Hibernate? No, More Like Dominate: Bears end season on high note, beat Illini 35-20 in Redbox Bowl

By Morris Phillips

SANTA CLARA, CA–The Illini moved the ball, but the Bears moved the needle, making the majority of the big plays in their 35-20 Redbox Bowl victory over Illinois on Monday at Levi’s Stadium.

The Bears captured their first Bowl victory since the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force, and won eight games in a season for the first time in the last four seasons. Most importantly, they seized momentum heading into what should be a promising 2020 season.

“We talked in the locker room about the 2020 team,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “The expectations should continue to rise. There’s no reason why we can’t expect more of ourselves.”

Cal could return as many as 18 starters in 2020, 10 of those on offense. Chase Garbers previewed the upcoming season with an outstanding performance against Illinois, completing 21 of 31 for 272 yards and four scores, and a rushing touchdown as well. The Bears went as Garbers did in 2019, and the month-long break leading up to Monday’s contest allowed the redshirt sophomore to be healthy and effective, as the Cal offense kept the pressure on Illinois throughout.

Garbers was named the game’s offensive MVP, another honor for the quarterback who scored the winning touchdown in the final minute that broke Cal’s lengthy losing streak to Stanford.

“We knew there would be a lot of opportunities out there,” Garbers said. “The receivers did a great job running the right routes and catching the ball. I just had to put the ball where it’s supposed to be.”

The key play of the game may have come with 25 seconds remaining before halftime, and Cal clinging to a 14-10 lead. On the previous, third down play, Garbers was stuffed at the three-yard line, setting up a fourth down decision.

The Bears elected to go for it, passing on a field goal attempt that could have established a seven-point, halftime lead. Instead, Garbers found Christopher Brown Jr. on a swing pass that put Cal up 11.

The vaunted Cal defense had struggled to that point, allowing scores on Illinois’ first two possessions. But the defense stiffened from that point, allowing just one score–a fourth quarter, Reggie Corbin touchdown run–in the second half with Cal ahead comfortably at that point, 35-13.

All-American linebacker Evan Weaver finished the game with nine tackles, falling short in his bid to break the NCAA record for tackles in a season. Weaver finished with 182, short of Texas Tech’s Lawrence Flugence’s total of 193 established in 2002.

The Bears were outgained in total yards 450-395, but they came up with the big plays, like Zeandae Johnson’s sack and strip of quarterback Brandon Peters that ended Illinois’ initial possession of the second half.  Brown contributed Cal’s lengthiest gainer, a 54-yard run in the first half, but Cal’s scoring plays were all executed in the red zone. Garbers threw touchdown passes covering just 2, 3, 4 and 6 yards.

“Our offensive staff did a great job putting a game plan together and trying to dial it up,” said Wilcox, giving a respectful nod to outgoing offensive coordinator, Beau Baldwin and offensive line coach, Steve Greatwood, who announced his retirement in the days leading up to the game. Baldwin previously was announced as the new head coach at Cal Poly.

The Bears open the 2020 season in Las Vegas against UNLV on August 29 in Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Raiders and the Rebels.

 

Headline Sports podcast with Barbara Mason: Cal and Stanford get opening day wins; 49ers open in Tampa Bay and Raiders host Denver on MNF; plus more

Photo credit: mercurynews.com

On the Headline Sports podcast with Barbara:

#1 For the Cal Bears, getting a victory on opening day last Saturday was an important way to start the 2019 season with a win over UC Davis at Memorial Stadium and what a way to start with running back Christopher Brown Jr. rushing for 197 yards to help lead the team to a 27-13 win.

#2 The Stanford Cardinal defeated Northwestern, but the Cardinal lost their starting quarterback during the game when KJ Costello took a forearm to the head. The Cardinal hung onto win it 17-7. Costello could muster only one strong drive before the injury. The Cardinal are on the road next week to face the USC Trojans next Saturday.

#3 The San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took Thursday Night Football off last week and the 49ers went with three quarterbacks: Nick Mullins, CJ Beathard, and Nick Speight. Speight and Beathard both saw the most time in the game with Mullens resting. Is that an indication that Nick Mullens, who saw limited time will be the backup, and head coach Kyle Shanahan wants to see if Beathard or Speight will fill the third-string spot?

