No one really thought Saturday’s meeting between No. 24 California and Washington State would echo last year’s record-breaking, scoreboard-shattering 60-59 performance. But considerable points and offense in chunks were expected. And the teams certainly delivered on the drama as Cal came from behind and held on to a 34-28 victory over visiting Washington State.
What the win means for the Bears: Cal is 5-0 for the first time since 2007. Don’t get too excited … that group went on to lose six of seven before salvaging a victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. But a little bit of positive thinking is warranted. The Bears, seeking their first postseason appearance of the Sonny Dykes era, enter a brutal stretch of three straight games against teams currently ranked in the AP top 20 – Utah, UCLA and USC. And those first two are on the road. Not to mention road trips to Oregon and Stanford still looming. The bar keeps getting raised. But so far, Cal has been up to the task.
What the loss means for the Cougars: In its first conference action of the season and coming out of a bye week, Washington State again let a first-half, double-digit lead get away from them against Cal. Just like last year's game. After a Week 1 loss to FCS Portland State, there were perked ears after a win at Rutgers and a victory over Wyoming. But the Cougars have their work cut out for them to get back to a bowl game. Road trips to Oregon, Arizona, UCLA and Washington loom. Inconsistent play like we saw Saturday doesn’t lend itself to thinking there are four more wins out there for WSU.
The game turned when: The Cougars had a huge opportunity to extend their 28-20 lead in the second half after a Kenny Lawler fumble, but a missed field goal gave the Bears the ball back with 4:14 in the third quarter. Quarterback Jared Goff led Cal 77 yards on just six plays, capping the drive with a 20-yard strike to Lawler ,who tip-toed the Bears to 28-26 after the failed two-point conversion. Then Cal kicker Matt Anderson pulled off the onside kick, which was recovered by Darius Powe. Four plays later, Goff connected with Maurice Harris for a 24-yard touchdown to give Cal its first lead of the game at 34-24 after the two-point conversion. On the ensuing Washington State drive, Gabe Marks (who was outstanding, by the way, with 10 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown) fumbled to give the ball back to the Bears. (Vic Enwere running 42 yards on a third-and-36 was pretty huge also.)
Player of the game: Though Lawler did have a fumble, it didn’t end up costing the Bears. He was fantastic in the receiving game, hauling in six passes for 105 yards with two touchdowns. And both touchdowns were sensational. The first was a one-handed grab on a fade (with his opposite arm hooked) and the second was a toe-dragging effort.
Notable: With three more turnovers, the Cal defense has forced 18 this season after only nabbing 17 all of last year. Also, with 68 career touchdown passes, Goff (33-of-45, 390 yards with four touchdowns and an interception) passed Kyle Boller as the school’s all-time leader.