Cal Football: Monster Games by Weaver, Garbers Propel No. 23 Bears to 4-0 start
You sort of expect inside linebacker Evan Weaver to have the kind of superhuman game he had Saturday. But Chase Garbers? Where did his virtuoso performance come from?
Those two stellar individual performances led the 23rd-ranked Bears to a 28-20 road victory over Mississippi Saturday.
Weaver entered the game ranked second in the nation in tackles per game (13.7), but even by his standards, Weaver had a monster game against the Rebels (2-2). He collected a career-high 22 tackles, the second-most by any FBS player this season, and his final stop saved the game for the Bears, who are 4-0 for the first time since 2015.
With time running out and Mississippi having the ball about three inches from the goal-line with a chance to tie with a touchdown and two-point conversion, Weaver stopped Rebels quarterback John Rhys Plumlee for no gain on a quarterback sneak on the game’s final play.
“It was just tackling the guy with the ball, keep him from crossing the white stripe,” Weaver said. “We got lucky. We got some push in the middle, and put it to him.”
“Twenty-two tackles; it’s like that every week,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said of Weaver. “When’s the last time we didn’t talk about Weaver that way after a game? He makes a lot of tackles. He’s a really good football player. Seems like we’ve become accustomed to it, a little spoiled that way.”
Cal got a little lucky on the next-to-last play of the game, when a completion to Elijah Moore on third down got the ball right to the goal-line. Referees ruled he did not cross the goal-line, but replays suggested the ball might have crossed the line. But with the clock running down under 15 seconds and Mississippi, with no timeouts left, rushing to get off one more play, there was no time to review the play on video replay.
As you can see here. First is the TD that got Mississippi close and below that are the final two plays:
The stop also enabled Cal to record its 11th straight game in which it held its opponent to fewer than 24 points, the longest such active streak in FBS. They gave just 20 points on Saturday despite allowing 525 yards of offense to the Rebels, the most yards Cal has given up in its past 20 games.
Cal had built a 28-13 lead in the game because third-year sophomore quarter Garbers played the best game of his career.
He finished 23-of-35 for 357 yards, four touchdowns (to four different receivers) and one interception. In Cal’s previous three games combined against FBS opponents (TCU, Washington and North Texas), Garbers totaled just 333 passing yards.
“Not even close, that was his best game by far,” Wilcox said. “Man, I thought he was awesome.”
Garbers ran when he should have run. He threw deep when it was warranted. He hit key passes in key situations. He threw the ball away judiciously when there was nothing available.
The passing game was an element Cal had been lacking since the start of last season. Cal had only 60 rushing yards Saturday, but if Garbers can continue to perform like he did Saturday . . . well, draw your own conclusions.
“Honestly, we just executed in this game,” Garbers said. “We lacked execution the past few weeks.”
Obvious it was more than that, and Wilcox knows it.
“How comfortable he was and how confident he played, delivering it with authority,” Wilcox said. “Threw some touch balls. He drove some in there. Just awesome to see.
“I thought he took a huge leap today.”
Certainly, Cal’s receivers played a role in Garbers’ success. Tight end Jake Tonges had three catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, Nikko Remigio had three receptions for 72 yards, including an amazing 43-yard grab while he was falling backward that led to a Cal touchdown, and Jordan Duncan, a Mississippi native, had five receptions for 63 yards and a score.
"I've been dreaming about this day since I came to Cal,"Duncan said. "It was the greatest feeling. Something I can cherish forever."
The Bears had nine pass plays of 15 yards or more, giving them the chunk plays Cal lacked last year.
Significantly Devon Modster, who had been ineligible for the first three games following his transfer from UCLA, got into the game in the second half when Garbers left temporarily after a hard hit. Modster completed his first and only Cal passing attempt for 16 yards on Saturday.
Although Cal was playing in SEC territory, a surprising number of Cal fans were among the crowd of 46,850.
“You felt them on the field,” Wilcox said of the Cal rooters. “They showed up from the West Coast and the East Coast and everywhere in between. Probably some from different continents.”
Here is some of the postgame contact with Cal fans:
“I was blown away, I got to be honest,” Weaver said of the Cal fan presence.