Cal’s offensive showing on Saturday provided hope, even though failed conversion attempts after three of its five touchdowns ultimately doomed the Bears, leading to a frustrating 34-32 loss to TCU on a hot afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas.
But for once it wasn’t the fault of the Bears’ offense, which has been the weak link ever since Justin Wilcox arrived as head coach in 2017.
Finally the Bears’ offense resembled the kind of attack onlookers envisioned when Bill Musgrave became their offensive coordinator prior to the 2020 season.
Consider the following:
---The Bears scored five touchdowns, rolled up 442 yards of offense and committed no turnovers against a TCU team that traditionally has one of the best defenses in the country and thrives on forcing turnovers. Five TDs against that team should be enough to win. Cal scored just seven points the last time it faced TCU, in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl, a game Cal lost 10-7 in overtime.
---Cal quarterback Chase Garbers was significantly more effective than he was last week against Nevada.
Against TCU, Garbers was 16-for-27 for 309 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 179.8. He averaged 11.4 yards per passing attempt after averaging 4.3 yards per attempt in the 22-17 loss to Nevada. Garbers was particularly impressive in the first half, when he was 11-of-14 for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think he took a step forward from a week ago,” Wilcox said.
It was a stark contrast to Garbers’ performance in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl, when he threw three first-half interceptions and was replaced to start the second half.
---Garbers produced four pass plays of more than 40 yards, the kind of explosive plays that have been noticeably absent the past four years. Trevon Clark had catches of 54 and 68 yards, Kekoa Crawford had a 49-yard reception, and Jeremiah Hunter had a 42-yard catch on Cal's final scoring drive.
Wilcox noted that TCU’s defense, in which the Horned Frogs crowd the line of scrimmage with eight, nine or 10 defenders, made them vulnerable to deep balls, but the Bears still needed to execute those big plays, something they had been unable to do in the past.
---Damien Moore gained 71 yards on the ground on 14 carries for a respectable, if not spectacular, 5.1 yards per carry. He scored two of Cal’s touchdowns.
---Clark had just two receptions, but they covered 122 yards and one was for a touchdown.
---The Bears put together a clutch, 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that put them in position to tie the game.
“I think we took a lot of strides as an offense,” Garbers said.
But after that last TD got the Bears within two points with 4:09 left in the game, Moore was stopped just short on a two-point conversion try.
Garbers thought Moore got in on that run, saying, “They marked him down. Refs aren’t always perfect. I don’t really know what to say about that one. He was short that’s all I can say.”
Replays suggested Moore’s knee was down before he reached the ball across the goal-line and subsequently fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Cal in the end zone.
And Garbers admitted his opinion that Moore converted the two-point try doesn’t count for anything anyway.
“I could say that all I want; it’s not going to change the fact that we were short and we lost,” he said.
That missed opportunity was the third of three failed conversions, and the problems started after the Bears’ first touchdown.
Long-snapper Slater Zellers had been perfect on every snap on place kicks and punts in his Cal career to that point – a run of 18 games going back to his redshirt freshman year in 2019 when he took over the long-snapping chores.
However, he was errant on the extra-point snap after Cal had taken a 6-0 lead with 5:01 to play in the first quarter. Holder Jamieson Sheahan tried to make something out of nothing, but his pass was incomplete.
“Throughout the rest of the game, you’re chasing that point somehow some way, and it showed up all the way into the fourth quarter,” Wilcox said in the video atop this story. “. . . . We got to find a way to get the ball on the ground and kick it through on a PAT. Something we should expect from ourselves. It does impact the rest of the game as we all saw.”
When Cal scored on Daniel Scott’s 9-yard interception return to take a 12-0 lead, Wilcox made the decision to go for two points, even though there was 10:02 left in the first half. It was a decision that radio analyst Mike Pawlawski questioned.
Garbers’ pass on the two-point try was incomplete.
The third failed conversion came near the end came when the Bears opted to run the ball.
So now Cal is 0-2 after starting last season 0-3. It’s the first time since 1994 and 1995 that Cal began consecutive seasons 0-2.
Cal has lost its first two games by a combined margin of seven points, with Sacramento State awaiting next week.
“We’re a few plays away from playing pretty good football,” Wilcox said.
Cover photo of Chase Garbers by Jerome Miron, USA TODAY Sports
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