Cal quarterback Chase Garbers insists this is a business trip not a crusade. He’s focused his attention on playing TCU on Saturday in Fort Worth, not replacing the Bears’ game against the Horned Frogs three years ago in the Cheez-It Bowl.
As a redshirt freshman in 2018, Garbers started the TCU game and scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Bears a 7-0 halftime lead. He also had three interceptions and was pulled by coach Justin Wilcox at halftime.
“No. I don’t take it personally,” Garbers said. "In the end, coach Wilcox made a coaching decision. That’s something you’ve got to live with as a redshirt freshman.
“It’s in the past . . . I don’t really think about it too much. I’ve played a lot of football from then to now and done a lot of good things for this program.”
Cal would probably like to flush the memory of that night in Phoenix, which produced a 10-7 overtime victory for the Horned Frogs.
“It was a great trip,” Garbers said this week, “but the game itself wasn’t too pretty.”
In fact, the game is almost unforgettable, thanks to nine interceptions thrown by the two teams.
Amazingly, that is not the record for the most picks in a bowl game. That distinction belongs to the 1968 Sun Bowl, in which Arizona (8) and Auburn (4) totaled 12 interceptions in a 34-10 victory by the Tigers.
Garbers said he used that night to fuel his work leading into the 2019 season, when he quarterbacked seven victories, including a win over Illinois in the RedBox Bowl.
“Yeah, 100 percent. To end the season getting bench at half definitely stings a little as a competitor,” he said. “So that offseason, just trying to focus on being a better player as a whole.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was not yet on the Cal coaching staff in 2018 but he has watched game tape and said this week he is “proud” of the way Garbers competed, while going 12 for 19 for 93 yards.
“I thought Chase, for a freshman in a bowl game against a defense like TCU that knows what they’re doing at a high, elite level . . .” he said. “We feel like we can apply some lessons learned from that Cheez-It Bowl this Saturday.”
Musgrave, a standout quarterback at Oregon who went on to a modest NFL career, understands what a difficult experience that game must have been for Garbers.
“It’s disappointing because you always want to finish what you start,” he said. “But at times football games can go in all different directions.
“Chase is a team-oriented player. He’s about the team. There’s no moping or anything like that. He’s always motivated, whether he’s on the field or whatever role he takes.”
So, after a disappointing 1-3 effort in 2020, the Bears (0-1) come full circle to play TCU (1-0) again. Most of the Horned Frogs’ personnel is different, but coach Gary Patterson, in his 21st season, and the defenses he fields are the constants.
Most of the Bears’ attention at practice and in the film room has been on what didn’t work last Saturday, not what went wrong three years ago.
Cal led 14-0 against after the first quarter before going to sleep offensively. in a 22-17 defeat. Garbers said one of the main culprits was easy to identify.
After a brief loss of Zoom connection, we resume our conversation . . .
The Bears converted 4-for-4 on third down on their two touchdown drives in the first quarter. They were 2-for-10 the rest of the way, along with 0-for-1 on fourth down.
“I’ve got to be better on third-and-short. Some uncharacteristic inaccuracy on my part, which ended drives for us,” Garbers said. “So I’ve got to do better personally and as a team we’ve got to execute better on those third-and-shorts.
“We did it the first two drives. We’ve got to be able to overcome those.”
Overcoming this TCU team will be no easier than it was three years ago. The defense includes preseason All-America defensive end Ohaun Mathis, who had nine sacks last season, and cornerback Tre’Vius Hodgers-Tomlinson, the nephew of Hall of Fame running back LaDanian Tomlinson, who had 13 pass breakups last season while collecting All-America honors.
“They’re a very talented unit,” Garbers said. “Coach Patterson is a great coach. He’s been coaching college football for a while so he definitely knows what he’s doing.”
There’s lots at stake for Garbers on Saturday. His younger sister Lexi attends TCU, so “there’s some bragging rights there.” And because younger brother Ethan and his UCLA team have a bye this week, Garbers’ parents will both travel to Texas.
Avenging a game that happened nearly three years ago is not the primary motivation.
“I think he’s looking forward to the next opponent. It just happens to be the Horned Frogs,” Musgrave said. “We’re all looking forward to the next game after not getting the outcome we wanted against Nevada.”
Cover photo of Chase Garbers against Nevada by Neville E. Guard, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo