Berkeley, CA – The No.15 California Golden Bears (4-1) fell from the ranks of the unbeaten Friday night, losing at home to the Arizona State Sun Devils (4-1) 24-17 in a run-dominated game featuring two of the most surprising teams in the Pac-12 conference through the first third of the 2019 season.
The first quarter saw each team stall on their opening drives before finding the endzone in their second attempts.
Arizona State earned the first score on the night with junior running back Eno Benjamin (3) scampering for an 11-yard rushing touchdown to cap an 80-yard drive for the Sun Devils, followed by the extra point from Christian Zendejas (45) to make it 7-0.
The Golden Bears followed up on the very next drive with a score of their own when quarterback Chase Garbers (7), coming off career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, and completions in Cal’s Week 4 victory at Ole Miss, found junior receiver Trevon Clark (80) for a 16-yard scoring pass leading to a successful point-after attempt from Greg Thomas (31) to even the game at 7-7.
Following unsuccessful drives from both teams, including a missed field goal attempt from Zendejas, momentum shifted drastically in favor of the Sun Devils when Garbers landed on his shoulder after scrambling toward the Arizona State sideline late in the second quarter. The redshirt sophomore quarterback was forced to leave the game with an apparent arm injury and was subsequently replaced by junior Devon Modster (6).
The Golden Bears’ offensive effectiveness fell almost immediately with the change as Modster threw an interception in the endzone to end the half.
Cal recaptured momentum to start the second half with a 63-yard, 12-play scoring drive achieved entirely on the ground with running back Christopher Brown Jr. (34) pounding in the 1-yard rushing touchdown to push the Golden Bears ahead 14-7.
But Arizona State would reciprocate with a rushing touchdown of their own on the next drive, coming for the second time from Benjamin to tie it at 14 a-piece.
In the fourth quarter, Greg Thomas (31) would deliver on a 47-yard field goal try to push Cal ahead once more, 17-14.
Ultimately, the Arizona State ground game would prove too much for the Bears and their backup quarterback-led offense to keep up with.
Eno Benjamin would deliver on his third and final rushing touchdown of the night before Zendejas, who missed a second field goal try earlier in the second half, would drive in the dagger with a 43-yarder to make it 24-17 for the visiting Sun Devils.
Arizona State finished with 365 yards of offense on the night, including 210 on the ground. Benjamin carried the majority of the load, ending the game with 105 yards and three scores on 29 carries, while freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels (5), the first true freshman to start the season at the position in school history, also proved a difference-maker with 93 yards on the ground on 12 attempts, including a long of 24 yards, to go along with 174 yards through the air on 14-of-24 passing attempts.
The Bears offense was truly a tale of two quarterbacks.
Garbers finished 9-of-12 with 117 yards and a touchdown in his nearly full half of play while Modster tallied 5 completions out of 14 attempts for just 23 yards and an interception.
Cal’s defense, a key to their success through the first four games of the season, showed glimpses of their ability to shut down opposing offenses, including a key strip-sack of Daniels to set-up the field goal from Thomas in the fourth quarter. However, they allowed too many long runs from the young Sun Devils quarterback, especially on third down, to give their struggling offense much of a chance.
The win in Berkeley is just the second since 1999 for Arizona State, who also pushed their FBS-leading active streak of games with more than 10 points scored to 124.
Head coach Herm Edwards was proud of the tenacity his team displayed in grinding out the win.
“Everyone elevated their game tonight,” he said after the game. “This is a resilient bunch. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, they continue to find ways to keep themselves in the football game. If you do that, you have a chance.”
Cal linebacker Evan Weaver (89), who earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors following victories over both Washington and Ole Miss, made his presence felt once again, finishing with 15 tackles to give him 12 straight games with 10 or more.
The Golden Bears will look to rebound against the No. 13 Oregon Ducks in Eugene on Saturday, Oct. 5th, while Arizona State heads into a much-needed bye week.
Should the arm injury keep Garbers out of Cal’s match-up with the Ducks, it will fall to Modster to prove that he can give his team a chance to compete.
“Honestly, I think I played terrible,” he said in describing his performance coming off the bench. “I will pick it up next week. It doesn’t hurt my confidence. I know what I am capable of. Just got to grind next week and prepare for Oregon.”