The momentum of last season’s encouraging finish by the Cal offense is officially dead in its tracks.
You remember last year. It was before you had to wear a mask while stepping out your front door, before you had to wonder when — or if — we will get our world back.
But watching the Bears play UCLA on Sunday morning at the Rose Bowl, it was hard to recall last Dec. 30, when they torched Illinois for 35 points in the Redbox Bowl, or Nov. 30, when they scored 28 points in a win over these same Bruins to end the regular season.
The image of quarterback Chase Garbers dashing past the Stanford defense and into the end zone for the touchdown that ended a nine-year Big Game drought has faded a bit, too.
On Sunday, in their first game since that three-game stretch that boosted the hopes of Old Blues, the offense was abysmal.
Sure, there are a million reasons for it, many of them related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bears were playing their first game under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and they had less than 48 hours to prepare for UCLA after the two schools agreed Friday to play the game.
But 10 points?
Against a UCLA defense that allowed 40 or more in seven of its past 11 games?
Cal’s 34-10 loss to the Bruins marked its worst offensive performance since the start of the 2018 season when Garbers was available for the entire game.
Musgrave, talking several hours after the game, said preparation this week for Oregon State will focus on taking the next step.
“We’re looking for a vast improvement from Game 1 to Game 2,” he said. “We’re all competitors and we’ll all want to do much better in ensuing weeks.”
Neither Musgave nor coach Justin Wilcox made excuses by referencing the short prep time the Bears had for UCLA after the game was quickly scheduled just two days before.
“Offensively, our rhythm wasn’t quite there early,” Wilcox said. “We’ll look at the video and it’ll tell the tale.”
The Bears may have to look away from time to time:
— The offense totaled 176 yards, just 101 other than what they chewed up on their one touchdown drive of the game.
— The Bears averaged 2.9 yards per play, just 1.9 on running plays.
— Garbers was sacked five times and pressured constantly by a UCLA defense that was stacked up front and had no fear the Bears could hurt them downfield.
— Downfield? Cal’s wide receivers caught nine passes for a total of 58 yards. That’s barely 6 yards a reception from players who need to stretch the defense.
— Cal’s only play among 62 offensive snaps that went longer than 13 yards was a wide-open, 26-yard completion to tight end Collin Moore.
“We always want to create explosive plays. We don’t go into the game plan trying not to,” Wilcox said. “It’s going to come down to the execution of that given play, run or pass. That’s what we need to clean up.”
Musgrave, who came to Cal after two decades coaching NFL offenses, said the Bears have the personnel to create big plays.
“I don’t know if we put our best foot forward. Speaking for myself as a coach, I’ll look forward to being a lot better as coach next week,” he said.
“We just want to be better making explosive plays, both run and pass. We’ll go back to the drawing board and give our guys a chance to create more opportunities.”
Garbers, who was 18 for 33 for 122 yards, admitted that the circumstances around the game made it difficult to feel fully confident while running a new offensive scheme for the first time.
“We didn’t really have time to put a full game plan together,” said Garbers, who was sacked five times. “But flat-out offensively, and both sides of the ball, we didn’t play to what we expected to.”
No one is giving up on Musgrave’s offense, and Wilcox stressed that Garbers is only one piece of the puzzle.
The performance by an offense returning every starter from last year's Redbox Bowl was was disappointing. It was just one game, but this season is too short for the Bears to rev things up slowly.
“Everybody can be better,” Wilcox said. “I’m sure Chase would like to have some plays back. So would the left guard and the defensive end and the fullbacks.
“Certainly the quarterback gets a lot of attention. Chase has done some really good things for us in the past. I think he’ll learn from this game and play even better in the future.”
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
Click the "follow" button in the top right corner to join the conversation on Cal Sports Report on SI. Access and comment on featured stories and start your own conversations and post external links on our community page