BERKELEY (AP) — Christopher Brown Jr. had never been called into a postgame press conference before so the California running back needed a little help to get settled in.
The way Brown ran the ball in the Golden Bears season opener, he might as well get used to it.
Brown rushed for a career-high 197 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries in his first start, and California overcame a sloppy first half and beat UC Davis 27-13 on Saturday.
“We were trained for this and we were overly prepared for this,” Brown said. “That played a big role in how many touches we get, how many plays we get. It’s really the guys up front that made the holes. I just ran. They blocked.”
Brown, a seldom-used backup to Patrick Laird last season, provided the biggest spark and became the first Cal running back to go over 100 yards in his first start since Jahvid Best in 2008.
“We knew Chris would get the ball a lot,” Bears coach Justin Wilcox said. “That’s what we expect of him. He’s a big, physical guy and this is his type of game. Give it to him and let him break tackles. Probably more touches and more yards than he had all last year. He’s been preparing for this.”
That was critical on a day when Cal’s passing game was hit-and-miss for most of the afternoon.
Quarterback Chase Garbers shrugged off two turnovers and completed 16 of 28 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns, both to Kekoa Crawford. Greg Thomas kicked a pair of field goals, including a career-best 47-yarder, as the Golden Bears won their third consecutive opener under Wilcox.
“We weren’t in sync but it wasn’t panic,” Wilcox said. “We battled back and got into some rhythm on both sides of the ball. We just made it really difficult on ourselves at times.”
California won despite four turnovers including a fumble by Ashtyn Davis on the opening kickoff. That set up a short touchdown run by Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. and the Aggies went up 10-0 on a field goal by Max O’Rourke before the Bears rallied.
Brown’s 5-yard touchdown in the third quarter helped put the Bears up 20-13. He later carried four times for 21 yards to set up Garbers’ second touchdown throw to Crawford, a 26-yarder that was tipped near the goal line by Davis cornerback Jaylin White.
“Offensively we just came out too loose,” Garbers said. “We were kind of lackadaisical to start. We regrouped and came out and did what we do.”
Jake Maier, the Big Sky Conference player of the year, completed 19 of 37 passes for 173 yards.
“I have to be more accurate in situations we need to make a play, and that was ultimately the difference,” Maier said. “We pretty much knew what they were lined up in most of the night and we weren’t able to convert on certain plays.”
The Aggies, 10-3 a year ago, were held to 100 yards total offense in the second half.
“It’s not a win but I don’t think we’re walking away from here thinking we operated poorly or we didn’t give our best effort,” Davis coach Dan Hawkins said. “We did the things you’re supposed to do in this sport and that will carry a long way.”
BRING ON THE HUSKIES
Cal linebacker Evan Weaver didn’t mince words when asked to assess the Bears defensive effort and was even more outspoken about next week’s game against Washington.
“As a defense we played horrible. We’re not ready,” Weaver said. “But we will be ready next Saturday. You can believe that. Right now it’s not looking good. But we’ll get it right. Then we’ll fly up there and we’ll beat them. That’s what we do. We win games. We figure it out.”
UC Davis: The Aggies controlled the game early and had Cal’s offense on the ropes but couldn’t sustain the momentum. Maier made some crisp throws but clearly misses not having his No. 1 receiver from a year ago, Keelan Doss, who graduated. The loss probably won’t drop Davis too far down in the FCS rankings – the Aggies were No. 8 going into the game – but Hawkins and his group have a lot to clean.
California: The Bears were understandably rusty coming out of the blocks and their first four drives ended in two punts, an interception and a fumble. They eventually settled down and pulled away in the second half but will have to make significant strides heading into next week’s Pac-12 opener in Washington. Johnson’s running was huge considering Cal running backs had only two 100-yard games in 2018.
UC Davis: The Aggies play at San Diego on Sept. 7.
California: The Bears immediately jump into Pac-12 play with a road trip to Washington to face the No. 13 Huskies on Sept. 7. Cal has lost eight of the last 10 between the two teams but edged Washington 12-10 last season.
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