Cal Football Starts Sloppy, but Beats Up Idaho State for Third Win

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Tanner Gueller #4 of the Idaho State Bengals is tackled by Camryn Bynum #24 and Evan Weaver #89 of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Tanner Gueller #4 of the Idaho State Bengals is tackled by Camryn Bynum #24 and Evan Weaver #89 of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Cal Football struggled in the early goings, but got it together to beat up Idaho State and finish non-conference play undefeated.

Cal football got off to an ugly, sloppy start on offense against Idaho State. Vic Wharton muffed his first punt return attempt, though the Bears would recover. Ray Hudson dropped a wide open pass that would have been an easy first down. Kyle Wells was called for a hold that wiped out a long Patrick Laird touchdown drive, and on the next play, a false start made it 3rd-and-12. Even though Cal would convert a 4th-and-7 later on that drive, a run play that lost six yards took them out of field goal and made them punt. On the next possession, a mishandled snap by Chase Garbers ended the drive on third down. All of that happened in the first quarter.

On their fourth drive, they finally put together a clean possession. Safety Ashtyn Davis gave them good field position with his second interception of the season, and from the opponent 40, Cal went to work. Running back Marcel Dancy, a junior college transfer, went nine yards on the first play of the drive, then picked up the first down on the next play. Graduate transfer tight end Ian Bunting recorded his first catch with the Bears, a 24-yarder in traffic, to put Cal at the five-yard line. Dancy finished the drive with his first touchdown, giving the Bears a 7-0 lead with about two minutes left in the first quarter.

The floodgates opened a bit after that. On the next drive, Garbers threw a beautiful 28-yard scoring strike on the run, hitting a wide-open Jordan Duncan in the endzone. Davis made another play after Idaho State got on the board for the first time. He took the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for his first collegiate touchdown. That made it 21-3, and Cal looked ready for more.

They moved the ball rather easily on the next drive as well, but that extremely promising drive ended at Idaho State five-yard line. Wharton made a catch on a screen pass and picked up 17 yards, but fumbled for the second time in the game. This time, Cal couldn’t recover the loose ball. It was Wharton’s second fumble of the day, and third fumble of the season.

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Cal’s defense got their offense the ball back with no damage done, and they were able to add to their lead before the half. Duncan went back for seconds, catching another Garbers pass to put the Bears up 28-3 with under a minute to go in the half.

Cal dominated the first half. They took that 28-3 lead into the locker room, out-gaining the Bengals 297 totals yard to 121. The Bears picked up 15 first downs, while their defense allowed only four. Chase Garbers completed 75% of his pass attempts (12 of 16) for 155 yards, throwing two touchdown passes, both to Duncan.

At that point, the game was teetering on the edge of a blowout. But still, Cal had left a lot of points on the board with those early mistakes, and they weren’t able to pull away after the break. Idaho State opened the final 30 minutes with a touchdown on the first drive of the second half to make it 28-9 (senior Chris Palmer blocked the extra point), and Cal added a field goal to make it 31-9 at the end of three.

They were able to add in the fourth, with Garbers throwing his third score of the evening, this time to tight end Jake Ashton for the first catch of his career. True freshman Nikko Remigio returned a punt down to the four-yard line, then Jeremiah Hawkins scored his first touchdown as Brandon McIlwain threw his first touchdown as a Bear. Idaho State scored a couple garbage time touchdowns after Cal had pulled most of their starters, but Cal ran away with a 45-23 win.

Those miscues didn’t hurt Cal in the end as they were able to overwhelm Idaho State, particularly with their defense. Linebacker Evan Weaver continues to emerge as a defensive standout, recording double-digit tackles for the third straight week. Jordan Kunaszyk and true freshman lineman Aaron Maldonado each recorded a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Tevin Paul followed his excellent game last week with another tackle for loss this week, and Alex Funches also added a TFL.

On the other side of the ball, Garbers was good in his second career start. He went 20-25 for 224 yards and three touchdowns, setting career-bests in completions, yardage, and scores. Garbers was also responsible for an interception that came on a tipped pass. He gained 42 yards on the ground as well.

Cal got their tight ends more involved than they had under Wilcox before. Ian Bunting made four catches for 48 yards, his first catches as a Bear. In three seasons at Michigan, Bunting caught 11 passes for 124 yards, including just one last year. The 6’7” tight end seems like an interesting option moving forward.

Marcel Dancy had a breakout performance. He carried the ball once for two yards in the first two games, but made the most of his 11 carries on Saturday. He picked up 80 yards to lead the team, with four of his carries going for at least 10 yards. That was a welcome development, as Patrick Laird struggled carrying the ball for the third straight week. He had 11 rushes, but gained just 22 yards.

Next. Two QBs Lead Cal to 2-0. dark

Cal will have a bye week to work on some of these things before Pac-12 play begins for them. But in two weeks, the Oregon Ducks, who are currently 3-0 as well, come into Berkeley. They won’t be able to get away with such sloppy play like they did against Idaho State. They’ll have to clean up the penalties, limit the fumbles, and get Laird going. They have 14 days to figure it out.