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WSU notes: Redshirt freshman DE Hercules Mata’afa makes presence known

WSU’s Hercules Mata’afa (50) and Jeremiah Allison, right, pressure California quarterback Jared Goff during the second half. (Associated Press)
WSU’s Hercules Mata’afa (50) and Jeremiah Allison, right, pressure California quarterback Jared Goff during the second half. (Associated Press)

BERKELEY, Calif. – For three quarters the Washington State pass rush hounded California quarterback Jared Goff, but could never wrap him up before he squirted the ball to an open receiver or out of bounds.

That changed in the fourth quarter when redshirt freshman defensive end Hercules Mata’afa picked up the first sack of his career. Two plays later, Mata’afa smashed into Goff again, making Cal’s offense backpedal like a cornerback.

“That’s something I’ve been expecting from (Mata’afa) since day one,” fellow defensive lineman Darryl Paulo said. “He’s a great pass rusher and he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.”

Most of the defense’s big plays were made by players in their first or second year of the program.

Safety Shalom Luani, a junior college transfer who arrived at WSU last summer, crushed Cal receiver Kenny Lawler at the end of a 16-yard pass play. Luani’s hit jarred the ball loose and Marcellus Pippins recovered it, giving WSU a takeaway that might have been crucial if WSU had been able to extend its 28-20 lead.

Pippins set the tone for the defense’s early success. The cornerback intercepted Goff’s pass on the third play of the game and broke up back-to-back passes on Cal’s next offensive drive.

“I thought he did a good job, played hard and did some good things,” Mike Leach said of Pippins. “That was good to see. I thought our whole defense played hard. They have a really good crew of receivers and we shut them down a lot but gave up the occasional big play.”

Big plays cost Cougars

The big plays mentioned by Leach proved decisive and kept the Golden Bears on the field.

The WSU rush defense shut down the Golden Bears on run plays, only allowing two sizable runs. One was a 42-yard rush that extended a drive despite the defense forcing third-and-36. Such third-and-long conversions appeared easy for Cal, which was 8 of 14 on third down.

The Golden Bears were 3 of 3 when facing 10 or more yards for a new set of downs on third down, not including a 28-yard pass to Kenny Lawler on third-and-17 that was nullified because the receiver ran out of bounds before returning inbounds to make the catch.

“It came down to plays all over the field,” Leach said. “This was a narrowly sliced game and there were a lot of plays where we could have picked up the slack.”

Cal QB, Cougars meet again

Goff likely didn’t enjoy his first interaction with Pippins during the game – the interception – but the two met up on friendlier terms after the game.

The contest was something of a reunion for Goff and a couple of Cougars. Pippins and Peyton Pelluer played in high school all-star games with Goff and reconnected with the quarterback before and after the game.

“He’s actually a good friend of mine,” Pelluer said. “I played with him in the Semper Fidelis All-American game. We’re close and we talked before the game.”

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