Had Cal elected to go for the two-point conversion after its late touchdown on Friday — and made it — Chase Garbers would have taken his place among the greatest Big Game quarterbacks in history.
Imagine, a 75-yard game-winning drive in the 2019 game at Stanford, followed by a 90-yard game-winner in 2020.
Coach Justin Wilcox was asked about going for two after Christopher Brown’s 3-yard touchdown run brought the Bears within 24-23 with 58 seconds left. He said it was discussed.
Wilcox explained he felt comfortable kicking the PAT for the tie and playing for the win in overtime. His defense was performing pretty well — except after turnovers, he said — and the offense had just come off an encouraging possession.
“We had the field goal blocked which was really unfortunate,” he said, alluding to the 32-yarder on the final play of the first half that Stanford snuffed out, preventing the Bears from taking the lead.
“We came back and hit a PAT in the third quarter. We felt like we had shored up what needed to be shored up.”
And then Wilcox fell on his sword, like a good leader does.
“Obviously it was the wrong decision,” he said. “And I own that 100 percent.”
After the fact, that’s easy to say. The PAT was blocked and the Bears lost, so obviously they should have taken the other path.
But it wasn’t the wrong decision.
The second-guessing would have been just as loud if had the Bears tried for the two-point conversion and failed. The critics would have wondered why take the chance? As Wilcox said, the Bears playing pretty well on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The only reason to go for two in that situation is if there was no longer any confidence in the kicking team. And you couldn’t blame Wilcox if that was in his mind. The special teams have been so mistake-prone the past two weeks it must be difficult to maintain any faith in them.
But that’s not what Wilcox said he was feeling. He thought they had the issue “shored up.”
The reason not to go for two points is that it’s not that easy to successfully pull off.
Cal has not been terrific in red-zone situations this season. And yes, their best power runner just scored from the 3-yard line. But would it happen right away again?
In this season of shorter practice time has Cal even devoted much attention to the two-point conversion?
The Bears have not gone for two this season and tried it just once in all of 2019, a failed attempt against Washington State with backup Devon Modster at quarterback.
According to a story posted on the NCAA website in 2017, the highest percentage of successful two-point tries among FBS teams (Division I at the time) came in 1970. The success rate that season: 47.1 percent.
That wouldn’t make me feel real confident. Less than a 50-50 chance with The Axe on the line?
The lowest national figure was in 2014: 34.3 percent.
That’s barely 1-in-3.
No one asked Garbers or any of his teammates on offense afterward what they would have done. But we can speculate that every single one of them would have favored going for two, would have expressed complete confidence they would have converted.
What else would you expect them to say?
It’s up to the coach to make that call. That’s type of difficult, in-the-moment decision he gets paid for.
Wilcox made the right call.
He and his team simply have to figure out how to kick a PAT or field goal without having it blocked.
Clearly, the situation is not shored up.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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