BERKELEY — The fact California leads the country with six interceptions through two games isn’t all that surprising to cornerback Elijah Hicks. That the Golden Bears don’t have more is.
While Cal’s offense used the first two weeks of the season to settle on starting quarterback Chase Garbers, head coach Justin Wilcox’s ball-hawking secondary has spearheaded a defense that has been at the heart of the team’s 2-0 start heading into Saturday’s game against Idaho State (1-0) at Memorial Stadium.
After grabbing four interceptions off North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott in the season-opener, the Bears snatched two more against BYU, both coming in the fourth quarter of a 21-18 win in Provo, Utah.
To hear Hicks tell it, Cal’s interception total in both games should have been higher.
“We left a lot of plays out there and that’s the thing we’re going by,” Hicks said. “Everybody sees what we did do. But when you go in the film room the next day and you see . that’s kind of what eats you up more. That’s how we’re looking at things as a secondary.”
Jaylinn Hawkins leads the Bears with three interceptions while Ashtyn Davis, Traveon Beck and Cameron Goode have one apiece.
Wilcox credits Cal’s entire defense for the high number of interceptions.
“It’s the pressure, it’s the disguise, it’s affecting the quarterback,” Wilcox said. “And then it’s making the most of the opportunity when the ball’s in the air. That’s the one thing they’ve done. We’ve caught the ball. The turnovers are huge and have been a difference in the games for us.”
After two weeks of a quarterback carousel during which Cal used three different quarterbacks, at times in the same series, the Bears finally settled on Garbers, a redshirt freshman who started and threw two touchdowns in the win over BYU. Ross Bowers, who started in 2017 and against North Carolina, and Brandon McIlwain will back up Garbers.
Idaho State, an FCS school, will play its seventh game against a Pac-12 team since 2009. All seven have come against different teams and each of the previous six ended in lopsided losses for the Bengals. Coach Rob Phenicie’s team beat Nevada last season for its first win in 27 games against an FBS school.
Bengals quarterback Tanner Gueller recently topped the 6,000-yard mark for career passing yards to move into fifth place on Idaho State’s all-time list. Gueller needs 491 more yards to move past Kevin Yost.
Both teams feature sturdy running games. The Bears are led by Patrick Laird, who was on the preseason watch lists for the Doak Walker and Maxwell awards. In two games, Laird has rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown to go with two receiving scores. The Bengals counter with James Madison, who rushed for 114 yards and three touchdowns in Idaho State’s 45-10 win over Western State Colorado.