It was hard to expect Spencer Brasch, Cal's 18-year-old true freshman quarterback, would thrive against the ferocious defense of No. 12 Utah.
It did not go well for the Bears, 35-0 losers at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night.
As Cal coach Justin Wilcox noted, "This was not on Spence."
No, Brasch was not the primary problem. He wasn't the solution, either.
The third-stringer was 7 for 19 for just 47 passing yards. He wasn't intercepted (his one pick was nullified by a Utah penalty), but he didn't put points on the board, either.
In fact, Cal never crossed midfield against the Utes after its first possession of the game. The Bears finished with 83 total yards and six first downs.
“They’re a great team. Everything about it showed," Brasch said afterward. "They held us to pretty low stats but I was happy to be out playing football again. We don’t want to see that (outcome) at all, so we have to come back and work hard next week.”
The Bears have a bye this week, before heading into the final four games of their schedule, starting at home against Washington State on Nov. 9. Cal must win at least two of the four - perhaps three - in order to secure a bowl bid that seemed well within reach after it began the season 4-0 to earn a No. 15 national ranking.
Brasch was playing in place of redshirt sophomore Devon Modster, who was injured in the fourth quarter against Oregon State a week earlier. Modster did not even travel to Salt Lake, meaning that walk-on Robby Rowell was the Bears' No. 2 quarterback.
But Brasch was at the helm for most of the night, and while he couldn't crack the Utah defense he also did not appear panicked or in far over his head.
“I was just trying to make plays," he said. "There’s some passes I could have completed, some reads I could have made. There’s always ways to get better.”
“Just wanted him to go out there and cut it loose Spencer can throw the ball," Wilcox said. "It was tough to get things going . . . (that’s) a little bit of an understatement. We've got to help him some more. We’ve got to give him answers. I think Spence did fine."
The Bears tried a few things to give Brasch a chance. They had him roll out to the right on pass plays, which bought him some time and gave him the chance twice run for first downs. But Utah quickly figured it out, and Brasch was met head-on at one point with defensive tackle Leti Fotu.
Cal also used safety Ashtyn Davis - a former All-America hurdler - at wide receiver for one play early in the game. The hope was he could out-run single coverage on a deep pass. But Utah sent a safety over to help and Brasch made the wrong read, throwing into double coverage for an incomplete pass.
It wasn't all bad, Wilcox said.
“Going against a really good team and I thought Spence handled it well in terms of his demeanor," Wilcox said. "His disposition, the way he handled things, getting in and out of the huddle, was good.”
Cal's problems on offense precede Brasch's entry into the equation. Since starter Chase Garbers was injured against Arizona State late last month, the Bears have scored just 27 points in 13 quarters.
The Bears are averaging just 10.3 points during their four-game losing streak, and injuries to offensive linemen and wide receivers are huge contributing factors to their woes. Cal's ground game stalled from the start.
Modster could be back in time for WSU and the Bears expect Garbers to return, although there is no timetable.