There are losses you see coming, there are losses you don’t see coming, and then there are losses you don’t see coming that happen in the way you couldn’t have possibly imagined.
Cal stunned No. 8 (until Sunday, anyway) WSU to hand the Cougs their first loss of the season, 37-3.
The game was a total train wreck for the Cougars, and it doesn’t matter from which angle you want to view it — it looks the same. The team that has generated so many good feelings failed to show up.
The Cougs had seven turnovers, including five interceptions and a fumble that was returned for a TD from Luke Falk in what was his worst outing since his freshman season. Penalties negated a pair of touchdowns. The offensive line gave up a plethora of sacks, only some of which could be pinned on Falk holding onto the ball. Poor punts gave away points once again. The defense wilted as the offense struggled.
The game got off to a bad start and just never got better. The Cougs outgained the Bears by 32 yards in the first half, yet trailed 17-3. Why? How about three turnovers — two of them on interceptions by Luke Falk — and a pair of critical penalties.
It didn’t look like it was going to start off badly when Renard Bell housed the opening kickoff for a touchdown. But it was called back on an obvious hold by Daniel Ekuale that might or might not have been a factor in the return. Seven potential points off the board.
That first drive ended a few plays later when Falk was picked off on what looked like a routine pitch and catch to Bell. Instead, the corner who was locked up on Tavares Martin Jr., Camryn Bynum, peeked a little and broke off to grab an easy interception at the WSU 20. The defense allowed a first down, but held Cal to a field goal. OK, not so bad.
With a chance to reset, WSU moved the ball down to Cal’s 32, largely on a pair of strong Jamal Morrow runs. But WSU couldn’t convert a 2nd and 1, and Erik Powell trotted on to kick a 49-yard field goal. He missed. Three potential points off the board.
After a three-and-out, WSU’s next drive lasted exactly one play: A 10-yard gain by Jamire Calvin, in which he made a couple of nice moves, ended with Jaylin Hawkins punching the ball out and Devante Downs recovering for Cal at midfield.
And yet ... the defense came to play again. Another three-and-out. WSU was surviving. But that was about to end.
WSU went three and out after getting behind the sticks thanks to a sack on first down — it was one of four in the first half for the Bears — and then the terrible punt game reared its head again. Powell appeared to put a rugby punt in the wrong location, and a 31-yard return for Cal put the ball at the WSU 23.
Three plays later, Cal was celebrating its first touchdown as Vic Enwere carried Robert Taylor into the end zone.
WSU tried to come back on the next drive, moving the ball all the way down to the Cal 11. It looked like WSU had tied the game when Falk found Tavares Martin Jr. in the back of the end zone, but the play was nullified by a ... um ... pretty soft offensive pass interference penalty on Martin. Seven more potential points off the board. Falk took a sack on the next play, but Powell hit a 52-yard field goal to finally get WSU on the board.
It was at this point that Cal started to find a bit of an offensive rhythm. The Bears moved the ball from their own 31 to the WSU 39 on a bunch of passes and zero run. WSU eventually stopped them, but it was a portent of things to come, with Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin starting to use quick passes, misdirection and rollouts to help Ross Bowers be successful.
WSU moved the ball again on the next drive, all the way down to the Cal 15. But on third down, Bynum picked up his second interception when he underthrew Martin in the end zone. More potential points off the board.
The defense stepped up again, but the offense couldn’t move it, and Mike Leach elected to punt on 4th-and-2 from his own 44. That turned out to be a really, really awful decision, as Mitchell Cox shanked a one-yarder — yes, you read that right, one yard — and Cal had the ball at the WSU 45 with 0:52 to go in the half and a seven-point lead.
Five plays later, Cal was at WSU’s 1-yard-line with four seconds to go. Faced with a choice between a field goal and a potential two-touchdown lead, Justin Wilcox showed some understanding of game probability and went for it. Cal caught WSU being a little too aggressive as the Cougs left a leaking tight end completely uncovered, and all Bowers had to do was flip the ball into the end zone for the TD to end the half.
Cal had seven drives in the first half. Four of them started in WSU territory. All 17 points came off drives that started on WSU’s half of the field.
The second half was more of the same. WSU screamed down the field, deep into Cal territory. But a poor shovel pass went off James Williams’ helmet and was intercepted by a defensive lineman at the Cal 14-yard-line.
The defense did OK again, but Falk insisted on giving it away again — not even his last turnover of the night — and this time Cal put it in the end zone to stretch the lead to 20-3.
The highlight of the night came on Cal’s next drive. Get used to seeing it, because you’ll see it forever.
Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong, and the Cougs who have spent so much time fighting back just more or less gave up.