Pretty? No, unless a win, any win, can be considered beautiful.
Washington State overcame its – read, Cameron Ward – mistakes, made enough plays – read, Cameron Ward – and topped California 28-9 on homecoming Saturday in Pullman.
If you couldn’t make the trek to the Palouse, you watched on the Pac-12 Network, with veteran Roxy Bernstein on the play-by-play and former Washington All-American tackle Lincoln Kennedy supplying the analysis.
What they saw
• Surprise is not usually an emotion any broadcaster wants to own. But Bernstein and Kennedy had to as the game went to halftime with a 7-3 score. After all, their pregame show highlighted two offenses that combined for 90 points last week.
Cal’s Jayden Ott, whose 274 rushing yards last week set a Pac-12 freshman record, and quarterback Jack Plummer, WSU’s Cameron Ward and others were mentioned before the kick.
“We thought we would get a lot of points,” Bernstein said as both teams headed to the locker room. “This was not the game we expected.”
Why were the defenses so dominant?
California (3-2 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) was helped by a recurring Washington State problem: turnovers – something Bernstein pointed out often.
In the second quarter, Ward threw an ill-advised pass from the Cal 29 and safety Daniel Scott picked it off in the end zone. You could almost hear Kennedy shaking his head.
“Cam Ward knows better,” he said as the replay rolled. “He’s sitting in the backfield, not pressured at all. … The first thing you recognize is where the safeties are.
“This ball can’t be thrown there.”
Ward bounced back quickly, though. In the Cougars’ 75-yard scoring drive to start the second half, he hit on a 47-yard throw with Renard Bell and a 17-yard scoring strike to Robert Ferrel. The Bears defender beat on both? Scott.
• It wasn’t Ward’s only poor throw. He was intercepted again in the end zone, trying to connect with a well-covered Donovan Ollie midway through the third quarter.
“You just don’t need to throw that ball,” Kennedy said.
“Now, in all five games, Washington State has turned it over at least two times,” Bernstein said.
• The mistakes didn’t matter, ultimately. Washington State’s offense clicked after halftime.
“The Cougars with a strong second half,” Bernstein said.
By the time Ward connected with Billy Riviere for a 1-yard touchdown pass – Ward’s third scoring toss – with 6 minutes, 19 seconds left, the Cougars (4-1, 1-1) had outgained the Bears 316 yards to 166 in the second half.
“Just too many weapons,” Kennedy said after the touchdown, which came one play after Ward threw a perfect left-handed pass to Andre Dollar, who dropped it in the end zone. But who knew one of the weapons was Ward’s left arm?
The WSU defense didn’t stop, unlike last week. It kept the pressure on, finishing with seven tackles for loss and four sacks of Plummer.
What we saw
• The last time California won in Pullman, special teams destroyed the Cougars’ chance to win in a 60-59, ahem, defensive battle. Everyone remembers the Cougars’ missed 19-yard field goal with seconds left, but that wasn’t the only issue. The Bears’ Trevor Davis had second-half kickoff returns of 100 and 98 yards for scores.
So maybe it’s appropriate in this one it was a 34-yard punt return from Ferrel and a tacked-on 15-yard personal foul that turned around the Cougars’ offense. The penalty was on backup tight end Elijah Mojarro, who had his helmet knocked off but continued to try to make the tackle.
Kennedy seemed a little miffed about the severity of the penalty, especially during a replay showing Mojarro not hitting anyone without his helmet but still shadowing the runner.
Bernstein explained more than once it was about player safety, something Kennedy acknowledged but glossed over. He was more intent on praising the effort.
Given a first down at the 20 yard-line, the Cougars scored in four plays. Up to that early second-quarter “drive,” Washington State had just 39 yards. It finished the half with 103, California 121.
• Commercials are tough to watch in most instances. There are the exceptions, but we’re pretty sure none of those has been for a Spokane company. The Pac-12’s broadcast networks have space reserved for local commercials. When they show up, there is only one thing to do. Hit the fridge. Switch channels. Anything but watch. Maybe you’ll get lucky and miss that annoying Allegiant commercial as well.
• Kennedy has improved in his time with the Pac-12 Network. But there are still the more-than-usual faux pas, like repeatedly referring to California playing at Arizona last week (the game was in Berkeley).
Or calling the Cal quarterback “Jake Plummer,” the name of the former Arizona State quarterback, more than once.
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