It wasn’t until the final minutes began ticking off the Memorial Stadium clock when Jeff Tedford finally noticed a difference in his team’s demeanor.
California led No. 25 UCLA 43-17 and was putting the finishing touches on its second win of the season. And the Bears’ sideline had a feel to it that it hadn’t all season.
“There was a joy on the sideline that hadn’t been there, because we’d been in such hard-fought games going right down to the wire,” Tedford said.
That’s a feeling Washington State has been searching for, but has yet to find.
So as the Cougars prepare to host the Bears in a 7:30 p.m. Saturday game at Martin Stadium, they hope for the same kind of breakout game that helped Cal feel a little better about itself last week.
WSU (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) has lost three consecutive games, all in Pac-12 play, showing flashes of potential in all three phases but rarely in the same game.
While Cal had its share of follies en route to a 1-4 start – an unimpressive win over Southern Utah stood as the Bears’ lone conquest – it at least quieted some talk about Tedford’s job status by surprising the Bruins with a strong rushing attack and conservative passing game with quarterback Zach Maynard.
“They got some key takeaways on UCLA, and explosive plays,” WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “They’re not scoring in the red zone. They’re scoring 50-yard runs, passes, that type of deal. They’re scoring on the other side of the field. Again, that’s their athleticism. That is a key for us. Explosive plays have got to be minimal.”
Cal did score touchdowns on passes of 5 and 8 yards, but also tacked on its final score on a 68-yard touchdown run by C.J. Anderson, and scored twice on passes of 30 yards or more.
But the Bears also forced six turnovers, including three interceptions by Kameron Jackson, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
“I think just all three phases of the team did a nice job,” Tedford said. “Defensively, coming up with six turnovers, that’s big. Staying out of long yardage situations … we were able to mix up the run and the pass well. I think all three phases played key roles.”
“I thought they played together better,” WSU coach Mike Leach said.
That’s something he’d like to see from his own team. Leach termed the Cougars’ offensive performance in a 19-6 loss to Oregon State “a disaster,” and has been critical of his team’s mentality all season.
“Right now, as a team, we don’t know if we walk to school or carry our lunch,” Leach said after Tuesday’s practice. “If you can do it once, why can’t you do it every time? They’re just too quick to relax, want to enjoy the good life.”
Tedford hopes the Bears aren’t about to do the same. He said he talked to his team about “using adversity as an opportunity” to succeed, a theme Leach has stressed to his players.
“It was great to have some success and see the joy and fun that goes into a win,” Tedford said. “But also understanding that it can’t be a one-night stand. We’re back to work and focused and attention to detail and all of the things we’ve been preaching and doing.”
A one night-game stand would be a good place for WSU to start.