Cal Football: Is the Bears' Season Doomed Without QB Chase Garbers?
Is Cal’s 2019 season doomed now that quarterback Chase Garbers will be sidelined for at least several weeks?
Without question the Bears’ task is more difficult now without Garbers, who was on the brink of becoming a first-rate Pac-12 quarterback. He had the best performances of his career in the past two games, against Mississippi and Arizona State.
It’s also clear that if Devon Modster cannot improve on his performance in the second half of the Arizona State game, when he was just 5-for-14 for 23 yards and an interception, the Bears will drop out of Pac-12 contention in a hurry.
Cal offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Beau Baldwin is adamant that Modster will play better this week.
“I have no doubt in my mind he’s going to play very well,” Baldwin said Tuesday evening.
Whether a full week of preparation will make a significant difference for Modster will be determined in Saturday’s road game against No. 13 Oregon.
Baldwin says the starting quarterback gets about 75 to 80 percent of the work during practices the week of the game, making the backup's job that much more difficult if called upon. Garbers got that extra work last week, but Modster gets it this week.
If Modster can show noticeable progress and keep Cal afloat until Garbers returns, the Bears still have a chance to finish with a decent record and a bowl berth, although a conference title seems out of reach now.
Cal need only look around the Pac-12 to find reasons for hope.
USC stunned then-No. 10 Utah with a freshman quarterback (Kedon Slovis) making his first start after JT Daniels suffered a season-ending injury. Arizona knocked off UCLA with a freshman quarterback (Grant Gunnell) making his first start in place of Khalil Tate. Slumping Stanford sneaked past Oregon State on the road with Davis Mills playing in place of injured K.J. Costello.
All three of those replacements had solid games. Whether Modster can do likewise is the question. Cal is hoping Modster can regain the form that enabled him to complete 14 of 18 passes for 191 yards while helping UCLA beat Cal in 2017 before he transferred.
Baldwin referred to that game when he was asked whether he expects Modster to play better this week.
“Yes,” Baldwin said, “just because he’s better that what he did on Saturday [actually Friday]. I’ve seen it in practice. I’ve seen it in former games in the Pac-12.”
With Garbers sidelined, Cal might go back to its 2018 offensive formula: run the ball as often as possible, don’t take risks in the passing game and hope its defense can win games. That worked well enough tom produce a 7-6 record.
However, running may be more difficult now because opposing defenses figure to load up the box to prevent the run and force Modster to try to beat them over the top. That’s what opponents did last year against Garbers, who beat that scheme this year.
Two examples of past conference teams with similar quarterback situations may inform Cal and Cal fans on what to expect.
In 2017, Oregon started the season 4-1 behind quarterback Justin Herbert, who suffered a broken collarbone in the fifth game against Cal. The Ducks went 1-4 without him, then finished 2-1 when Herbert returned for the final three games, leaving the Ducks with a 7-6 mark.
Cal started the 1993 season 5-0 with Dave Barr as its quarterback. He suffered a shoulder injury in the sixth game and Cal lost four straight with Barr out. Barr returned for the ninth game and Cal won the remaining four games, including a 37-3 rout of Iowa in the Alamo Bowl, to finish 9-4 and ranked 25th.
A less optimistic scenario occurred in 1994, when Cal began the season 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-10 in games Barr started. But the Bears went 1-5 after he was lost for the season with a broken collarbone.
So it is up to Modster – or even freshman Spencer Brasch if Modster should falter badly – to keep the Bears competitive as the tough part of the schedule approaches. Cal’s next five games are against Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, Washington State and USC.
The Oregon game will tell us a lot about what Cal can expect during this Garbersless period. Even if Cal loses the game, the Bears might feel good about their season if Modster plays well. If he doesn’t, expectations will fade, and games against Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA would look like the Bears’ only possible wins, and those would not be gimmes.
What is interesting about this whole situation is that a year ago, nobody would have considered the absence of Garbers a debilitating circumstance for Cal. The past two weeks changed all that.
Other opinions about Cal’s fate without Garbers welcomed in the Comment section.