Cal faces plenty of questions after Saturday night’s 35-0 loss to Utah, but one question stands out: Should freshman Spencer Brasch remain the Bears’ starting quarterback until Chase Garbers returns?
Obviously, the sooner Garbers comes back, the better it is for Cal, which fortunately has a bye next weekend before hosting Washington State. But no one outside of the Cal program knows when Garbers will be back, or whether he will be back at all this season. It seems conceivble he could return for the Washington State game, but who knows?
Should it be Devon Modster, if he is healthy enough to play, or Brasch?
My vote is for Brasch. It’s true his numbers were lousy in his first college start Saturday: 7-for-19 for a measly 47 yards. And he wasn’t any better in his brief appearance the previous week against Oregon State, when he was 2-for-6 for 24 yards. His completion rate (36 percent) and passer rating (51.86) for the season are rather embarrassing.
Suffice it to say he is not the polished product that two other Pac-12 freshmen are – USC’s Kedon Slovis and Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels.
But Brasch has a presence on the field, an intangible trait essential for success at quarterback and an indication that he will get better.
He does not play scared. That was evident when he completed his first pass attempt against Oregon State, and again against Utah when he completed his first two passes.
“I think Spencer did fine,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said after Saturday’s loss. “This is not on Spencer.”
And let’s understand the situation:
It was a road game.
With a banged-up Cal offensive line that did not include center Michael Saffell.
With no hint of a running game (1.1 yards per rushing attempt).
And Cal was forced to play catchup from early on against one of the best defenses in the country.
“They had great coverage,” Brasch said. “Their secondary is nice and their front is phenomenal.”
The Utes rank third in the nation in total defense, first in run defense and fourth in scoring defense, yielding 10.3 points per game. They have allowed just 10 points in their past three games combined, and the only touchdown yielded in that stretch was scored by Oregon State with less than a minute left of a 52-7 loss.
No, Brasch will not be an immediate star like Slovis or Daniels or a number of other freshmen quarterbacks around the country. But he is no worse than Garbers was through much of last season.
The Bears’ chief goal at this point is to avoid collapse. A beating like they took in Salt Lake City can be demoralizing.
“It’s been a long time since we played a game and it felt this way,” senior offensive tackle Jake Curhan said.
A winning season is the goal now, and Cal might be an underdog in all four remaining games, against Washington State, USC, Stanford and UCLA, no sure-fire victory remains.
At 4-4 with bowl possibilities slipping away, it seems appropriate to live with Brasch, an 18-year-old with possibilities.