Let’s talk post-BYU.
Joshua Morgan: Coming into the season, I would have said that I expected to win both of these games. However, if you would have shown me our offensive stats, I would have thought that it would be unlikely to even have one win at this point.
Well, here we are, and we are actually 2-0! The defense proved this week that they are fully legit. While it remains to see how they perform against a really good offense, we have a defense who should be able to keep us in most games that we play. That’s exactly what they have done these first two weeks, but they have done more than that. The offense was barely able to stay afloat, and the defense purely carried us to a 2-0 record. If we can get the offense figured out (McIlwain, anyone?), then watch out.
So there is your definitive answer that totally answers the question that I have been asked. Go Bears.
Ruey Yen: In my optimistic prediction of the Golden Bears being 6-6 (or 7-5) and being bowl eligible, I have them winning these two games - which were both winnable games on paper. Had Cal routed their opponents in these two games, I would have been surprised. Winning these games by a relatively close margin was just what’s expected (with some luck). Now that we have seen the other Pac-12 teams in action, a 6-1 start by Cal Football in 2018 may even be plausible (I hope this is my preemptive answer for the future roundtable question about if we are surprised by a 6-1 Cal Football start).
boomtho: Yes, I’ll happily eat crow and say that I am surprised. I expected us to be 1-1 in my upside case, and probably considered 2-0 to be as likely as 0-2. Now, to be fair, that was before all the UNC suspensions (and before additional data in Week 2 appears to reveal how bad they really are).
Nick Kranz: No, though as is always the case there are surprises along the road to where I thought we would be. I thought Cal would be a better team that UNC generally, and thus should be expected to win at home. BYU was awful last year and I wasn’t expecting them to turn things around quickly enough to beat an improving Cal team in Provo.
But oh the twists along the way! The defense has been unexpectedly dominant, even considering the opposition, to an extreme degree. Early days, of course, but I don’t think we can point out enough that just two years ago the Cal defense finished 122nd in yards/play allowed. The defensive turnaround has been more extreme and rapid than the impressive offensive turnaround engineered over 2013-2014 by Sonny Dykes. Meanwhile, the offense has backslid, perhaps in part because the coaches are trying to create upside with some pretty surprising personnel and strategy changes that all start with the quarterback position. Those changes create a ton of intrigue for the development of the offense over the course of the season.
Piotr Le: Not surprized since I had Cal going 3-0. Albeit I was expecting both our own and the opponent quality to be much higher than expected. Per sport-references, on a sample size n = 2, we have the easiest Strength-of-Schedule in the FBS due to poor play of UNC and Arizona. I think Idaho State and the BYE week will give the offense the needed time to nail down ways we can improve on offense before the rough stretch of the conference play. Considering the UCLA/Arizona teams being much weaker than expected there is a chance Cal can go 6-1 with one less to Oregon.
ragnarok: Not really? These were both winnable games, and I felt like Cal should have been a slight favorite for both matchups, so neither win, both of which were close, was that surprising. 1-1 also wouldn’t have surprised me, as long as the Bears didn’t get blown out or anything.
atomsareenough: No, not in the least. I’ve still got us at about 8 wins, and I was counting UNC and BYU as 2 of those.
Rob Hwang: Never surprised at the result, but the fashion in which we did it? Oh man, I am not convinced.
3 QBs down to 2 QBs. What did you think about the offense? Was it an improvement from UNC?
Joshua Morgan: I love that we are starting to narrow it down at least somewhat, however I never would have thought that Ross Bowers would be the one who would go without playing time. Who would have thought?
Anyway, back to the actual question. I thought that Garbers looked okay at times but is likely in over his head as of right now. As for McIlwain, some of his series’ that he had later in the game were the first few signs of life in this offense all season. He kept the defense on their toes with his running ability and also delivered a few very nice throws. I found it completely ridiculous how he was playing so well and they still rotated Garbers in IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DRIVE!!!! This needs to stop here. Let McIlwain take the reigns, PLEASE.
