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Cal Football

Offense Was AWOL After First Quarter

September 14, 2019

Last week in Washington the Bears won because of their offense.

Saturday against North Texas they won in spite of it.

The same unit that came up with all those clutch plays in the final drive for the winning field goal against the Huskies, jumped out to a 20-0 lead then were pretty much neutered by one of the poorer defenses in the nation in the 23-17 win over UNT at Memorial Stadium.

The Cal defense on the other hand, despite missing the bulk of its outside linebacking corps down the stretch, held up when it had to. The Bears stopped the Mean Green on downs on the visitors’ final series after the offense, which took over with 2:59 left, could not make a first down and used up just a little over a minute of the remaining game clock.

The Bears knew going into the season that the defense was the backbone of the team. The offense is going to have to show a little more spine if the season is to amount to anything.

Admittedly, they were not at full strength. The offensive line was minus three starters, starting tight end McCallan Castles left the team midweek and star running back Christopher Brown, Jr. was “unavailable” for most of the second half, including the final drive according to coach Justin Wilcox.

WIth some help from North Texas penalties, the Bears moved to a touchdown on their opening drive. They then forced a fumble (Jaylinn Hawkins on a safety blitz) and recovered on UNT’s first sequence. They moved only seven yards (a portent of things to come) and settled for a field goal. 

North Texas had to punt on its next sequence and this time the Bears managed 29 yards and kicked another field goal. The fourth Cal drive resulted in a touchdown and Cal was up by three scores with a minute to go in the first period.

But after scoring all those points and gaining 129 yards in the first period the Bears managed just 149 yards and three points the rest of the way.

Wilcox tried to put the best spin on it. “We found a way to win, which can be challenging at this level,” he said. “We knew North Texas would come in with a really special quarterback (Mason Fine) and an active defense. For us, it was all about the level of execution. The guys competed. There were a lot of new faces getting reps out there.

“We started fast. We got a big turnover early. I would have liked to have scored more touchdowns when we had the opportunity, but we couldn’t get it done. The level of execution has to be better. The guys have been practicing hard, and our job as coaches is to give them the answers. We will look at the tape, evaluate everything and start working on answers for them.”

Chase Garbers, as usual, was at the forefront of the early offensive success and the later inconsistency. After going 3-for-6 for 67 yards on his first-quarter passes, he was just 6-for-16 and 62 yards the rest of the way.

“We just executed well in the first half, especially the first quarter and then kind of went into a lull,” Garbers said. “But we have got to play better, a lot better.”

Admittedly his receivers didn’t always help him. There were some drops, including a ghastly boot when Gavin Reinwald, filling in for Castles. was running all by himself down the sidelines and could have scored easily had he held the ball that went through his arms.

Many times Garbers had time to pass, and receivers were open. Still, he occasionally looked hesitant to uncork the throw. Now, this was the second straight game Cal did not turn the ball over, which is certainly a good thing. But some football pundits are speculating that he has become obsessed with avoiding mistakes that he has become reluctant to take any chances at all.

Wilcox denied that and said his players are not coached that way.

“We don’t talk to the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers about not turning the ball over,” he said. “I think we’ve talked about this analogy before. You don’t talk to the guys going to the free throw line, ‘Don’t miss the free throw.’ You teach them really good technique and sound decision making. ‘Here’s the rules, now go play.’

“We don’t go out there with the philosophy, ‘Don’t turn it over, don’t turn it over.’ We don’t coach like that, we don’t play like that. Are there times when we want to take a shot? Those are things we will coach off the tape. We don’t want our players to play with fear. The expectations always have to come and fear doesn’t.”

Another statistical oddity was that Garbers, despite the presence of Brown and Marcel Dancy, was Cal’s leading rusher with 70 net yards, and that factors in the six sacks allowed by the makeshift offensive line. 

Some of Garbers’ gains were designed runs, others him simply scrambling out of trouble. “We saw prepping for them this week that the quarterback run game was going to be a big part of our game plan,” he said. He later added, “It’s fun to be two dimensional, to be a dual-threat as they like to say. But as a quarterback you try not to take as many hits. So you just do what you have to do for the team.”

Brown, 47 yards on 13 carries and Dancy 28 on 11, found the going tough against the Mean Green defense. The lack of a formidable running game certainly was a factor in the offensive struggles.

On defense, the Bears held an opponent under 25 points for the tenth straight game. This while operating without their regular outside linebackers. Chinedu Udeogu was ruled out before the game began. Before it was through, Cameron Goode, Tevin Paul and Ben Hawk-Schrider were out. That’s the top four outside backers.  Freshman Braxton Croteau and sophomore Joseph Ogunbanjo were the OLBs late in the game.

“We don’t anticipate losing ten guys,” Wilcox said. “But for playing on the scout team all week they did a pretty good job. There’s a ton of guys playing who didn’t practice a ton, and that’s going to be a great lesson in the meetings. Even though you don’t get the reps with the 1s or the 2s, during practice you have to be ready. It’s just a play or two and all of a sudden you’re the guy. I’m proud of how they competed.”

Wilcox offered no information on when any of the injured players might be ready. 

Related Stories:

Bears Start Strong Hold Off North Texas

Cal-North Texas Postgame Notes, Quotes and Video

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