#4 The Oakland Raiders look as if they had a very solid preseason winning three of their four games. Raider head coach Jon Gruden said he’s happy with the progress of backup quarterbacks Nathan Peterman (out with elbow injury) and Mike Glennon who he’ll really depend on if starting quarterback Derek Carr ever needs a rest.

#5 The Oakland A’s are hosting the LA Angels and Detroit Tigers this week at the Oakland Coliseum. The A’s are 1/2 game back in the AL wild card behind second place Cleveland. It could go right down to the wire for a chance of a wild card birth.

Join Barbara for Headline Sports each Tuesday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

Cal Stays Cool: Bears shake off early adversity and deficit, squeeze past UC Davis, 27-13

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — Coach Justin Wilcox hates it when his club loses the turnover battle, linebacker Evan Weaver–ever the perfectionist–never minces words when assessing the Bears’ defense, and running back Christopher Brown Jr.–a new voice in the mix–was simply doing what he was taught to do, in impacting the Cal football record book in just his first, collegiate start on Saturday.

If you’re keeping score that’s one positive, and two negatives, for the Bears on the occasion of their 2019 opener. But that positive–Brown’s 197 yards rushing, setting the record for a Cal running back in his first start–was significant enough to carry the Bears past UC Davis, 27-13 at Memorial Stadium.

Brown bludgeoned the Aggies for four quarters, carrying the ball 36 times as the Bears overcame an early 10-0 deficit and methodically wore down UC Davis in the opener for both teams. Brown’s 5-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, broke a 13-13 tie, and gave Cal a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“That’s what we expect of him,” Wilcox said of Brown. “He’s a big, physical guy and this is his type of game–give it to him and let him break tackles. He’s a hard guy to bring down. It was great to see him out there.”

The 230-pound Brown played sparingly as a freshman in 2018. But with Patrick Laird departed, he’s stepped into the feature back role flawlessly. And his preparation–as he and Wilcox noted after the game–couldn’t have been more effective. Fourteen of his 36 carries came in the fourth quarter, and none went for more than 26 yards. Throughout, Brown was a tireless nightmare for the Aggie defense, which eventually wore down in the final minutes.

“My plan was to follow my coaches’ rules,” Brown said after he easily surpassed Jahvid Best’s first start in 2008 totaling 111 yards rushing. “We have been doing the same thing all of camp and the plan was not to change anything from practice. The same as we have been doing all along meaning going through eye progression, reading the correct gaps, doing what Coach (Nicholas) Edwards teaches us to do day-by-day.”

Brown’s contributions were vital with the Bears fumbling the opening kickoff, and falling behind 7-0 less than two minutes into the contest. But the adversity didn’t end there. The Bears turned it over twice in their first four possessions and punted twice. UC Davis didn’t just settle either. The Aggies ran 25 offensive plays to Cal’s 10, and capped the longest drive of the day with Max O’Rourke’s 40-yard field goal that put UC Davis up 10-0. With an upset of Stanford in their recent history, the minds of all involved started racing with UC Davis off to a roaring start.

But Wilcox remained calm and resolute which rubbed off on his football team. Afterwards, he explained.

“There wasn’t any panic. The guys stayed with it. We knew there would be some adversity in this game,” he said.

Quarterback Chase Garbers, who would bounce back to throw a pair of touchdowns to Kekoa Crawford, didn’t overplay the slow start either. Garbers finished 16 of 28 for 238 yards passing and one pick.

“The fumble off the opening kickoff was definitely a momentum swing for them, putting them in our red zone. I think that attributed to it. I think also offensively we came out too loose,” Garbers said.

Defensively, beyond the rough start, Cal held its own. The Aggies were limited to 264 yards offensively stretched across 68 plays, and they accomplished little outside of their fast start. Still, defensive leader Weaver, didn’t like what he saw, saying the Bears accomplished little of what they set out to do. Still, he promised the Bears would be far better on Saturday when they visit the Washington Huskies in Seattle.

“Going forward it’s just how we respond,” Weaver said. “Can we clean up those little mistakes?”