highly unlikely just a few short weeks ago.

William Cooke covers football. Contact him at [email protected].