Cal Football Uses Two Quarterbacks and Strong Defense to Move to 2-0

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Jaylinn Hawkins #6 of the California Golden Bears reacts after intercepting a pass by Nathan Elliott #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels at California Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Jaylinn Hawkins #6 of the California Golden Bears reacts after intercepting a pass by Nathan Elliott #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels at California Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Cal football moved to 2-0 with another strong defensive performance and a two-headed attack at quarterback, beating Brigham Young.

Cal football head coach Justin Wilcox and offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin made a change for Saturday night’s week two contest against the BYU Cougars. After Ross Bowers started the season opener, and was quite ineffective in his time on the field, the Bears went with redshirt freshman Chase Garbers in his place.

In his first collegiate start, Garbers had some excellent moments. He was efficient with the ball, completing 64% of his passes (18 completions in 28 attempts) for 176 yards. He also had some moments in the first half where he looked a bit overwhelmed, understandable in his starting debut, but he settled down as the game went on.

He threw two pearls for touchdowns. In the first quarter, he tossed an absolute beauty into the endzone for Patrick Laird, hitting him in stride and giving Cal their first touchdown of the day. On the first drive of the second half, he found Kanawai Noa behind the defense, connecting for a 52-yard score.

The redshirt freshman did his best work in the second half. He completed 13 of his 15 throws in the final 30 minutes, but one of those incompletions was costly. He threw an interception in BYU territory, potentially taking points off the board. Beside that mistake, he kept the team moving in the right direction. He stood tall in the pocket and made good decisions, showing poise beyond his experience level.

Garbers also added another dimension with his athleticism. He broke pocket on a number of occasions, and wasn’t always running for a gain. He made a couple of pretty throws on the run, and when he did try to pick up yardage with his legs, he was excellent in that area. He picked up 45 yards on five attempts.

Transfer student-athlete Brandon McIlwain also played a much bigger role this week after limited plays in the first week. He was more of a runner than a passer, and made plenty of plays with his legs. The sophomore ran the ball efficiently, carrying a team-high 16 times and leading the squad with 74 yards on the ground. He also scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, his first as a Bear, that gave the Bears a 21-10 lead.

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McIlwain picked up five first downs on the ground, including the biggest of the game. After BYU pulled within three with under a minute to play, Cal recovered the onside kick attempt. With all three of the Cougars’ timeouts in tact, Cal needed one first down to seal the game. McIlwain carried once for three yards, then again for four yards. On third-and-three, McIlwain bounced outside and picked up five yards, gaining the necessary first down and clinching the ballgame.

When given the opportunity, McIlwain was efficient in throwing the ball. He was successful on five of his seven attempts, picking up three first downs. One of his incompletions was an easy drop by his receiver on a play that likely would have easily gotten another first down.

Cal’s offense was much improved over week one. After gaining 279 yards against UNC, they picked up 398 against BYU. They only passed for 119 yards in week one, but upped that to 214 yards in week two. The area that showed the most improvement from week to week was converting third downs. They were just 4-for-17 (23.5%) in game one, but made a nearly-30% improvement, converting eight times in 15 tries for 53 percent.

Cal wasn’t perfect by any means, though. They turned the ball over three times, with one coming on Garbers’ interception. Running back Derrick Clark fumbled on a completion, which BYU turned into a scoop-and-score, and return man Vic Wharton muffed a punt that resulted in BYU gaining possession at the Cal 15-yard-line.

They were tested, but Cal’s defense stood tall all night long. They played a great brand of “bend, don’t break” defense in the first half, giving up 13 first downs and 193 yards but only allowing a field goal on the board. They were much more stingy in the second half.

After Garbers’ pick, the defense forced a three-and-out on the next drive. After Wharton’s muff, Traveon Beck picked off BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum after Jordan Kunaszyk pressured him. When Cal turned it over on downs with about six minutes left, Jaylinn Hawkins came up with his third interception of the young season on an underthrown deep ball on the very next play.

Just about everyone stepped up for the Cal defense, and they needed it. Playmaking linebacker Cameron Goode missed the game because of an ankle injury he suffered in week one, but the other guys made up for his absence. Evan Weaver was all over the field again, making tackle after tackle and batting passes down. Tevin Paul set up camp in the backfield and made a couple tackles for loss. Cam Bynum was again a terror for opposing receivers, and Alex Funches made a few big plays around the line of scrimmage. Zeandae Johnson recorded his first career sack, and cornerback Elijak Hicks was again a force as a tackler.

BYU just wouldn’t go away, though. They broke into the endzone again with 51 seconds on the clock, converting the ensuing two-point conversion to make it a 21-18 game. They attempted the onside kick, but Jaylinn Hawkins was again in the right place at the right time. The kick bounced straight to him, and he laid down to secure possession. McIlwain then sealed Cal’s second straight win.

There’s still a lot of work to do on offense. They need to find more ways to pick up big chunks, and they have to get Patrick Laird going. He only gained 30 yards on 10 carries, and is averaging just over three yards per carry two games into the season. They need him to be the big threat again, and that will help the passing game as well. The quarterbacks can’t do everything by themselves.

dark. Next. Defense Needs More From Offense

Until then, Garbers and McIlwain provided some great moments on Saturday, and the defense was more than up to any test put in front of them. Cal ends non-conference play with Idaho State, a team that Cal should beat. They’ve played down to the competition on more than one occasion in recent years, though. If they keep up the intensity next week, they should end the non-conference schedule undefeated. “Should” is the key word.