By this point, WSU fans know the CAL BULLS--- well, and it was on full display throughout this one. The Bears only outgained WSU by four yards — a problem in and of itself, given how awful Cal has been on offense — but a pair of Cougar turnovers deep in their own territory, combined with an inability to convert in important situations, combined with a defense that again collapsed in the fourth quarter, doomed them to a decisive loss.
It leaves the Cougars in an incredibly precarious position: Sitting at 4-5 overall — with just one Pac-12 win — and needing to beat two out of three of the Stanford Cardinal (home), Oregon State Beavers (home) and Washington Huskies (road) just to get bowl eligible in a season in which they started ranked in the top 25.
The game was weird from the very beginning.
The Cougs got the ball first, and after a nice gain by Max Borghi on first down, Anthony Gordon and his receiver weren’t on the same page — Brandon Arconado kept running right through the window in the zone — and the throw sailed right into the hands of a defender, giving Cal possession deep in WSU territory.
On the next play, a Cal offense that specializes in being terrible ripped off a 27-yard run in which safety Skyler Thomas took a horrible angle and after 44 seconds, Cal was in front, 6-0.
It got weirder. On the ensuing PAT, Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei got a hand on a low kick, and the deflected ball landed right in the hands of George Hicks III. He ran it 92 yards for two points, and a presumed seven-point lead was only four, 6-2.
Well this #WSUvsCAL is off to a WILD start and it's only the first minute.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 10, 2019
The Cougars block a Cal extra-point kick and return it for ✌️.
Tune in to #WSUvsCAL on Pac-12 Now: https://t.co/zp9Inq041M pic.twitter.com/js4C4uPTIH
On the ensuing drive, WSU faced a 3rd-and-3 and Gordon had found an open receiver, only to have the pass broken up by ... a fat referee who couldn’t get out of the way.
WSU would punt, Cal would punt, WSU would punt again ... but this time the defense came up especially big when Daniel Isom forced a fumble that was recovered by Thomas at Cal’s 19.
With a golden opportunity to grab the lead with a short field, the Cougs couldn’t even pick up a first down. Instead, Blake Mazza put a 30-yard field goal through for a very Cal/WSU score of 6-5.
Things got weird again on the next drive when Cal QB Devon Modster found Jordan Duncan with a 48-yard bomb to move down to the WSU 12-yard line. Two plays later, Cal was ruled to be in the end zone on a pass where the receiver was probably short but the Pac-12 Network didn’t have a camera on the goal line, and it was 13-5 Cal.
WSU’s offense continued its struggles, but the defense did its part; after Cal moved into Cougar territory, WSU held the Bears on fourth down after they elected to go for it in no-man’s land.
The offense still couldn’t get going, and the teams traded punts once more. Finally, with less than five minutes to go in the first half, WSU woke up. Gordon completed his first six passes of the drive — none of them longer than 13 yards — to move to the Cal 31. After an 11-yard pass to Easop Winston Jr. converted third down, Gordon found his favorite target, Brandon Arconado, for a 17-yard TD. The two-point conversion that would have tied it was just short of the goal line, and the Cougs went into the locker room down 13-11.
Coming out of the locker room, it was more of the same bulls---. Cal picked up a first down, but no more. After the punt, Gordon hit Winston on an inside screen ... but Winston dropped it and Cal recovered and the Golden Bears were set up deep in WSU territory for the second time. And, for the second time, they didn’t waste the opportunity: Modster found running back Chris Brown Jr. in the flat, safety Tyrese Ross looked like he had him lined up but whiffed, and it was 20-11.
The WSU offense went back to work, moving methodically down the field, converting a pair of third downs to reach the Cal 17-yard line. But a holding call on Liam Ryan put the Cougs in a hole they couldn’t get out of, and a 35-yard Mazza field goal pulled WSU to within six, 20-14.
The defense held on the next drive, however, when Cal’s field goal kicker sent the ball into a defensive lineman’s helmet, and WSU had another chance to take the lead. The Cougs moved the ball deep, with the key play being a 36-yard bomb over the top to Winston. WSU picked up 7 on the next play, but an incompletion after Gordon was forced out of the pocket was followed by a screen to Renard Bell that was stopped for no gain left a 4th-and-3 from the Cal 14.
Mike Leach decided to go for it. But whatever play he had dialed up never had a chance: The offensive line protection was fouled up — not for the first time in the game — and Gordon, with a rusher off the edge in his face shortly after the snap, tucked it and tried to scramble, and he came up about a yard short.
That turned out to be the deciding moment in the game.
On the ensuing drive, Cal faced 3rd-and-6 from its own 17. WSU blitzed, but the Cougs lost their rush integrity, and Modster ran through a gaping hole for 26 yards. It only got worse: On 3rd-and-9, Cal ran a fairly simple inside screen that led to a series of missed tackles and, eventually, a 52-yard touchdown. 26-14. Ballgame.
For good measure, after the Cougs couldn’t even get past midfield following a pooch kick that set them up with good field position, Cal ran it right down WSU’s throat and Modster ran it in from 13 yards out on 4th-and-3 to make it 33-14. WSU tacked on a garbage time TD of its own — complete with a Cougar timeout from the Cal 1-yard line with eight seconds left — to get us to the final margin.