I know what some of you are thinking.
This two-quarterback system Cal is using, it was cute for a while. Worked great against Idaho State. And now we see what happens against Oregon, a team with better, faster athletes. A team like so many the Bears will face going forward in the Pac-12 Conference.
Time to pick one quarterback, you’re thinking. Time to scrap this two-quarterback experiment. It can’t work.
Except coach Justin Wilcox won’t give up on the tandem of redshirt freshman Chase Garbers and sophomore Brandon McIlwain, even after they combined for five turnovers — two of which the Ducks turned into touchdowns — in a 45-24 loss on Saturday night.
The Bears won’t drop-kick the two-quarterback arrangement.
And they shouldn’t.
If Garbers or McIwain were demonstrably better than the other, maybe he becomes The Man. That’s not the case. Not at this point. And Justin Herbert isn’t walking through that door into the Cal quarterbacks room.
Wilcox on the quarterback play vs. Oregon.
Garbers and McIlwain are the best the Bears have right now. After just one half of the season opener against North Carolina, Wilcox made the move to utilize them instead of 2017 starter Ross Bowers because of their versatility and their higher ceiling.
The Bears need that extra element because they don’t have a game-breaker deep threat to loosen defenses and their offensive line is far from elite.
Garbers and McIlwain showed early promise and seemed to make strides with each game through the nonconference schedule.
Then Oregon came to town and we saw what we should already have known: They are young, inexperienced, not wholly developed and, as Saturday showed us, prone to mistakes.
But they still provide the Bears with their best chance to win.
Let’s break it down:
This was Garbers’ poorest game. A starter for the third straight game, he was not effective throwing the ball (his presumed edge over McIlwain) and he didn’t run much.
His numbers: 4 for 9 for 44 yards passing with two interceptions. On the ground, he carried six times for 24 net yards, most of it on one 19-yard gain.
McIlwain showed off his running ability (his presumed edge over Garbers), gaining 123 yards (the most by a Cal quarterback since Joe Kapp had 130 against Oregon back when dinosaurs walked the earth in 1958). He scored on a 28-yard run and later threw a touchdown pass.
But he was just 1 for 6 throwing the ball in the first half — a pass slightly behind its target that Kanawai Noa turned into a 24-yard gain. McIlwain finished 11 for 21 for 128 yards.
He also had three turnovers — a lost fumble late in the second quarter that La’Mar Winston Jr. returned 61 yards for a touchdown, and two picks, including one that Ugochukwu Amadi took back 32 yards for a score in the final minutes of the game. And he missed a wide-open Jordan Duncan on a third-down play that should have been a 30-yard TD late in the third quarter.
Both players have had good moments, even on Saturday.
The Bears’ opening drive was a splendid example of how the two can work hand-in-hand to create an offense that can give defenses trouble.
Both took snaps in the 15-play, 72-yard drive that ate up 7 1/2 minutes and featured passes by three different players (also Patrick Laird) and runs by five Bears.
But even in one of their best sequences of the day, the Bears could not complete the deal. They settled for a field goal. And against a team such as Oregon, that’s not good enough.