Cal football quarterback Chase Garbers has lacked dependability when his team needed it most.
With three multi-interception games last season, including a three-interception depression-fest at the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl, much of the Bears’ struggles turning the ball over fell on Garbers’ shoulders.
Before the clock hit 1:30 a.m. against Washington on Sunday, his then-stellar reputation stood firm. Garbers paced onto a damp Alaska Airlines Field minutes later, down by 2 points with two minutes left in the game.
From Cal’s own 36-yard line, Garbers received the snap and lobbed a perfect pass to wide receiver Jordan Duncan whose quick rotation enabled him to scoop the ball before stepping out of bounds. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin decided to double down as Garbers threw the ball once more to Duncan on the same route, this time drawing a crucial pass interference penalty.
On the very next play, Garbers hit wide receiver Kekoa Crawford in the chest after cutting away from his defender, setting the Bears up on the 3-yard line for an eventual game-winning field goal.
An unfortunate interception against UC Davis in Cal’s opener this season is the only blemish on Garbers’ stat line so far. At Washington, he maximized what he does best: escape the pocket and earn clutch yardage in the running game.
His performance was probably the best of his young career at the helm in terms of decision making, Garbers actually elected to throw the ball away instead of risking an interception for a fourth straight game, a streak which dated back to last season.
Even though Garbers has had better numbers in other games, he stepped up in this one when Cal needed him to, finishing with 11 completions for 111 yards. As it turns out, passing touchdowns aren’t needed when the Bears face the Huskies.
The loss of starting linemen Gentle Williams and Will Craig could hinder Garbers’ performance as the season wears on, and Cal’s offense can take on the top teams in the country as long as the running back tandem of Christopher Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy — who have combined for 381 yards and three touchdowns so far this season — can give Garbers an outlet in the passing game.
Craig’s absence forces the likes of McKade Mettauer, Matthew Cindric and Henry Bazakas to rotate in his place for the remainder of the season at the most important position on the offensive line. The left tackle position is notorious for being the most important role on the offense, simply because they protect the quarterback’s blindside.
The offensive line settled into the game against Washington later than they had hoped, but were able to manage the Huskies’ scheme as the game wore on, giving Garbers, Brown and Dancy freedom to march down the field.
Ultimately, Garbers proved that he could beat a top-25 team away from home. Even though Washington may not be as good as was thought, Cal was able to orchestrate long, time consuming drives against one of the most talented defenses in the Pac-12.
Garbers has the luxury of the best defense in the conference and, arguably, the nation. Linebackers Evan Weaver and Kuony Deng have run riot on opposing offenses combining for 50 tackles so far this season, allowing Garbers the ability to make a few Bears fans cringe before settling into the game.
So far, so good for Garbers and Co.. Justin Wilcox and the rest of the coaching staff have their team saying and doing the right things on and off the field. The takers in Cal’s secondary are taking, and the offense has, for a full 60 minutes, proved they can beat some of the nation’s best.
But as Bears fans know all too well, Cal football is prone to the impossibly absurd — like throwing five interceptions in a bowl game or earning an early road victory against your oldest conference rival after a two hour and 40 minute severe weather delay.
You know, the usual.