When you play the devil, you’d better play well, and the Bears did not deliver.
Already peppered with injuries, Cal’s pieced-together starting lineup lost quarterback Chase Garbers after he was sidelined by a hard hit with just over a minute left in the first half. Garbers, whose days of throwing interceptions like it’s his job are (hopefully) done, was in the midst of a stellar game and had thrown for 117 yards and one touchdown when he exited the matchup. Backup quarterback and UCLA transfer Devon Modster was handed a tie game and had to quickly come in and step up.
A meticulous first drive to open the second half highlighted Modster’s fairly deliberate handling of the game — he did not attempt a single throw on the drive and it still ended in Cal’s second touchdown of the night. The game that Modster received, however, had already unraveled, and the loss of various key players was the final nail in Cal’s coffin.
Wide receiver Kekoa Crawford and a slew of defensive and offensive linemen were also ruled out before the game due to injury, and the Bears were unable to muscle an unranked ASU into its second consecutive loss.
Although Cal was not able to churn out its fifth win of the season, the Bears still showed flashes of efficiency — what many thought would only pose as setbacks to the team instead allowed second-stringers, such as Trey Turner III, to demonstrate their skills.
Cal showed that depth is one of its most important assets, and that even in the absence of talented starters, the Bears can muster near-wins in the face of adversity, which is good news for this season and those to come.
Cal’s game MVP
Let’s leave honoring Evan Weaver, who has earned the honor of Defensive Player of the Week twice already this season, to the Pac-12. Instead, let’s pay homage to Cameron Goode’s head-turning defensive showing, in which the redshirt junior earned 11 tackles and a crucial strip-sack that outside linebacker Joseph Ogunbanjo picked up to nearly vault the Bears over the Sun Devils.
Although Weaver sets a ridiculously high bar — the astronomical 22 tackles he earned against Ole Miss were astounding — Goode’s clutch tackles are what should have clinched the Bears a win over an uncannily similar ASU.
Picture this: you’re a backup transfer quarterback who hasn’t started a single game at Cal, and then the starting quarterback gets injured and rushed off the field right before halftime. The game is tied, and being broadcast on national television — you could be the hero or you could cost your team its national ranking.
What do you do? You walk on eggshells and do everything you can to not lose the game. You take as few chances as possible and make sure that you do not get injured. Your name is also Devon Modster, and you do all of these — and then lose the game.
Not a single one of Modster’s passes was over 10 yards, and he even threw one interception for good measure. The Sun Devils’ offense slipped through Cal’s defense just enough to edge out the Bears, and finally tapped into running back Eno Benjamin’s fullest potential on his three-touchdown night.
The Sun Devils kept largely in stride with the Bears for the entire game, with both teams’ stats almost mirror images. Cal rattled off 174 passing yards to ASU’s 140, but marginal differences ended up costing the Bears.
Next on Cal’s schedule is a trip to Eugene, Oregon to face the No. 13 Ducks. Unluckily for the many physically and emotionally injured Bears, Oregon has a bye weekend and will be well-rested and ready to tussle with Cal when the team arrives.
The Ducks stomped on Stanford last weekend in Cardinal territory and waddled away with a 21-6 victory and 320 total yards. While Oregon only notched 61 rushing yards against Stanford’s 114, the Ducks’ 259 passing yards made the difference and earned them their third win of the season.
The Bears have room for improvement when it comes to defending the pass, as was evident tonight when the chains moved from here to Russia after Jayden Daniels launched a 38-yard pass to Ricky Pearsall, setting up the Sun Devil’s first touchdown of the night.
Finesse is key when it comes to shutting down Oregon’s all-powerful quarterback Justin Herbert, but good quarterbacks have only stopped the Bears once this season. Nailing down a solid running game should be on Cal’s agenda, especially since Garbers flexed his newfound passing precision and Modster showed how much he loves to not pass.