BERKELEY, Calif. – Right before halftime of Friday’s game between the Cougars and Golden Bears, a Cal fan and apparent animal rights activist bravely took her protest onto the playing field, stopping near the 10-yard line before taking a seat with the stuffed pig she’d brought with her.
That should’ve bided the Washington State Cougars some time, or at least allowed them to regroup before Cal ran its final play of the half from the 2-yard line with four seconds to play. Instead, it allowed the Golden Bears to sketch up a nifty pass play that left Kyle Wells uncovered in the end zone. Quarterback Ross Bowers completed to his tight end for a touchdown, the final seconds dripped off the second-quarter game clock and the Bears moved closer to their biggest win in more than a decade.
Truthfully, the No. 8 Cougars could’ve had all the time in the world Friday night and it still wouldn’t solved much as they’d wind up losing their first of the season, 37-3 to the Golden Bears in Berkeley.
They didn’t need time, but boy were they desperate for some toughness.
“We didn’t play good in any aspect of the game,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “Cal outcoached us, Cal outplayed us at every position that I saw, there may be an exception. I don’t think there is. … They wanted to win more than we did, they tried harder than we did, they tried more consistently than we did. Our guys sauntered around the field like weirdly we’d accomplished something, which obviously is false. And Cal certainly illustrated that.”
WSU, which didn’t score a touchdown for the first time since a game at Oregon State in 2012, fell to 6-1 and 3-1 in Pac-12 play. Cal won its first conference game under Justin Wilcox and improved to 4-3 and 1-3 in the Pac-12. The Golden Bears beat a top-10 opponent for just the second time since 1978. The Cougars can kiss their ranking goodbye – they’ll certainly be outside of the top-10 by the time they’re back in class Monday morning.
It’d be easy to pin this loss on the offensive line, which will take the brunt of the blame for the nine sacks on WSU quarterback Luke Falk.
“I think they think they’re too good and they’re not very tough,” Leach said.
But part of that was on Falk.
“When your QB turns it over six times, you’re not going to have a real opportunity to win the game,” said Falk, who threw five interceptions and fumbled once.
And the wide receivers didn’t get the separation they needed to unhinge themselves from Cal’s defensive backs, and didn’t give Falk many throwing options downfield.
“Oh they didn’t do that, hell no. Receivers create separation? That didn’t happen,” Leach said. “… They’re not tough enough to go out there and do what they do in practice and they think they’re going to show up in a game and just act like all their stuff’s accomplished. Way too much listening to the noise out of our group.”
It was suggested that perhaps the defense played a hair better than the offense. The WSU coach shot down that notion, too.
“They were terrible, they were terrible,” Leach said. “What game did you watch? The defense had to play for eight minutes in the first half and Cal scored whatever points they did. Then the running back over there, they treated him like an all-star.”
In response to another question, the WSU coach said: “Everybody had a bad game. Was there a position you thought had a good game? Name it.”
Bowers put the game away with a stunning effort in the early stages of the fourth quarter. He scrambled out of the pocket, darted toward the end zone and front-flipped over Justus Rogers at the goal line to cap a 7-yard rushing touchdown that gave Cal a 27-3 lead.
It was emblematic of something a gymanst might do. Go figure, Bowers’ mother was the former gymnastics coach at the University of Washington and the Cal quarterback performed a similar stunt in a state championship game while attending Bothell High.
“You just never thought you’d do that twice in a lifetime,” Bowers said. “… My mom did say to me after the game, ‘Why didn’t you do a double? It was like deja vu.”
Bowers, the sophomore who was only named Cal’s starter near the end of fall camp, was 21-for-38 with 259 passing yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. His acrobatic leap – one of the highlight plays of this college football season – will appear on Cal video reels for the next decade-plus.
The play was a microcosm of the toughness the Golden Bears QB showed Friday night – something WSU lacked for almost all of four quarters.
“I thought he played gritty, he hung in there,” Leach said. “Didn’t throw the ball perfect every time or consistently, but just hung in there and kept battling. He kept battling in a fasion that he didn’t.”
Falk, the fourth-year WSU starter who’s crept into most Heisman Trophy conversations while leading the Cougars to six consecutive wins, was intercepted a career-high five times and sacked nine times. The senior finished 28-of-42 for and didn’t throw a touchdown for only the second time in his career. It was easily the most dreadful game of his record-setting career.
The Cougars committed seven turnovers, but didn’t force one themselves.
It was a bleak night from the get-go – two early Washington State touchdowns were negated because of penalties.
Renard Bell made a gang of Golden Bears miss on the opening kickoff and sped 99 yards to the opposite end zone for a touchdown, but it was called back for a hold on Daniel Ekuale. The Cougars began their drive on the 10-yard line and Falk was intercepted three plays later.
Cal parlayed the turnover into a 26-yard field goal and took a 3-0 lead.
WSU’s next chance at six points came on Falk’s lob to Tavares Martin Jr. in the end zone. Martin Jr. reeled the ball in, but officials ruled that he’d pushed off his defender and tagged the Cougar receiver with offensive pass interference. WSU would have to settle for a 52-yard field goal from Erik Powell, who’d match his career-long with the second-quarter boot.
Vic Enwere scored the lone Cal touchdown in the first half, bowling over WSU safety Robert Taylor on his way into the end zone for a 6-yard score.
Falk, who was sacked four times in the first half, threw his second interception on an attempt into the end zone midway through the second quarter. The WSU signal-caller had come into the game with just two picks through six games, but quadrupled that number by the time Friday’s game was over.
He also fumbled once, losing the ball after being drilled by Cal’s Jordan Kunaszyk in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Gerran Brown scooped up the ball and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
It was WSU’s seventh and final turnover – the last nail in the coffin on a night in which there were far too many.