By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, Calif. — Winning is what it’s all about, but this early in the season, improvement is almost as important.
The Cal Bears jumped to a 20-0 lead over Conference USA opponent North Texas, which was exactly what they wanted after falling behind 10-0 in each of their previous wins.
But after punts on four, consecutive second half possessions, the Bears had to sweat out a final possession by North Texas with the Mean Green having a chance to win it with a touchdown.
“We have to play a lot better,” quarterback Chase Garbers said. “It starts with me. I just have to put ball in the right spot. Everywhere else we just have to execute better.”
Garbers may have given himself a harsh assessment, but he was a big factor in the win, carrying the ball a career-high 18 times for 70 yards. Where Garbers didn’t necessarily get it done was in the pass game, where he completed just 9 of 22 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
And the Bears managed just 17 first downs and 278 yards of total offense. Not enough to extend their second quarter lead, and not enough to put North Texas away early.
“Our guys play hard and the effort’s really good. Now the level of execution’s gotta match that for us to do what we want to do,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “We’re not there yet.”
Defensively, the Bears did what they intended for the majority of the game. North Texas senior quarterback Mason Fine threw for two scores, but both came in the second half, and a critical interception by Cal’s Traveon Beck was sandwiched in between the scores. Fine threw for 210 yards, but misfired on 19 of his 40 pass attempts.
“You have to credit Cal,” Fine said. “They did a great job defensively, mixed it up and didn’t let us drive it. They made the plays.”
Cal went the final three quarters scoring just three points, and while they flatlined offensively, injuries may have played a critical role. Christopher Brown Jr., Cameron Goode, Tevin Paul, Ben Hawk Shrider and Chinedu Udeogu all suffered in-game injuries and didn’t finish. Brown, the Bears’ most, productive offensive player thus far rushed for just 47 yards on 13 carries.
The Bears travel to Oxford, Mississippi on Saturday for a date with Ole Miss.