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Cal fumbles away chances against Washington

The Bears came into Saturday's game against Washington flying high, especially on offense. #Drop 50? #Drop 60? Not exactly.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The California Golden Bears came into Saturday's game brimming with confidence, riding high after two victories in which their offense seemed unstoppable.  On Saturday at Kabam Field at Memorial Stadium, the Bears ate a serving of humble pie as the Washington Huskies came into Berkeley and held Cal to a mere 7 points on the way to a lopsided 31-7 win.

The win was Washington's sixth straight over Cal, dating back to 2009. Coming into the game, the Bears had high hopes of breaking their losing streak against the Huskies.  Cal had scored 119 points in its last two games and hashtags like "#drop50" and "#drop60" had become a novelty.  But on Saturday, Cal could not even #drop10, due in large part to its own mistakes.  Indeed, Washington seized a 14-0 lead in the first quarter due to Cal's fumbleitis.

The Bears' second offensive possession of the game looked like what we had come to expect from the Cal offense.  Cal moved crisply from its own 20 to the Washington 1-yard line in eight plays and faced a second-and-goal. Then...disaster.  For those of us who wondered whether Jared Goff could run a play from under center, the answer is yes. But on this occasion, Goff took the snap and fumbled as he tried to dive over the top on a quarterback sneak.  Washington's Shaq Thompson picked up the loose ball in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for the dreaded 14-point turnaround: what should have been a 7-0 Cal lead was instead a 7-0 Cal deficit.

"I was just trying to make a play. I tried to go over the top and unfortunately it didn't work out the way I wanted it to, and even worse, gave them seven points," said Goff. "But it didn't really affect our momentum, it really shouldn't have. Offensively today, I just don't think we did enough and I don't think I did enough today to get us the win."

Cal Coach Sonny Dykes had a slightly different take on the effect of the goal line fumble and Thompson touchdown.

"[It] just seemed like - for whatever reason - we had a hard time responding after that," Dykes said. "We put a good drive together. We knew coming in that Washington was going to make us be patient and drive the ball the length of the field. That is the way they play defense. They aren't going to give up easy touchdowns. We have been getting so many big plays that it was going to be a very different approach for our players. We talked to them about it this week, told them about it, anticipated it, but we just didn't handle it very well."

Whatever momentum Cal lost from the stunning touchdown by Thompson the Cal defense tried to get back later in the first quarter.  The Washington offense marched to the Cal 31-yard line, where it went for it on a 4th-and-3.  Hardy Nickerson and Griffin Piatt stopped Washington quarterback Cyler Miles on the fourth down play, giving Cal a big defensive stop and handing the ball to the offense on a high note. But the Bears gave the ball right back: Goff and running back Daniel Lasco fumbled an exchange on the very next play and Washington recovered.  One play later, Miles found Joshua Perkins for a 25-yard touchdown and it was suddenly 14-0.

Cal was never in the game after that. The lead grew to 28-0 by halftime, the last seven points coming when Cal gave up the big play -- an 86-yard touchdown pass from Miles to John Ross. The Bears finally got on the scoreboard in the third quarter on a three-yard run by Lasco (17 rush, 71 yards, 1 TD) but could get nowhere near their 50 points-per-game average.

"It was us. Absolutely it was us," Lasco said of the reasons for the Bears' struggles on offense Saturday. "Throughout the last couple of weeks, we've had so much notoriety; throwing the ball and running the ball and so much success on offense. I think it kind of got to our head. We messed up. Offensively we didn't hold on and we started off rough. The defense was spectacular. They played well enough to win. We had too many turnovers and it is just unacceptable as an offense."

The game was not without some bright spots. After giving up 59 points and 812 yards of total offense to Washington State last week, the Cal defense held Washington (5-1, 1-1 Pac-12) to 24 points and under 400 yards (notwithstanding being victimized by the big play).  And the special teams made a play with a blocked field goal. But a loss is a loss and this one certainly leaves a bitter taste in Cal's mouth.  But the Bears (4-2, 2-2 Pac-12) must learn from it and move on.  It does not get any easier as UCLA comes to Berkeley next week.