Christopher Brown Jr. rushed for a career-high 197 yards and a touchdown in his first start, and host Cal overcame a sloppy first half to beat UC Davis 27-13 in its season opener Saturday.
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 two field goals, including a career-best 47-yarder, as the Bears won their third consecutive opener under coach Justin Wilcox.
Cal 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.
“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.”
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,” Wilcox said. “That’s what we expect of him. 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. Garbers threw an interception in the first quarter and lost a fumble in the third.
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 Aggies 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.”
UC Davis quarterback Jake Maier, the 2018 Big Sky Conference player of the year, completed 19 of 37 passes for 173 yards.
The Aggies, 10-3 a year ago and ranked No. 8 in the preseason FCS rankings, were held to 100 yards total offense in the second half.
The Bears were rusty coming out of the blocks and their first four drives ended in two punts, an interception and a fumble.
Brown’s running was huge considering Cal running backs had only two 100-yard games in 2018.
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 past 10 between the two teams but edged Washington 12-10 last season.
Michael Wagaman is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/collegesports/article/Christopher-Brown-s-197-rushing-yards-lead-Cal-14405270.php.