There are sound reasons Cal has operated most of this season with a two-quarterback system.
It’s just as reasonable to suggest that it’s now time for coach Justin Wilcox and his staff to reassess the arrangement.
I defended the use of both Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain a few weeks ago, even when there were serious hiccups. Neither is a finished product and each provides the offense something different, so utilizing both seemed like the way to go.
Now I believe that Garbers needs to be the Bears’ primary quarterback, with McIlwain used occasionally as a change of pace because of his potential as an explosive runner.
Wilcox and offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin had McIlwain on the field for a first-and-10 play at the Washington State 12-yard line in a tie game midway through the fourth quarter on Saturday night.
He rolled to the right but overthrew Patrick Laird near the goal line. Instead, the ball was intercepted in the end zone by WSU’s Skyler Thomas.
“I saw Pat open. I overthrew him a little bit,” the South Carolina transfer said. “I’ve got to find a way to get that done. I’ve got to make a better decision on that play.”
So does the coaching staff. McIlwain lost the starting job three weeks after after giving the ball away 11 times on interceptions or fumbles in a span of three games. He now has thrown eight interceptions, just two touchdowns.
“We can’t throw it to the other team,” Wilcox said. “If it’s not there, we’ve got to keep it or throw it out of bounds.”
McIlwain’s mistake certainly wasn’t the only one made by the Bears against the No. 8 Cougars. It’s not the singular reason Cal lost 19-13.
But it was a costly lost opportunity. A touchdown or even a field goal at that point could have changed the way the rest of the game unfolded and led to bowl eligibility for the Bears.
Garbers also threw an interception, although he got the ball back when he dislodged it from Willie Taylor, preventing what looked like a certain touchdown return. Instead, the ball rolled through the end zone for a touchback and the Bears started over at the 20.
After helping to engineer wins the previous two weeks against Oregon State and Washington, the redshirt freshman finished the WSU game 15 of 26 for 127 yards with a touchdown, and was the leading rusher on either team with 67 yards, including three dashes for first downs.
Garbers’ season ledger includes 10 TD passes vs. five interceptions — modest numbers, but good enough at this point he should be the Bears’ full-time quarterback.