To say the least, the past seven days have been fraught with gloom and doom on CGB and in other circles of Cal fandom. That's what a lackluster loss to what we thought (perhaps wrongly?) to have been a bad UCLA team will do to you.
On Saturday, the California Golden Bears got the prescription they needed to alleviate, at least for the time being, what ailed them. Behind a strong offensive line performance that netted 288 yards rushing, including a career high 138 yards on 23 carries by Cal running back Isi Sofele, and a defense that held the Washington State Cougars to their lowest point and yardage output of the season, Cal (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) got a much needed 30-7 win at AT&T Park.
Cal took control of this one right from the start. The Cougars (3-6, 1-5, Pac-12) took the opening kickoff and managed to lose ten yards on its first possession of the game, including an intentional grounding penalty in the face of a determined Cal pass rush. After the punt, it took Cal only six plays to drive 66 yards for the game's first touchdown. Sofele had gaping running lanes through which to run on 12- and 22-yard gains and embattled quarterback Zach Maynard threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Miller to cap the drive. Barely four minutes into the game, Cal had a 7-0 lead, helping to erase some of the bitter memories of last week's offensive disaster.
The Bears would not reliniquish the lead.
It became 13-0 later in the first quarter when Cal took advantage of good field position. Taking over at their own 46-yard line after a Cougar punt, the Bears put together a no-nonsense 54-yard drive, highlighted by a 29-yard pass play from Maynard to Keenan Allen. With that reception, Allen (75 catches, 1,074 yards this season) became the sixth receiver in Cal football history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season and became the first to do so in only nine games. Sofele capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run on a beautifully executed misdirection pitch play. Though Giorgio Tavecchio's PAT was blocked (for the unfathomable fifth time this season), Cal was still off to a much needed fast start.
Meanwhile, the defense was doing its part to frustrate quarterback Marshall Lobbestael and the rest of the WSU offense. The Cougars managed only 55 yards of total offense in the first half, including minus-15 rushing. (These numbers include a comical loss of 28 yards by WSU on a botched field goal attempt in the second quarter.) Beyond the statistics (which included two sacks and an intentional grounding penalty), it seemed that the Cal defense did not give Lobbestael a chance to consistently get comfortable in the pocket. It was a defensive formula that added up to WSU going scoreless in the first half for the first time this season.
"They brought some pressure that I didn't see," Lobbestael said in the postgame press conference. "They were bringing a lot of stuff late right before the snap count, so it was hard for me to change, but going back I'm going to have to watch the film. I'm sure I missed a couple, but they do rush the passer well."
Cal's offense took advantage of what the defense was doing. The Bears assembled a 71-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, giving the Cougs' defense a healthy dose of Sofele and Allen along the way. C.J. Anderson punctuated the drive with a five-yard touchdown run to give the Bears a 20-0 lead. A 43-yard Tavecchio field goal in the final minute of the period extended Cal's lead to 23-0 at halftime.
Washington State, which lost its seventh straight meeting with Cal, needed to seize the momentum early in the second half if it was to have any chance of getting back into the game. But to their credit, the Bears snuffed out all Cougar hope with the first offensive series of the third quarter. Taking advantage of an entertaining 15-yard zig-zaggity run by Sofele and a roughing-the-passer penalty by WSU's C.J. Mizell, Cal drove to the WSU 43-yard line, where the Bears faced a fourth-and-short yardage. Coach Jeff Tedford elected to go for it, and Cal gave the ball to Will Kapp for a rare fullback carry. Kapp, well known by Cal fans for being the son of former Cal quarterback and head coach Joe Kapp, literally made the most of the rushing attempt. Kapp bounced off a would-be tackler, broke into open space, and scampered straight ahead for a 43-yard touchdown that made it 30-0 in favor of the Bears.
"I knew that there was going to be good blocking, but I was real stoked about it," Kapp said after the game. "It was awesome. It was amazing. I hadn't gotten one for about four years, so it was nice."
Kapp's touchdown basically sealed the deal, and Cal coasted the rest of the way. The win, however, was not without its warts to be concerned about. First, there were the injuries: Maynard, linebacker David Wilkerson, and linebacker Chris McCain all left the game with injuries and did not return. Wilkerson will reportedly undergo an MRI and McCain was reportedly taken to a local hospital as a precaution for a head or neck injury. Maynard sat out the fourth quarter in favor of Allen Bridgford, but Tedford said after the game that Maynard could have returned if needed. Second, there was the matter of Cal not finishing the game strong. The Bears fumbled three times (one lost) in the last 15-plus minutes of the game, including two fumbled snaps by Bridgford.
While Cal fans should certainly be concerned about these developments (especially the injuries), there is much to feel good about after Saturday's win. Cal is now one win away from becoming bowl eligible, with a "home" game at AT&T Park coming next week against a 2-7 Oregon State team. And the team showed a bit of resiliency to come back with a strong, physical performance after a forgettable game the previous week at UCLA. So maybe there won't be so much gloom and doom this week for Cal Bear Nation -- at least until we start thinking about our recent history against Oregon State.