I’ve probably annoyed quite a few people over the years by rambling the most random of random sports stats or moments that only a handful care about. For that, I am truly sorry and I’m genuinely working on keeping those types of things to a minimum in the future.
But please, in classic Jake Peralta fashion, hear me out on this one. If you’re a Cal fan, I promise you’ll love it — for all the grim reasons.
When Oregon State running back B.J. Baylor muscled his way into the end zone last Saturday afternoon, he gifted his team a 21-17 lead with 4:41 (remember this) to go in the fourth quarter.
As the Bears took the field seeking an answer, their home crowd begging for a late miracle, the name taking the snap under center (true freshman Spencer Brasch) was not the one who had started the game in that position (redshirt junior Devon Modster).
You know that feeling when a lightbulb goes off in your head? As a sports nerd, the light went off in my head faster than De’Anthony Thomas on a kickoff return. I nearly jumped out of my press box seat.
Fast forward to three weeks before that: It’s a Friday night game, and hey, in this moment, Cal is still 4-0. But on this evening, the football gods strike a tough blow, as starting quarterback Chase Garbers is unable to finish the game because of an injury that has since sidelined him for the foreseeable future.
That night, the backup-turned-starter (Modster) was the one in command after Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin capped off a long drive, muscling his way into the end zone and giving the Sun Devils the late lead over the Bears.
Benjamin’s score gave his team a — you guessed it — 21-17 edge at the time.
Speaking of the time? The clock read 4:41.
As Peralta would say, “COOL! COOL, Cool, cool, cool …”
Actually, not cool. Was it a coincidence that the opposing team scored the go-ahead rushing touchdown at the exact same time to secure the exact same lead as the one 3 weeks ago? On top of the fact that Cal had its backup leading an unsuccessful comeback attempt rather than the starter? Sure, I guess that’s one way to put it.
Cursed? Honestly, that’s more like it. That duality is flat-out outrageous.
Now that that’s been unleashed, let’s briefly talk about the most recent loss — a contest that can only be described in similar terms.
For the third straight week, Cal was held to less than 300 yards offensively, and as already mentioned, down to its backup (to the original backup) with a chance to make some magic happen late in the game.
While Modster’s health status is largely unclear at this moment, it’s no secret that Pac-12 quarterbacks have been ravaged in 2019.
Look no further than the two programs that Cal fans can’t stand the most — USC and Stanford. Three different quarterbacks have taken significant reps for both the Trojans and Cardinal, while UCLA starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Arizona’s Khalil Tate have also missed time with injuries.
While Cal’s offense has been a far cry from its production in the Sonny Dykes era, it’s not a good excuse to blame the season on the injuries at quarterback.
And yes, I understand that everyone wants to assume Chase Garbers, playing as well as he ever has in his career when he got hurt, may have secured at least one of the games the Bears lost over the last three weeks.
That’s certainly a fair assessment to make. But the Bears aren’t the only program to suffer injuries up and down its lineup, specifically under center and throughout the offensive line.
USC’s Kedon Slovis and Stanford’s Davis Mills have stepped up in the absence of J.T. Daniels and K.J. Costello in 2019, keeping their respective programs competitive. In that same realm, Cal has been within striking distance of all three teams it lost to since Garbers’ injury.
But the difference between “within striking distance” and having the clock in your favor is the difference between the ceiling and the basement in the Pac-12 North. The margin of error is razor-thin. And for the Cal offense, a couple drives of fluidity does not make up for 50 minutes of nothing short of, as one fan I passed yesterday said, “pathetic.”
In the nature of this program, Cal games the rest of this year project to be eerily similar to what’s already been played out — not a lot of points, on either side of the ball. If there’s one thing you take away from this message, you simply can’t expect the Bears to score more than 24 points anytime soon, in the same way that opponents won’t be scoring more than 24 points against Cal’s defense — this is the new identity of Cal football.
Any optimism at all, Josh? Sure. What I do know is beautiful about college football is that the art of surprise is rampant throughout the sport.
So as (scarily) similar some of Cal’s losses have been, feel free to hold the faith — *cue Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ”* — that an anomaly happens soon. Just know that the Bears are fixated in a cycle (dominate nonconference play, lose a few contests, bounce up and down the rest of the year) that is remarkably consistent and doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.