After a slow start to the game, WSU (4-1 overall, 1-1 in Pac-12) put together back-to-back late touchdown drives to put the game away after Cal (3-2, 1-1) pulled within four points at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
WSU struggled to move the ball early, especially on the ground, but found their rhythm just in time in the second half, piling up 312 yards and 21 points after the break. The defense was nails, and the front seven played particularly nicely, limiting the freshman running back Ott to just 69 yards rushing — he had 274 yards last week — and 31 total team rushing yards.
Neither team’s offense could find a rhythm in the first half. The first five possessions of the game ended in punts. On the fifth punt, Robert Ferrel dashed through the teeth of Cal’s punt return defense to get to the Cal 30. A personal foul for getting into the play without a helmet by Cal was tacked on to put WSU on the border of the red zone. The Cougs sealed off the drive with Jaylen Jenkins’ first career WSU touchdown on a two-yard handoff early in the second quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Cal completed a 3rd and 5 for a 33-yard catch and run to put the Golden Bears into WSU territory. WSU kept the damage under control, holding Cal to a 42-yard field goal.
The Cougars put together their longest drive of the day on the next possession, converting two third and double-digits to get inside the Cal 30. Cam Ward tried to take a shot into the end-zone, but it would be an ill-advised decision as Cal safety Daniel Scott plucked the ball out of the air for an interception and touchback. Cal would punt two more times with a WSU punt sandwiched in between to go into the half with WSU leading 7-3. It was a first half that lasted just over an hour.
The second half jumped out to a much quicker start. On the second play of the half, Ward dropped it right into the bucket on a deep ball, a 47-yard bomb to Renard Bell. Two plays later, Ward threw a laser to Ferrel for a touchdown, putting the Cougs up 14-3.
After a Cal three and out, WSU put together yet another long drive deep into Cal territory. On 2nd and 2 from Cal’s 21, Ward evaded a sack, danced around in the backfield, and tried to throw a strike into the back of the end zone rolling out to his right. Ward failed to see the awaiting Cal linebacker and threw the ball right at him for his second interception of the day. The teams traded punts to end the third quarter with the Cougs still leading by 11.
On a 3rd and 15 to open the fourth quarter, Cal’s QB Jack Plummer converted for a 30-yard completion then followed it up with a 49-yard completion to put Cal on the doorstep of the end zone. Jaydn Ott punched it in from two yards out but Cal failed to convert the two-point conversion and the Golden Bears cut the lead to just five. On 3rd and 4 the next possession, De’Zhaun Stribling broke free on a screen pass and sprinted down the side of the field for a 32-yard pickup. Ward wasted no time taking advantage of the big gain. Bell got a step ahead of his man on one-on-one coverage and Ward delivered another perfect deep pass to Bell, this time for six points.
Now leading 21-9, WSU forced a Cal three and out, aided by a 10-yard tackle for loss by Brennan Jackson to get the ball back with 10 minutes and some change to go.
Needing a long-drive to help put away their first conference win of the year, the Cougar running game flew right through the Cal defense. Nakia Watson and Jenkins traded turns taking long runs of 23, 20 and 10 to put the Cougs inside the Cal five. After WSU failed to put it in three times in a row, including a dropped touchdown, Ward hit an open Billy Riviere III for a game-sealing touchdown with under six and half minutes remaining.
A big road test is up next for the Cougars as they travel to Los Angeles to play the top-10 USC Trojans next Saturday in another Big Fox broadcast.