Ruey Yen: The QB play in the BYU game was certainly an improvement over that of the UNC opener, but that’s not saying much. I also would not completely rule out seeing more Ross Bowers at the helm, even without any injuries to the other two guys. Chase Garbers was perfectly solid, even with the expected mistake of throwing a pick. Brandon McIlwain showed his athleticism in specially designed plays for him. I think the most important thing was that both Garbers and McIlwain got some much needed experience in this game. Against BYU, these two QB’s were able to be the ground game with Patrick Laird being contained. It was a solid game plan by Beau Baldwin and company, but I don’t think that is necessarily the Cal offensive plan going forward, particularly against opponents who will force you to beat them via the air.
I don’t think the QB competition is over at all. I actually think that all 3 guys - Garbers, McIlwain, and Bowers, will play against Idaho State next week. It might not be until October do we have a true QB1 named.
boomtho: Again, I will eat crow here - in the BYU Q&A, I mentioned that I expected Bowers to start given it was a road game vs a solid team. I had thought the coaching staff would take the “safe” play. In terms of the actual 2 QB rotation: it really feels like the coaches are walking a tightrope, and have managed to stay balanced so far, but it still feels precarious. Like someone else mentioned, it feels really tough for Garbers and McIlwain to be rotated out in the middle of drives where they’re actually moving the ball! But if results are all that matters in college football, then the coaching staff made the right calls for another week.
I do believe the offense was an improvement vs UNC in a few particular areas. The ground game was more successful (38 carries for 172 yards in the BYU game, vs 49 for 160 in the UNC game), there were more explosive plays (e.g., Noa’s long TD, the long slant to Noa, McIlwain’s ~20 yd run), and we even had 2 receivers top 50 yards (huzzah!) . However, in contrast, the weak points were the turnovers (which also bit our special teams) and our inability to get Laird going.
Piotr Le: Slight improvement and it isn’t as much a QB competition during the game as much as down-distance-situation specific QB rotation that was happening. With Laird being stuffed to 3YPC we needed both McIlwain and Garbers to make plays with their feet and they delivered.
ragnarok: The offense _looked_ better, and the stats bear this out, with marginal to decent improvement across the board in basically every category not named “turnovers”. Which is how the Bears go from being +4 in turnovers in week 1 to -1 in week 2 and still pull out a close win.
QB play in particular looked better, and it felt much more like there was a “plan” involved in rotating the quarterbacks, with designed runs inserted to both take advantage of certain situations, and then open up passing plays when the defense was looking for the QB to take off.
There’s still plenty of room for improvement, and I think this offense lacks both a “true” deep threat and a QB who could deliver the deep ball with consistent accuracy, but it’s definitely the kind of improvement you need to see week to week if this offense is going to compete week after week in the Pac-12.
atomsareenough: Oh, absolutely it was an improvement from UNC. Was it as good as it needs to be though? No way. We still went 3-and-out way, way too often, the traditional RB run game was pretty much nonexistent, and there was a lot of inconsistency in the passing game. That said, there were a lot more good plays, and some nearly great passing plays that made me feel like we have potential to keep improving on that side of the ball. Duncan and Wharton got open a couple times and they couldn’t quite make the connection, there was a pass or two to Laird where he almost made the play (one of which he did but stepped out of bounds before he caught the ball). If we can clean up some of those mistakes and the careless turnovers, we can be a lot better. For the record, I’m fine with a 2 QB system. They seem to be able to make it work and it doesn’t get anyone out of rhythm, so I’m not going to complain until I see something stupid happen because of it.
Rob Hwang: Experience is the best teacher, and that was evident in the BYU game. Both QBs looked more comfortable and able to command the offense when they were playing. The one thing I have been impressed with is their understanding of the play clock. I don’t recall any time that we have had to burn timeouts due to an inability to get the play out and snapped. Thats huge for young QBs (granted McIlwain has been a starter before). The one thing I am concerned about is the fact that the offense still has no identity and what they want to do. Maybe the innerworkings of the team know, but it also looks like the team is somewhat out of sync when they always have to change their roles based on the QB thats in.