A spring game is a dangerous thing for a fan. Cal played a 14 possession game with some shortened possessions and no special teams, which is roughly 66% of an actual game. The team was split in half, with units that might be used to playing together separated. Various players were held out, in some cases as a precaution, in other cases perhaps because the player had already proven himself.
This is all a long way of saying that it's a bad idea to make too much of what we saw on Saturday. But it's also the only football most of us will see between now and the Sydney Cup™. So what do we actually make of this particular edition? I'm going to list a bunch of assumptions and theories (some widely held, some my own personal guesses) about what we expect from the 2016 Bears. Did the spring game cast doubts upon those theories?
Theory 1: It's a two QB race between 1a Chase Forrest and 1b Ross Bowers
As I watched the spring game, I performed the most simple charting possible of the quarterbacks. If the QB seemed to make a solid read and threw a reasonably catchable ball, he got an accurate mark. If he made a bad read or an inaccurate pass, he got an inaccurate mark. I kept throws that were cancelled out by penalties in the tallies. As much as possible I tried to factor in pressure, tipped passes, drops, and other factors that were outside of the QB's control. Here's what came out:
These numbers are very, very rough. For one thing, the Pac-12 Network wasn't 100% focusing on the action on the field, so it's possible I missed some plays. This also doesn't take into account difficulty of the throws themselves. Some of the plays were marginal - Gilliam had a couple of 'inaccurate' plays that included a ball that might have been tipped and a pressured throw. One of Kline's iffy passes was a forced roll out with minimal options. You get the idea.
Having said all that: If I knew absolutely nothing about any of the four quarterbacks going in - their recruiting pedigree, college history, length of time in the program, etc. - I'd say that it would be Forrest and Kline as the two front runners.
Should we be making a big deal out of 15-25 throws each? Yes and no. You could take 25 throw samples that would show Zach Maynard ahead of Jared Goff. But it's not meaningless either. The big pluses for Forrest and Kline was a complete lack of obvious errors. Bowers and Gilliam both had passes picked off, and they weren't particularly fluky interceptions.
Kline's accuracy numbers (15-16) pop out at you. It's worth noting that a high percentage of those throws were relatively easy dump-offs and underneath throws, but they were all solid reads that gained yards. And when he DID go down the field he did so with confidence and accuracy. He didn't look like a dude that has spent the last few years in the wilderness of community college and FCS football.
Forrest, meanwhile, started just a bit shaky bit quickly found a rhythm that he maintained for the rest of the scrimmage. He went downfield a bit more often than Kline, and showed a nice variety of throws. If he came in as the presumed leader, I didn't see anything that would make me question his ability to run the show.
Bowers . . . looked like a freshman. He tossed a couple of excellent fades and led two touchdown drives, but made a couple of bad reads and was the least accurate quarterback. To be fair, he didn't have much opportunity to show off his running ability in a setting that looked designed to protect the quarterbacks from contact.
What was encouraging was that every quarterback made marginally difficult downfield throws. Hell, Max Gilliam might've arguably had the prettiest pass of the day on a beautiful lofted throw over the top to Justin Dunn. It would've been nice to get a better sense of how each quarterback handles pressure, but there's only so much we can get from 70 pass attempts in a controlled environment.
Verdict: I'm not allowing myself to get excited about Kline until he's actually confirmed for the fall roster. For my money, Forrest is the leader in the clubhouse.
Theory: Offensive line is the biggest strength of the team
There were two 'sacks' on the day, one of which Bowers probably would have escaped from if it had been normal live action. There were a few other pressures, although probably not more than you could count on one hand. Meanwhile, the Cal run game averaged 10.5 yards/carry on 32 attempts. Even considering the lowered intensity level of a spring game, those are big numbers. The offensive line dominated.
It's worth noting that the defense had more key contributors sitting out than the offense at pretty much every level. Even still, we saw nothing to dissuade optimism towards the line.
Verdict: Best offensive line since . . . Alex Mack's senior year in 2008?
Theory: The wide receivers will be fine despite a tremendous loss of on-field production
Melquise Stovall, Jordan Duncan, Chad Hansen, and Jordan Veasey all stood out with solid play, and those are just four of the sixteen different players who caught a pass. I only noticed a couple of minor mistakes (dropped passes, iffy routes) and there were plenty of dudes that were wide open. Sure, it was against a depleted secondary, but the breadth and depth of targets looks promising again.
Verdict: Cal's biggest recruiting success has been at the wide receiver position, both in terms of pure numbers and high end talent.
Theory: Cal's defense will be a work in progress, and highly reliant on returning starters like Hardy Nickerson and Damariay Drew
Cal's defense faced 14 possessions and allowed 11 touchdowns and one field goal. Granted, they were playing a vanilla defense and without a number of important players, but still. The defense didn't do much to slow down the offense.
Reports from official types had indicated that the defense was ahead of the offense earlier in spring practice. That's not completely unlikely when you consider that the offense has a new coordinator and lost their most important player with Jared off preparing for the draft. Evidently the offense has settled down quite nicely, and rarely looked troubled on Saturday.
I'm very concerned about Damariay Drew's knee injury that will require surgery. It's certainly possible that it will be minor and he'll be ready to go in four months. But a serious knee injury would quite possibly rule him out for the season. Depth at safety is iffy enough. But more than that, Cal can't afford to lose a player who made impact plays to stall drives - the type of plays that were generally absent on Saturday.
Verdict: We're left hoping for good health, and that a bevy of young players learn quickly through fall camp.
Theory: That's the last football you'll see for 131 days
Verdict: Time to boot up your DVR and re-watch the Arizona State game for the 6th time, because we've got a long way to go.