Complaints versus excuses

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Cal football lost 10-3 to a then-winless Arizona team in Tucson on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats hadn’t won a game in 763 days. At long last, head coach Jedd Fisch had won a game, and the “‘Zona Zoo,” Arizona’s student section, stormed the field after time expired to celebrate.

That was the story coming out of Tucson on Saturday afternoon.

Just how badly did Cal’s offense have to play to manage only 3 points against a winless team that lost to Northern Arizona earlier this year?

Well, Cal finished with a net 28 yards rushing. Ryan Glover, a transfer quarterback from Western Carolina who threw more interceptions than touchdowns in his one season for the Catamounts, went 11-29 and passed for just 94 yards while Cal’s quarterback of the future, Kai Millner, watched from the sidelines. The Bears’ offensive line allowed four sacks. And, most glaringly, Cal did not score a single touchdown against a defense that allowed an average of nearly 32 points per game before Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon and the Cal defense cannot be faulted. The Bears’ defense hardly had time to rest after coming off the field before punter Jamieson Sheahan’s number was called yet again. Even then, it only allowed 10 points.

Am I missing anything? Ah yes, 24 Cal players were sidelined in observance of COVID-19 protocol, including starting quarterback Chase Garbers, three starting offensive linemen, defensive end Luc Bequette, linebacker Trey Paster and defensive back Collin Gamble.

A report from ABC7’s Larry Beil, which broke after the Bears’ loss, revealed that Cal parents and players were frustrated with the city of Berkeley’s public health division, which refused to accept multiple negative test results from players who had tested positive earlier in the week.

Garbers tweeted a statement Monday night that lambasted University Health Services, accusing it of mandating testing for COVID-19 even though the tests are merely “highly recommended” per UHS policy. It is possible that what he actually means is that those tests were “highly recommended” and then mandated for asymptomatic, vaccinated student-athletes, but there is no indication of this in his statement.

And now due to additional positive tests within the Cal program, its upcoming game against USC on Saturday has been postponed.

I only mention the COVID-19 protocol saga because, even if the program has a point, there is no excuse for how poorly the Bears played over the weekend.

Many of the grumblings on Cal Twitter and by word of mouth have implied that this loss is on someone other than head coach Justin Wilcox and his staff. As far as I know, the city is not responsible for utterly failing to prepare second-string players to play against one of the worst Power Five teams in the nation. To the best of my knowledge, UHS did not send a representative down to Tucson, give them a headset and let them call plays all afternoon. None of their policies state that in the case that Garbers cannot play, Glover must take every snap no matter how many passes he misses.

In the event that the Cal program has a valid argument about the irrationality of campus and city COVID-19 protocol, it should be heard, and discussions should occur among the program, UHS and the city. But if Wilcox, his staff and his players plan to use either as a scapegoat for an offensive display that bad, or even so much as hint at the idea, they should be ashamed of themselves.

William Cooke covers football. Contact him at [email protected].