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WSU defense powers Cougars past Cal, 21-6

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The Golden Bears could only muster 267 yards.

NCAA Football: Washington State at California Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In what was a potential crossroads game for both teams, the Washington State Cougars got their season back on track with a dominant 21-6 win over the California Golden Bears in which they allowed just 273 yards.

With their first win in Berkeley since 2013, the Cougars move to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12. The Golden Bears move to 1-4 and 0-2 and face a bit of a crisis of confidence in the direction of their program.

It’s hard to overstate just how good the defense was in this one. Last week, the defense needed a bunch of turnovers to hold Utah to 17 offensive points; this week, there was no such need, as the Cougars held an opponent to their lowest total since San Jose State early in the 2018 season.

The offense wasn’t great, but it was good enough, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. Given the trouble WSU has had with closing teams out in Nick Rolovich’s tenure, it was fair to wonder just how much the quick start actually meant, particularly as Jayden de Laura threw a pair of interceptions in the second quarter. As it turned out, WSU wouldn’t actually need any more points — although they did add a TD early in the second half.

De Laura wound up throwing for 219 yards on 25-of-41 with three TDs and those two interceptions; Calvin Jackson Jr., who had one of the best catches you’ll ever see, led the team with 53 yards receiving and a pair of TDs. Deon McIntosh rushed for a team-high 59 yards on 12 carries.

Brennan Jackson, who has gotten off to a bit of a slow start this season, led the defense with a pair of sacks and a pass breakup. The team combined for seven tackles for loss, and Ron Stone Jr. and Willie Taylor III also tallied sacks. Jaylen Watson picked up his first interception of the season.

Quick Thoughts

Massive victory: I said on the preview podcast with Craig that this was a crossroads game for both teams. I noted that the Cougs had kept playing hard despite the poor results this season, and that this game would probably tell us a bunch about where each team is heading. WSU showed up to play and demonstrated that the Cougs clearly have not given up on their season. It was an incredibly resilient performance, and the players and coaches deserve a ton of credit for that.

Still not quite there offensively: The victory feels great, and that shouldn’t be minimized at all. But there’s still a lot of work to be done on offense: WSU averaged just 4.4 yards per play and 5.0 yards per passing attempt. It was the third consecutive game they’ve been held under 4.5 yards per play, something that only happened once in the four games of 2020 and only happened three times in Mike Leach’s last three years combined.

But it’s great to have de Laura back: I’m not going to pretend that Jayden de Laura is lighting the world on fire, but it’s absolutely undeniable that the team is better when he is at quarterback. He’s certainly inconsistent as a passer, and he still makes poor decisions. But this game really showcased his value: WSU suffered only one sack, and that’s largely due to de Laura, who has an uncanny ability to escape pressure — he had a 15-yard scramble on a 3rd-and-5 that helped lead to WSU’s third touchdown. Both interceptions were quite bad, but overall, he’s doing things to help the team win.

Key Plays

1ST QUARTER

  • 11:21 — The Cougs get off to the best start possible, marching right down the field to open the game with a 22-yard touchdown pass from de Laura to Calvin Jackson Jr. WSU covered 75 yards in just eight plays, powered by a 20-yard run by Deon McIntosh, to take the early lead. WSU 7, Cal 0.
  • 7:45 — Well, that didn’t take long. Cal answers right back, bullying the Cougs with a series of runs — there is only one pass on the drive, but it happens to be a 44-yarder that features a perfect pass from Garbers to Kekoa Crawford in blanket coverage from Daniel Isom. The TD is an 11-yard run on which Christopher Brooks carried approximately three Cougs into the end zone. BUT! The PAT snap is bad, and WSU retains the lead. WSU 7, Cal 6.
  • 1:46 — AND WE HAVE A SHOOTOUT! Jackson makes as good of a catch as you will ever see, hauling in a ... well, you should just watch it:

Weirdly, the TD was only made possible because WSU converted a blocked punt for a first down. Yes, you read that right: In the midst of what looked like a three-and-out from their own 29, Nick Haberer took too long to get a punt away and had it blocked, but Ron Stone Jr. scooped up the loose ball and scampered for a first down to give WSU new life. WSU 14, Cal 6.

2ND QUARTER

  • 10:14 — Following a series of punts by both teams, the Cougs make their first big mistake of the game when de Laura telegraphs a slant off play action that is eerily reminiscent of the interception Jarrett Guarantano threw last week in the red zone against Utah.
  • 8:39 — PAYBACK! Facing 4th-and-14 in no-man’s land from WSU’s 34, Cal goes for it and Jaylen Watson picks up his first interception of the season.
  • 6:20 — Oh dear ... de Laura gives up what would have been described as an arm punt, except it was only 2nd-and-7, as his deep throw is easily read by the safety and picked off on the sideline. It’s been a while since the offense has had a rhythm.
  • 0:00 — More punts! After a first quarter that featured all kinds of fireworks, both offenses go out with a whimper in the second half, gaining just 97 yards combined in the quarter.

3RD QUARTER

  • 8:47 — Following a three-and-out by the defense — fueled by a sack on the opening play of the half by Brennan Jackson — the offense gets back on track! Back to back runs by McIntosh for 15 and 13 yards get the drive started, then de Laura converts 3rd-and-5 by escaping pressure to gain another 15 yards and move into the red zone. Following a 10-yard gain by Max Borghi, de Laura finds De’Zhaun Stribling for 8 yards and his second TD in as many weeks. WSU 21, Cal 6.
  • 0:25 — Cal’s offense finally finds its footing, moving from its own 21 down to WSU’s 26. But facing 3rd-and-1, Kaleb Ford-Dement brings down Damien Moore in the backfield for a loss of two. Rather than kick a field goal, Justin Wilcox elects to go for it, but Garbers’ pass is nowhere near accurate enough, and the Cougs pick up another stop. They’ve allowed only 170 total yards.

4TH QUARTER

  • 11:20 — Cal moves all the way down to WSU’s 4-yard-line and bottoms are beginning to pucker. Is this the beginning of the collapse? NOPE: WSU drops Chris Street for a three-yard loss on 3rd-and-3, and then Garbers misfires on 4th-and-6 to end the threat.
  • 4:36 — Cal again moves the ball into WSU territory, reaching the Cougar 40. But a sack by Stone leaves them with 3rd-and-long, and an incomplete pass leaves them facing another 4th down. Garbers is flushed from the pocket with pressure, and his ill-fated pass was well beyond the line of scrimmage.
  • 2:12 — This time, WSU forces a 4-and-out, as Stone pressures Garbers into an incompletion deep in his own territory. Finally, it is basically over — WSU picks up a first down and then kneels on it to end the game.

Did You See That?!?

He Said What?

One Number To Tell The Tale

47 — Completion percentage for Garbers on 30 attempts, his lowest since 2019. It was the lowest by a WSU opponent with at least 20 attempts since Wyoming in 2018.

Game Stats

StatBroadcast.com