Cougars' Air Raid Bombs the Bears, 44-22

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In a matchup of coaches who come from the Hal Mumme coaching tree, Cal and Washington State combined for an NCAA FBS season-high 1,027 passing yards. In the most important number, however, WSU bested Cal on the scoreboard, dropping the Bears to a disconcerting 1-4 on the season.

As the Washington State Cougars took a 14-0 lead over the California Golden Bears after scoring drives of 92 and 85 yards on the Cougs' first two offensive possessions of the game, one thought came to my mind.

Arthur Fonzerelli.

Yeah, you know, Arthur Fonzerelli. The Fonz, of "Happy Days" fame. Old timers like myself who remember "Happy Days" will remember that the Fonz had a tough time admitting he was wrong. He just couldn't bring himself to say it, at least not easily. So in that same vein, I was wr...r...r...r... I was wr...r...r... In other words, I was not exactly right when I said this on the CGB roundtable asking which you'd rather have: good offense/bad defense or bad offense/good defense:

If forced to make the choice, and it's a close call, I think I'd take the good offense. These days, it seems that a defense needs to be REALLY REALLY good to make up for a bad offense, whereas a good offense will more easily bail out a bad defense. Granted, I have no empirical data to support my position. It's just an opinion that I'd rather have a really good offense that needs just enough defense to win rather than have to put my defense in a position to have to win the game every week.

I was wr..r...r.... I was wr...r...r.... It hit me like a ton of bricks as I saw Washington State take that 14-0 lead. It hit me like a ton of cement blocks when WSU running back Marcus Mason turned a simple swing pass from Connor Halliday into a 68-yard touchdown pass late the first half when the Cal defense took the most horrible pursuit angles imaginable. It hit me like a ton of steel girders when WSU wide receiver Isiah Myers ran over Cal cornerback Isaac Lapite on a 30-yard gain on a 3rd quarter touchdown drive that started the Cougars' second-half beating of the Bears. And it hit me like a ton of bowling balls when WSU wide receiver Vince Mayle broke Cal freshman safety Cameron Walker's tackle attempt and broke free for a 72-yard touchdown pass that gave WSU a 35-15 lead and effectively ended the competitive portion of the game with 4:24 left in the 3rd quarter.

So I was wrong. I should have known better living in Ohio and watching Jim Tressel teams win by punting, playing defense, and scoring when they had field position. Maybe I was lured by the bling bling of big offensive numbers and the beauty of an up-tempo offense when it is going well.


To be fair, it wasn't all bad on Saturday for the Bears defense. For awhile, it looked like the Cal defense might put together its best performance of the season, notwithstanding the numerous personnel losses due to injury (e.g., Brennan Scarlett, Nick Forbes, Avery Sebastian), discipline (Chris McCain), and retirement (Alex Logan) earlier this season and losses of linebacker Jalen Jefferson and cornerbacks Joel Willis and Stefan McClure in Saturday's game. After the poor start, the Cal defense went five straight possessions without yielding a score: from midway through the first quarter until late in the second quarter, the defense forced two punts, scored a safety (Cal's first since 2008) when DeAndre Coleman blew up a running play, intercepted a pass (Michael Lowe with the nice play but the not-so-smart celebration), and held WSU to a missed field goal after the Cougs got the ball in Cal territory following Cal QB Jared Goff's only interception of the day. And for the game, Cal yielded only 49 yards rushing to WSU on 21 carries (2.3 ypc). But these bright spots were not enough to overcome a 521-yard passing performance by Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday (41 of 67, 3 TD, 1 INT). The simple fact is that the Cal defense is uber vulnerable generally and against the pass in particular. And with Halliday not exactly thought of as one of the elite quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference, it is a scary thought what the rest of the season might bring.

On the other side of the ball, the Cal offense put up some prolific numbers of its own. Goff threw for 489 yards (32 of 58, 2 TD, 1 INT) and wide receiver Chris Harper caught 13 passes for 216 yards as part of a Cal passing attack that rolled up 506 yards. [UPDATED: see end of article.  Goff now credited with school-record 504 yards passing.] With his third 400-yard passing game this season, Goff became the first Cal quarterback to pass for 400 yards for more three times in a career. Further, Goff connected with Harper for an 89-yard touchdown pass, Cal's second longest pass play in program history. Goff added a 53-yard touchdown pass to James Grisom in the third quarter, Goff's eighth completion of 50 or more yards this season to lead the nation in that category.

But there was plenty not to like about the Bear Raid on Saturday as well. The offense turned the ball over four times, including two fumbles inside the WSU 10-yard line.   With 16 turnovers so far this season, Cal has turned the ball over more than any other Pac-12 team.  The second of Cal's turnovers on Saturday, a costly fumble by Brendan Bigelow at the Cougs' 1-yard line, illustrated perhaps one of the weaknesses of the Bear Raid, at least with Cal's current offensive line: in short yardage out of the shotgun, the power running game has a difficult time punching it in.   And speaking of offensive line difficulties, Goff had more than his share of harassment from the Cougars' front seven, getting sacked three times and hit on even more occasions besides.  Cougs defensive tackle Ioane Gauta was a particularly large thorn in the Bears' side: Gauta racked up three tackles for loss (including two sacks) and batted down two passes.

"Right now we are having a very difficult time running the football, which is putting a lot of pressure on our offensive line," said Cal Coach Sonny Dykes after the game.  "We are not good enough up front to pass protect. Jared (Goff) had pressure on him all day and got a little rattled because of it. I don't know what to say about the injuries, I've never seen anything like it. We lose at least five or six guys every game; another five or six today. That isn't something we can control; we need to play better. It was a pretty disappointing day."

Most bothersome, however, was seeing Washington State take control of the game in the second half. After falling behind 14-0, the Bears had gathered some momentum in the second quarter and cut the Cougar lead to 21-15 at halftime. With the Cal offense starting to click in the second quarter, optimistic Cal fans (do they exist?) may have thought that the Bears could circle the wagons in the second half and rally for victory. But it was not to be. Instead of a Cal rally, the third quarter saw the Cougars take the game by the throat. Washington State controlled the ball for much of the second half, outscoring Cal 23-7 to end up with a comfortable margin of victory and the Cougs' first win over Cal since 2002.


With the loss, Cal is 1-4 on the season (0-2 in the Pac-12), and has the look of being this year's cellar dweller in the Pac-12 North. That is the ugly truth as Cal gets ready to take on UCLA next week.

INJURY UPDATE FROM CAL ATHLETICS:

Cal sophomore cornerback Joel Willis is resting at Highland Hospital following an injury that occurred on the opening second-half kickoff of Cal's game Saturday against Washington State at Memorial Stadium. Willis has movement in all his extremities. He is expected to be held at the hospital overnight and released soon.

STATISTICAL UPDATE FROM CAL ATHLETICS:

The final stats from the Cal-Washington State football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday have been corrected. With the corrections, Cal quarterback Jared Goff's passing yardage increased to a Cal single-game record 504 yards (33-of-59, 2 TD, 1 INT). Goff surpasses Pat Barnes, who had held the record since Nov. 2, 1996, when he passed for 503 yards in a four-overtime win vs. Arizona.

Chris Harper's corrected receiving totals are now 14 receptions for 231 yards and a touchdown, with both the receptions and receiving yards third on Cal's all-time single-game list.

The changes come due to one of two primary corrections made from the final stats distributed following the contest listed below.

*On the first play of Cal's drive that began with 12:20 in third quarter the play was changed to a 15-yard pass completion from Goff to Harper. The play was originally credited as a 15-yard run for Harper but later ruled a forward pass.

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