SAN FRANCISCO – After the announced crowd of 35,506 had left AT&T Park to the seagulls and rain showers, the Washington State Cougars tried to make sense of their disheartening 30-7 loss to California on Saturday afternoon.
It defied explanation, even for those who coached and played in the Cougars’ fifth consecutive defeat. All that was left was groping for answers.
“I’m disappointed they way we came out and didn’t play,” said Washington State football coach Paul Wulff, his voice rising in frustration. “It’s disappointing, you know, we had a damn good week of practice and we laid an egg.”
Right from the start.
The Cougars (3-6 overall and 1-5 – last – in the Pac-12 North) won the toss, took the ball and went backward 9 yards. Less than 11/2 minutes in, Dan Wagner trotted on and punted for the first of seven times.
“What’s been happening, each and every game, we start off slow,” said Rickey Galvin, who led WSU 73 yards on 12 carries, all but 20 of those yards in the second half. “We start to pick it up when it’s probably too late.”
It was probably too late 2 minutes, 29 seconds after Wagner’s first punt.
The Bears (5-4, 2-4) scored in six plays, with Isi Sofele – a WSU recruit three years ago before signing with Cal – covering 34 of them on two runs, and Zach Maynard, who threw four interceptions last week at UCLA, finding tight end Anthony Miller from 19 yards for his only catch and a 7-0 lead.
“I felt like we were ready to play but once the game got going, you know, you could tell (we) were a little bit slow reacting to things,” said safety Tyree Toomer, who had a career-high 10 tackles, many after long Cal runs or passes as the Bears had 14 plays of 10 or more yards.
The Bears didn’t score again until late in the first quarter, about the time the rain started to fall. But before they did – on a 1-yard run by Sofele, who finished with a career-high 138 yards on 23 carries – Washington State had two possessions and gained 12 yards.
“Their (defensive line) was probably the most physical we played,” guard John Fullington said.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage,” Wulff said.
Still, the Cougars put together a nine-play drive at the end of the first quarter and start of the second, moving to the California 30. Andrew Furney, named a Lou Groza semifinalist this week, came out to try a 48-yard field goal. It became a 53-yard attempt within seconds, when the Cougars were called for a delay-of-game penalty.
“Our kicker, No. 1, has to set up (quicker),” Wulff said of the penalty. “He was taking too long to set up.”
But that’s still better than what happened next, when Zach Koepp’s high snap slipped through Wagner’s hands and traveled 27 yards downfield before Wagner corralled it.
“We have to be more consistent in all phases,” said defensive end Travis Long, who had six tackles and a sack. “Special teams, offense, defense. We all have to go out there and make plays.”
After the turnover, the defense held – Maynard’s pass to Keenan Allen was too high on fourth down from the WSU 34 but Casey Locker, for the third consecutive week, was called for a personal foul, though it was considered after the play.
The next two times the Bears had the ball, WSU’s defense didn’t hold, with C.J. Anderson scoring on a 5-yard run and Giorgio Tavecchio punching through a 43-yard field goal just before half.
“As coaches, our goal was to coach as hard as we could and they had to respond and play their tails off,” Wulff said of his halftime emphasis. “I thought they came out OK, but we get them on a fourth down, and they pop that big play for a touchdown.”
That would be fifth-year senior fullback Will Kapp’s first-career scoring run. It covered 43 yards, untouched, right up the middle. After one Bear second-half possession, they led 30-0.
With the way the rain was pelting down, the wind was blowing and Cal was dominating, WSU wasn’t coming back.
The Cougars never got a drive going – they finished with a season-low 224 yards of total offense – though Galvin got into the end zone on a 5-yard, early fourth-quarter run. They only had to cover 26 yards as Sofele fumbled, Sekope Kaufusi picked it up, ran 9 yards and fumbled and Alex Hoffman-Ellis jumped on it.
“They were bringing a lot of stuff late, right before the snap count, so it was hard for me to change,” said Marshall Lobbestael, who connected on just 15 of 37 passes for a season-low 155 yards while being sacked three times.
Asked what message he gave his team after the game, Wulff spoke quietly, picking his words.
“The performance today was not acceptable, and it starts with me,” he said. “We’ve got to play better than that.
“We’ll see what the character of this team is made of (from) here. We have to respond back home against Arizona State.”