10 by 10: The California Golden Bears score 42 against the Sacramento State Hornets

My ten thoughts by 10pm

It’s Saturday, which means I’m back for the next installment of my weekly 10 thoughts by 10pm series. Look if Cal keeps playing these earlier games, I’m never going to have to worry about meeting a 10pm deadline, but I also I want one of those crazy #Pac12AfterDark moments. I crave the entertainment after two frustrating losses to start the season. My expectations coming into this game were relatively simple: Walk away with a comfortable win. For a winless team, that’s not always the easiest task, but the Bears could have easily had two wins already this season. 

So here are my ten thoughts as I watch the California Golden Bears take on the Sacramento State Hornets: 

  1. Play Number 1…Trick Play On the first play from scrimmage, Sacramento State went with a trick play. I’m not sure that every Hornet was on the same page for that play as there was not a pass-catcher anywhere near the throw by junior wide receiver Lucas Triplett, but for just a second, my heart skipped a beat as though I was anticipating the doom of a poor Saturday afternoon ahead of me. I shrugged it off quickly, but it made me wonder when was the last time the Cal offense attempted a trick play? I have a short football memory so it could have been last week as far as I know, but wouldn’t it be fun if we had a flea-flicker or something soon?

  1. 2 First Quarter Touchdowns for Cal, 2 for Damien Moore After forcing a three-and-out, Cal moved down the field methodically and with precision on their first drive. Chase Garbers was 6-6 for 74 yards with completions to five different receivers and rushes by both Damien Moore and DeCarlos Brooks. On their next drive, Garbers was perfect in pass completions and the Bears finished their drive with two more rushes by Moore, giving Moore his second touchdown of the game. That’s already 5 on the season for Moore. 

Note: This was before the Sacramento State touchdown in the first quarter.

  1. 3rd Drives and On… It has been a consistent theme for the Cal offense this year that at some point in the second quarter the Bears lose their precision. Obviously, you expect the opposing defense to adjust and that the Bears are out of their opening offensive script by this point. But the difference between the two offenses is terrifying—one looks like it can score with the best of the Pac-12 and the other looks almost as incompetent as my high school football team. In this game, it was a holding call against Matthew Cindric, an interception, and more conservative play-calling in three consecutive very short drives for 0 points. 

  1. Number 4, Nikko Remigio Remigio hasn’t had the receiving production that I was expecting from him this season thus far, but he has been absolutely vital when Cal is humming at its best. In my first post of this series (okay don’t judge me for repeating topics, but I’ve tried my best to align the thought with the number within the post), I mentioned that the willingness to actually return on a punt or kickoff will make a difference in an upcoming game. It’s certainly too early to tell whether Remigio’s 99-yard kickoff return touchdown to start the third quarter will be a deciding factor in this game, but the electricity when he has the ball in his hand is so … sparkly and attractive.

  1. 5th-year senior Chase Garbers During the 2019 season, I admittedly bought into the Garbers hype train. I knew he had his limitations, but he pulled Cal to the first Big Game victory I’ve ever seen and that was enough for me to believe in the legend of Garbers. He’s never going to have the arm cannon of quarterbacks like Justin Herbert, but he has shown better pocket presence (perhaps also with slightly better protection against slightly worse opposition) and the ability to complete deep passes, which was evident in the 45-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Hunter in stride. It has definitely come at the expense of the Garbers’ scrambles for first downs that made him fun early on in his collegiate career, but just re-watch this clip a couple times and be mesmerized by the beauty of the play.  

  1. Unfortunately, That’s 6 More… The performance of this Cal secondary is particularly concerning. With Elijah Hicks and Josh Drayden as the last remnants of “The Takers” unit from a few years ago, we knew that this unit wouldn’t be as experienced and cohesive. But thus far this season, the secondary has had more holes than a golf course. I think it’s telling that a shaky quarterback on an FCS program that scored fewer than 20 points against Dixie State and Northern Iowa could complete fairly wide open passes to his receivers. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but in the third quarter, Jake Dunningway targeted Chigozie Anusiem more times than I care for. With conference play just a week away, this secondary needs more than just band-aids at this point.

  1. Number 7, Jaylen Brown It’s not a football thought, but I never said it had to be about football in this series. Okay, so I used Brown’s Celtics jersey number, but it fits with my series structure so we’re sticking with it. Despite not having too many stellar seasons by either the football or basketball teams, Cal has had quite a few noteworthy professional athletes—Brown being just one of the latest to star at the next level. He was featured on the sidelines during the television broadcast and it was kind of cool to see Brown put in the work and support the team at his old stomping grounds. We saw Justin Forsett address the team last week before the Bears played TCU. Whoever it is, it’s been pretty cool to see the support from former Cal athletes. 

  1. 8 Yards Per Rush In the first half, the Cal offense’s primary mechanism for attack was through the air, despite two touchdowns coming from Moore on the ground. In the second half, the Bears chose to keep it on the ground especially after the offense took a 35-13 lead midway through the third quarter. Averaging over 8 yards per rush is fine (and it was over 12 yards in the second half), but the worry is twofold here: 1) can the Cal running backs can maintain this level of production against stronger rush defenses that the Bears will encounter later in the season and 2) is this a sign of more conservative play-calling when Cal should be trying to blow the game wide open instead?

  1. 9 Different Receivers The Cal passing offense has come a long way in the last few years after being one of the worst in FBS. Today was just further evidence that there are some interesting offensive skills talent playing. Trevon Clark has been one of Garbers’ favorite deep throw targets over the last two games. Justin Baker and Jeremiah Hunter both had pretty good games with Kekoa Crawford out due to injury. Jake Tonges has been a reliable target in what appears to consistently be 25ish-yard passes. This is without 4-star freshmen Mavin Anderson and J Michael Sturdivant, both of whom will likely not be contributing much, if any, this season. I definitely feel more confident that Cal won’t be winning any games with just a defensive touchdown as they did against Washington in 2018. 

  1. 4th & 10????????? Look it’s a game that Cal was basically in control of from beginning to end so I’m already running on fumes on interesting thoughts watching this game. With about 4 minutes left to go in the game from the Sacramento 35, the Cal offense decided to go for it on 4th & 10. I’m not mad that Cal went for this by any means; in fact, I’m probably more amused. Last week, I complained about the suspect play-calling on 3rd-and-short when 3 or 4 yards would have been enough but Cal went for deep passes along the boundaries and this week I’m just laughing. The Bears didn’t convert a 4th down today, but going for a 35-yard pass on 4th & 10 to essentially close the game is some level of confidence. Garbers barely missed Remigio on the connection—just one of a few that Garbers missed in the endzone today. 

It wasn’t that long ago when the Cal defense was fairly proficient at keeping basically every opponent under 24 points. Since Peter Sirmon took over as the defensive play-caller, only two opponents have scored under 24 points: Oregon (2020) and Nevada (2021). The entertaining part of those Cal defenses was the ability to confuse opposing quarterbacks, but that’s not the identity of this defense. The Bears are walking away with 2 tackles for loss and 0 sacks and a struggling secondary, but at least they’re walking away with a win, which isn’t exactly a celebratory vibe. Cal will face an, until today, offensively-inept Washington next week to start conference play, but this defense hasn’t proved much thus far this season and that has to change now.