Cal coach Justin Wilcox talked earlier this season about the challenges a defense faces against an opponent whose quarterback can run. It changes the math, he said, giving the offense an advantage if a defender is taken away from other responsibilities.
He was talking about the impact it has on Cal’s defense.
But it works both ways, and opposing teams have begun devoting more attention to Cal quarterback Chase Garbers’ ability to run — either by design or via a scramble when a play breaks down.
Over a three-game stretch involving games against TCU, Sacramento State and Washington, Garbers ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
In reality, it was more than that.
Take away five sacks totaling 29 yards in losses and Garbers ran the ball 22 times for 211 yards in those games. That’s 9.6 yards per carry.
In order words — assuming the Bears can keep Garbers healthy, as they have so far — his legs are a big-time weapon for the Bears.
It’s why Garbers leads the Pac-12 in total offense at 283.8 yards per game. He gets more than 248 of those yards through the air, the other 35 or so on the ground.
Opposing defenses were bound to catch on.
“I think they watch the film from our previous games and they know he’s a threat with his legs,” Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said in the video above. “So one would think they’d be practicing those plays, especially when he was effective running so well with the scrambles earlier in the season and then the orchestrated QB runs, for instance, up in Seattle.”
Garbers had 88 rushing yards (before subtracting 17 for three sacks) at Washington, including eight runs of at least 5 yards. He had a 23-yard burst, a 16-yarder and dashed 7 yards on a designed play for a touchdown.
“One would think our opponents would try to stop those plays because they have been effective for our offense,” Musgrave said.
Garbers’ rushing production has slowed the past two games, primarily as a function of what opposing defenses are doing. He had just 14 net rushing yards vs. Washington State and 31 vs. Oregon.
Just the threat of Garbers the runner has benefits, Musgrave said.
“I believe it makes us more difficult to defend, where they can’t just play Chase for his throws through the air but they also have to respect his legs,” Musgrave said. “That should help (slow) the pass rush, as you saw Friday night.”
That was at Oregon, where Musgrave suggested the Ducks swapped out a pass rusher for a defender specifically instructed to keep an eye on Garbers.
“They devoted not one, but at times two guys to spy Chase, just in case he escaped the pocket rather than pinning their ears back and purely rushing the passer,” Musgrave said.
Garbers confirmed Musgrave’s evaluation.
“I’ve definitely taken notice of a couple teams later on in games throwing a spy or two in there in passing situations,” he said. “But that doesn’t change how I play the game. I’m confident in my running ability to where if I do have to scramble or break pocket I can out-run whoever is spying me.”
It’s hard to say what Colorado might try defensively. The Buffaloes have faced only one quarterback with running capabilities, and Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels exploited them for 75 rushing yards on seven attempts, two of them winding up in the end zone.
Musgrave said the Bears will continue to try to use Garbers as a runner at appropriate times, while emphasizing the need to keep him healthy.
Garbers needs just three more yards to eclipse the Cal career record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Legendary Joe Kapp — the most recent quarterback to lead the Bears to a Rose Bowl — set the record of 931 yards in his senior season of 1958.
“It is cool to see all your hard work you’ve put in show up in some records,” Garbers said. “It’ll be a lot cooler if we get the win.”
Cover photo of Chase Garbers against Oregon by Chris Pietsch, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo