Evan Weaver is making a strong case that he is best defensive player in the nation.
The senior linebacker is also fueling California’s fast start, and the No. 15 Golden Bears look to remain unbeaten when they host Arizona State in Pac-12 play on Friday night at Berkeley, Calif.
The Golden Bears (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) are one of the sport’s early-season surprises, and the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Weaver has been exceptional through the first one-third of the regular season.
Weaver leads the nation with 63 tackles and ranks sixth in school history with 293. He had a staggering 22 tackles last Saturday in the Bears’ 28-20 road victory over Ole Miss, including a game-ending stop at the 1-yard line as time expired.
“Just tackle the guy with the ball,” Weaver said of his thought process. “Keep him from crossing the white stripe. That was really the game plan right there.”
The performance marked the second time in three games that Weaver was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. He also received the honor when he recorded 18 stops in a 20-19 win at Washington on Sept. 7.
“It’s like that every week,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said of Weaver’s strong efforts. “When was the last time we haven’t sat in here and talked about Weaver that way? He makes a lot of tackles every single week. He’s a really good football player. He’ll have things he needs to clean up, but every week he just has production.”
Weaver, who had 159 tackles last season, has registered 10 or more stops in 11 straight games.
The Golden Bears are allowing an average of 17.3 points and have given up 20 or fewer in all four wins.
Arizona State (3-1, 0-1) is hoping to test the Cal defense behind true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, who has passed for 1,073 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
Daniels has topped 300 yards twice, including a 345-yard, two-touchdown output last Saturday in a 34-31 home loss to Colorado.
“We kind of picked up as an offense, and we can find our rhythm now,” Daniels said. “So we just have to keep building off of it. I don’t see anything like the No. 1 need. We just have to keep building some things.”
Daniels has been clicking well with senior receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who has 22 receptions for 424 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Eno Benjamin has rushed for 292 yards and three touchdowns on 77 carries.
The Arizona State defense sprung some leaks against Colorado after allowing just seven points in each of the first three games.
The secondary was riddled by Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez, who passed for 337 yards and three touchdowns. And the unit didn’t once sack Montez, who comfortably completed 23 of 30 passes.
Arizona State coach Herm Edwards knows improvement is needed against improving Cal sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers, who set career highs of 357 yards, 23 completions and four touchdown passes in the win over Ole Miss.
Overall, Garbers has passed for 835 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions. He also can do damage on the ground, racking up 133 yards.
“The quarterback is an athlete,” Edwards said of Garbers. “Can make a lot of plays with his legs. Now he’s throwing the ball better. ... This will be a tough test for us.”
Arizona State won the most recent meeting 51-41 in 2016 in Tempe after the Golden Bears won five of the previous six encounters.
—Field Level Media