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No. 23 WSU vs. Cal final score: Cougars blow past Golden Bears, 56-21

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Behind another fast start, the Cougs buried the Bears to take over first place in the Pac-12 North.

NCAA Football: California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive week, the No. 23 WSU Cougars laid waste to a Pac-12 opponent, pasting Cal 56-21. But that wasn’t even close to the most significant development of the night.

As the Cougs were kicking off on ESPN in the late window, USC was wrapping up its upset win over No. 4 Washington, which means the Cougs’ victory left WSU (8-2 overall, 7-0 Pac-12) all alone in first place in the Pac-12 North with just two games to play in the regular season.

With a win next week against Colorado and a UW loss to Arizona State, the Cougs would clinch the Pac-12 North.

It’s weird to call a game in which WSU scored 56 points as “workmanlike,” but that’s exactly how it felt. The Cougs just wore down the overmatched Golden Bears with relentless offensive efficiency, gaining 7.6 yards per play for 654 total yards. They cashed in with TDs on all of their trips in the red zone, and only had three empty possessions.

Luke Falk finished with 373 yards on 36-of-50 passing with 5 touchdowns and 1 interception. Seven of those completions, 87 of those yards and two of those touchdowns went to Gabe Marks, who set the Pac-12 record for receptions with 295 on his second TD.

The defense was equally impressive. Cal came into the game scoring just a shade under 40 points per game, but the Cougars were able to hold them down for most of the night. There were some big plays here and there — Cal QB Davis Webb did throw for 425 yards — but as they have all season, the Cougs made their own big plays when they mattered.

The most telling stat of the night: The Golden Bears were just 5-of-17 on third and fourth down, and just 2-for-5 in the red zone. One of those red zone failures came at the hands of linebacker Nate Derider, who intercepted Webb in the end zone.

The WSU rushing attack had an enormous night, as Cougar running backs totaled 248 yards on 29 carries — good for a tidy 8.6 yards per carry. Gerard Wicks led the way with 128 yards on just nine carries, largely thanks to a 59-yard run in the fourth quarter that involved a savvy play call by Mike Leach: The Cougs had mostly been running wide, but this time they showed a wide run while Wicks cut it up inside to bust a long gainer.

A few plays later, Falk found Marks for the TD, the receiving record, and the eighth touchdown of the night for WSU.

Also notable: Those 654 yards didn’t include the first 75 yards the Cougs covered the first time they touched the ball. Those yards came at the hands of Kaleb Fossum, who housed the first punt of the night for WSU’s first punt return for a TD since Michael Bumpus in 2005.

The lone downer of the evening? River Cracraft, who caught three touchdowns — including yet another gorgeous toe-drag job on the sideline — left with what appeared to be a significant knee injury. He’s been snake-bitten by injuries the past two seasons, and it appeared he was past that; here’s to hoping it’s less serious than it looked.

The Cougars now head out for what is likely their toughest test of the season: The now-No. 12-but-probably-soon-to-be-top-10 Colorado Buffaloes will host the Cougs in the Pac-12’s marquee matchup of the league’s penultimate weekend.

Who would have guessed that back in early September? Go Cougs!