Ross Bowers has expressed his gratitude for the close quarterback competition — how his backups motivate him to keep working hard to have and keep the starting job — as well as his desire to continue to prove himself.
Bowers’ decision-making on the opening drive of the second half showed just why he earned his job. Down 16-7 at halftime, the Bears desperately needed a score to reduce their deficit to one possession.
Bowers’ drive went as follows: Brandon Singleton for 8 yards, Kanawai Noa for 7, a run on a keeper for 9, another completion to Noa for 6 and a conversion on fourth down, a short dump to Vic Wharton III, which went for 15- and a 19-yard completion to Wharton again for a touchdown. Despite three incompletions — an overthrow to an open Noa, a throwaway and a dropped pass by Jordan Duncan — Bowers finished the 72-yard drive 5-8 and with a touchdown that pulled Cal back within one score.
Bowers did what was needed from him, delivering when it counted, most notably with the fourth down completion, and on the scoring play, beating a house blitz to find Wharton in single coverage in the end zone.
Let’s check the tape.
It’s third down and 7 at the Ole Miss 19. Before the snap, it’s clear that something about the empty backfield used frequently throughout the drive by Cal has caused Ole Miss to shift its defense forward. The two “safeties” are positioned more like cornerbacks, lined up around the 13 with the other defensive backs. At this point, they appear to be showing blitz.
Bowers (3) sends running back Vic Enwere (23) in motion pre-snap, in what will become a wheel route to the right. Not a single Ole Miss defensive back responds to this motion, most notably Cam Ordway (28).
His awkward position is so far forward, making him unlikely to drop back into zone coverage, but he also remains between the box and the closest wide receiver, Noa (9). Ordway is indicating he’s most likely to blitz after he doesn’t respond to Enwere’s motion.
Bowers takes the snap and doesn’t appear to look to his left, perhaps assuming that Jordan Veasy (15) will be double covered, or perhaps knowing the blitz is coming and that he should favor his side with more options — three on the right, in this case.
The blitz comes as expected, and Bowers has no more than three seconds to get rid of the ball, even if his line and Patrick Laird (28) give him what blocking support they can. At this point he has three options, of which he can clearly see two: Noa and Wharton (17), who have a drag and a post route planned, respectively. Perhaps because of instinct or because of the safety’s (26), C.J. Moore’s, forward position, Bowers knows that Moore is playing zone and will double Noa, or at least be in the vicinity.
This leaves Enwere wide open and Wharton in single coverage. A smart quarterback knows that there are very few humans on the planet who can successfully track the turn in a post route without anticipating it beforehand. And given that Ole Miss obviously doesn’t have the services of Patrick Peterson or Richard Sherman at corner, Bowers knows Wharton will have at least a step or two on No. 25, Montrell Custis.
The less risky option would be dumping the ball to a wide-open Enwere for what would almost certainly be a first down and possibly an open right side of the field into the end zone, but Bowers’ split-second decision-making tells him to go for broke, and it pays off. Just before he gets clobbered — for what could arguably have been called a targeting or roughing the passer penalty — Bowers releases a picture-perfect pass to the post, and Wharton makes an easy catch with at least a yard of separation from Custis, the only defender in the vicinity.
It’s unclear why the defense would run such a risky blitz in the situation, and it’s particularly strange that Moore wasn’t positioned farther back as a deep safety. Maybe the Rebels were testing Bowers’ arm and decision-making, but not only did he pass with flying colors, he taught them a lesson in the process about their redzone blitz strategy. To put it lightly, a brilliant play from the young quarterback, one that should help him hold on to his job for quite a while this season.