Cal Football: Morning After -- Garbers, McIlwain Shine. What Happens to Bowers?

Cal quarterback Brandon McIlwain did not start Saturday but he ran for a team-high 74 yards and a touchdown and completed 5 of 7 passes, one of which was dropped.Photo by Jeffrey Swinger - USA TODAY Sports

New QBs provided mobility the Bears needed in the road win over BYU

Cal is 2-0 after beating BYU on the road Saturday, and the Bears might have solved some quarterback issues with the mobility provided by redshirt freshman Chase Garbers and South Carolina transfer Brandon McIlwain.

However, there is an elephant in the room -- Ross Bowers.

He started his 13th consecutive game for Cal in the 2018 opener after being one of 48 players named to the preseason watch list for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which goes to the nations top quarterback.

But he has not taken a single snap since the first half of the season-opening win over North Carolina. He completed 8-of-17 passes for 56 yards in that half, but perhaps more significantly he had minus-7 yards on six rushing attempts.

What will happen to him?

Will he get another chance this season?

Will he transfer?

The simple answer is that its too soon to tell. Any number of things could happen over the next 10 games that could change the mind and status of Bowers, who is a redshirt junior.

Coach Justin Wilcox said after Saturday's game, That was the plan today, with regards to his choice of quarterbacks, keeping his options open going forward. He insists Bowers has done nothing wrong to precipitate the move.

But this kind of quarterback change is becoming common in college football. Jalen Hurts led Alabama to berths in consecutive national championship games as a freshman and sophomore, but now finds himself behind sophomore Tua Tagovailoa. Kelly Bryant took Clemson to the College Football Playoff last season and helped the No. 2 Tigers get past Texas A&M on the road Saturday, but there are still hints that he could be replaced by freshman Trevor Lawrence before the season is over.

And its not like Cal is marching up and down the field now, ranking 107th of 128 FBS teams in total offense. The Bears have scored a modest 28 points in the three halves with Bowers on the bench, and they have done it against teams whose defenses remain questionable. On Saturday, North Carolina gave up 41 points and 510 yards to an East Carolina team expected to be one of the worst FBS squads in the country, and BYUs 28-23 victory over Arizona did not look as impressive when the Wildcats got shut out in the first half against Houston.


--Having Garbers and McIlwain combine for 119 rushing yards certainly made a difference against BYU, but the fact is, Cal is 2-0 because of its defense.

Cal had two more interceptions Saturday, and its six interceptions for the season lead the nation. The Bears rank fifth in the nation in passing efficiency defense.

--The Bears won on the road, ending a five-game losing streak away from home. They had lost 14 of their previous 15 games on their opponents home field. It remains to be seen whether they can win conference road games; the Bears have lost 13 consecutive Pac-12 road games dating back to 2015.

--Cal won a close game for the second week in a row. The Bears' combined margin of victory in their first two games was 10 points. They were 1-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer last year., and that included 0-3 in conference games.

--Cal finally got a big play out of its offense, as Garbers 52-yard touchdown pass to Kanawai Noa might have been the single most important play of Saturday 21-18 win over BYU. That play was more than twice as long as the Bears' second-longest play this season, although they had two other pass completions of 25 yards, including a scoring pass to Patrick Laird.

--Cal inside linebacker Evan Weaver has 25 tackles in two games and 19 of them are solo tackles. The latter ranks second in the country. Kansas Joe Dineen has 20 solo tackles and no else has more than 17.

--Bears safety Jaylinn Hawks got his third interception of the season on Saturday, and he is tied with Syracuses Andre Cisco for the most picks in the nation.

--It remains unclear when outside linebacker Cameron Goode will return. He sat out Saturdays game with a lower leg injury suffered in the opener.

Comments (4)
No. 1-4

I feel a much higher comfort level with Garbers or McIlwain than I ever did with Bowers - he just made me nervous when things got dicey.

That said, I am questioning our QB coach, Tuiasosopo. Accuracy is down across the board and I just don't see the structured discipline (reads, movement, etc.) we used to see with previous QB coaches like Spavital, Franklin, or Tedford. Just not sold yet because we're not seeing any real throwing ability from 4 different QBs (I'm including Forrest here).

Jeff Faraudo
Jeff Faraudo


It was impressive how seamlessly Beau Baldwin interchanged Garbers and McIlwain. And to pull off a road win in their first time using this approach, pretty encouraging.


Its good to have some viable, experienced QBs on the bench. Look what happened to Nebraska when they lost their only scholarship QB this weekend.


It is a blessing that Bowers has found a spot on the bench. He was the reason Cal lost so many close games last year. As Bill Walsh once said of Steve DeBerg - he is just good enough to lose. Garbers and McIlwain are a nice combo. Hopefully, Wilcox will stick with them.