Every football fan in the Inland Northwest knew California’s offensive coordinator was a former head coach with a well-earned reputation.
Beau Baldwin was a worry, no doubt.
The longtime Eastern Washington coach has shown he understands how to attack Alex Grinch’s defense, including last year when the Eagles upset WSU in the season opener.
But it turned out the former head coach on the other side of the ball was even a bigger worry.
When Justin Wilcox was hired as California’s head coach last January, one of his first calls went to Tim DeRuyter.
DeRuyter had recently lost his head coaching job at Fresno State, a position he had held since 2012.
But before he was the Fresno State boss, DeRuyter had been highly regarded as a defensive mind, putting together productive units at the Air Force Academy and Texas A&M, among other places.
Getting California to play defense, though, might have been his biggest challenge. It doesn’t hurt that Wilcox’s resume often included the defensive coordinator title as well.
But Friday night in the 37-3 upset of No. 8 Washington State, DeRuyter’s defense did what it does best: force turnovers.
The Cougars (6-1, 3-1 in Pac-12 play) turned the ball over seven times, including five interceptions from fifth-year senior quarterback Luke Falk, who came into the game with just two all season.
It wasn’t just the picks, however. The Cal defense confused Falk and the WSU offense, bringing pressure from different spots, varying the coverage, basically making Falk look less like a Heisman candidate and more like the freshman who threw four interceptions against Arizona State.
The Bears came in with 11 sacks, including five against Mississippi. They got to Falk nine times, with a many of those due to the WSU quarterback holding the ball too long while looking for an open receiver.
When he did find one, Falk, who holds every Washington State passing record, had trouble hitting him. After coming into the game completing 71.8 percent of his passes, Falk completed 28-of-43 passes for 286 yards.
Nothing the Cougars tried worked.
The result? The first time since facing USC in 2013 the Cougar offense failed to score a touchdown.
And their quest for a perfect season ended.
Injuries catch up to Cougars
The Cougars began the season with three experienced inside linebackers. They entered this game with none of them.
It finally bit them.
Without Peyton Pelluer, Isaac Dotson and Nate DeRider, Washington State relied on three redshirt freshmen inside. That trio, Jahad Woods, Justus Rogers and Dillon Sherman, made tackles but also made mistakes.
The biggest of those mistakes came as the clock expired in the first half.
With four seconds left before intermission, the Bears decided to go for a touchdown from the 2-yard line.
Ross Bowers faked a run, Rogers, who finished with nine tackles, bit and tight end Kyle Wells was open in the end zone. Touchdown Cal. A 10-3 lead became 17-3.
The trio also struggled with the size of Vic Enwere, the 6-foot, 245-pound running back who rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries.
Empty seats for big upset
It’s easy to understand why the television networks want to broadcast college football games at night. There is more of a captive audience at home. That translates into better ratings and better ratings mean more money for the networks.
The networks then pass along some of that money to the colleges that are playing the games.
In that regard it’s a win/win.
But in another regard, one that was quite visible in Memorial Stadium despite the smoke, it’s a loss. A loss in attendance.
The number of empty seats in the recently refurbished stadium seemed to outnumber the filled ones. By quite a margin. Only 26,244 showed up in a stadium that holds 62,467.
That probably should have been expected. A 7:30 start on a Friday night in an area affected by nearby wildfires isn’t conducive to building a big crowd.
Either is the home team’s 0-3 conference start.
Whatever the reasons, the Cal faithful didn’t show up. And missed one of the school’s biggest upsets in years.
The win marks Cal’s second win over a top-10 team since 1978. The last time the Bears beat a top-10 team was USC in 2003.