Instant analysis/reaction: A ‘game’ was played in Tucson?

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Key takeaways

A lot of young players see the stage

Myles Jernigan, Derek Wilkins, Ethan Saunders, Gunnar Rask, Nate Rutchena, Bastian Swinney and Isaiah Young are among some of the young players (sophomore or under) that either started or played significant snaps against the Wildcats today. Cal’s unfortunate run-in with COVID-19 at least allowed some of the younger Bears to get their first reps in against a hostile crowd.

Cameron Goode, Marqez Bimage and Elijah Hicks are the defense’s saviors

The three seniors have been making plays all season, but in a game where the offense put up exactly three points, they made plays all over the field. Bimage has been absolutely lights-out good as the season has gone on, ranking as one of Pro Football Focus’ top outside linebackers. Goode has been stellar in his own right, leading the team in sacks with 4.5. Hicks recorded four tackles (1.5 for a loss) and a huge interception (his third in three games). Much was said about this “super senior” team and the amount of experience it brought with it — and it needed it today. 

Chase Garbers is integral to the Bears’ success

Well, duh. But it goes to show exactly how essential the small details that a consistent starter at the quarterback position brings to the table. Cal’s quarterback of the day — Ryan Glover — missed several timing throws that Garbers usually hits on. As the announcers noted, every wide receiver runs their routes a little bit differently, so getting a ton of reps with your wideouts is crucial. Glover missed a few throws that could have boosted the Bears’ offense on the day, including an open touchdown to sophomore Justin Richard Baker.

Cal’s game MVP

This includes everyone who is not in COVID-19 protocol. Seriously. Playing with 24 players absent — as well as dealing with some injuries — is no easy feat. Factor in the Tucson sun, and it was a heroic effort just to get off the plane and play the game. There are literally no words to describe what this game ended up being, but everyone who suited up for the Bears’ defense today deserves a booster shot. 

In all seriousness, Cal’s defense played like its hair was on fire today. Multiple takeaways, 10 points allowed and putting the opposing quarterback through the wringer with hit after hit is usually enough to win the game. 

Eye-opening stats

This was Arizona’s first win in 763 days. Cal has not beaten Arizona since 2009.

Ouch. 

Aside from that, Cal recorded three interceptions in this game, in what would usually be called a “defensive struggle.” Whether it was a defensive struggle or offensive ineptitude, the results are the same. The Bears’ defense, which has been much improved after its shaky start to the season, completely shut down an absolutely horrid Arizona offense — even while Cal was down several players. Rutchena recorded his third pick of the year, while Evan Tattersall recorded his first and Hicks continued to be the ball hawk in the Bears’ secondary.

Looking forward

There’s really not a lot to take away from this game for this season. Cal will likely never field this combination of players again, and, frankly, the score of this game proved that it really shouldn’t. But young players who will impact the program for years to come demonstrated that they are capable of playing big-time ball for the Bears in the future, and that, at least, is something to be optimistic about. 

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.