BERKELEY (AP) — The start of the season couldn’t have gone much better for California: a win at nationally ranked Washington to open conference play, a thrilling victory on the road against an SEC team last week and a 4-0 record that has given the 15th-ranked Golden Bears their highest ranking in a decade.
As gratifying as that may be, the Bears know it’s only a start.
“The way we approach it, rankings matter when the season is over. That’s when they matter,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “We don’t minimize the fact we’ve won the games we’ve played in. That’s hard to do. That’s a big deal and finding a way to win those games is a big deal. We learn from those things and we love learning from the wins.”
The Bears (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have had some good ones heading into Friday night’s home game against Arizona State (3-1, 0-1).
They beat Washington on the road on a field goal in the closing seconds and then went on the road again last week to beat Mississippi when Evan Weaver stopped John Rhys Plumlee at the goal line on the final play of a 28-20 victory.
The Sun Devils found themselves on the wrong end of a close game last week, losing 34-31 at home to Colorado. Coach Herm Edwards said he has been pleased this week with the response of his young players.
“They got some enthusiasm going, and I think that they’re disappointed, which is a good sign,” he said. “They’re not sad, like they’re disappointed. They had an opportunity to do something, and it got away from them. So now we get another opportunity.”
Here are some other things to watch:
STEPPING UP: Cal has relied heavily on its defense the past few years but it was the offense that led the way to the victory last week. Chase Garbers set career highs with 357 yards passing and four TD passes in his best game yet for the Bears.
“If our offense keeps producing like we did Saturday, we could do what we set our goals to, which is win the North, win the Pac-12 and whatever bowl we go to,” he said.
TALENTED FRESHMAN: One bright spot for the Sun Devils last week was the play of freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels. He threw for 345 yards and two TDs in the loss, connecting with Brandon Aiyuk nine times for 122 yards. Daniels struggled to move the ball the previous game at Michigan State, when he threw for only 140 yards in a 10-7 win.
“He can make a lot of plays with his legs, and he’s done that in the past. But now he’s throwing the ball a lot better,” Edwards said. “He’s starting to trust the offense.”
DEFENSIVE LEADER: Weaver has been the unquestioned leader of Cal’s stellar defense this season as evidenced by his school record-tying 22 tackles last week. Weaver leads the nation with 10 solo tackles per game and 15.8 total tackles per game and will be counted on to slow talented Sun Devils running back Eno Benjamin.
HOMECOMING: Edwards started his college playing career at Cal in 1972 and has fond memories of his time in Berkeley. This is the second time in two years Edwards has gone back to face a school where he once played, having faced San Diego State last year.
“I can remember a lot of great memories walking through that stadium as a player and playing with a pretty good football team. It’s my first college I attended as a freshman back in 1972,” he said. “Seems like it was just yesterday. A lot of memories for me. ... San Diego State was one thing, and now I’m going back to this place, you’ve got to be kidding me. So it’ll be a lot of fun.”