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Palms of Victory: Cal 34, Washington State 28—Bears survive being ranked and stay undefeated

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It wasn't quite the shootout that some of us were expecting, but the California Golden Bears are now 5–0 on the season.

A bit of jersey grab is not going to prevent Kenny Lawler from catching his 2nd TD of this game.
A bit of jersey grab is not going to prevent Kenny Lawler from catching his 2nd TD of this game.
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Our California Golden Bears Football team is still undefeated...after 5 weeks. 5–0. Let that sink in for a minute, particularly after how the team fared two and three years ago. For the Old Blues, the Golden Bears won a game...despite being ranked. Bears are 5–0 for the first time since 2007...okay, maybe we don't need to remember just how that 2007 season unfolded.

Sure, one can point to the strength of schedule thus far for this great start. Heck, even an SI writer (Ben Glicksman) has predicted that the Bears will start 5–0 (en route to a 8–4 record, in case you're wondering). How did we get here...to be featured on ESPN College Game Day next week for our game at the undefeated Utah?

Here is your recap of how the Bears (5–0, 2–0 in the Pac-12) finally managed to sustain a long 4th quarter drive (thanks to a huge 42-yard run by Vic Enwere) but again had to depend on the defense to make some big plays to survive being ranked.

On paper, the Bears should have had an easy victory against the Washington State Cougars (2–2, 0–1 in the Pac-12). Of course, things rarely go according to plan for Cal Football. Instead, it took a come-from-behind effort by Jared Goff and the Bear Raid in the 3rd quarter and the now very familiar hanging-on-for-dear-life 4th quarter for the Bears to earn this 34–28 victory.

1st Quarter:

Bears received the ball to start the game. While the first play of the game may have supported the pregame narrative that Goff will be able to carve up the Wazzu D, this drive quickly ended with a Goff pass being intercepted, the lone blemish on an otherwise tremendous day for Goff*.

*Goff had another pass "intercepted" but it doesn't count because that was a two-point conversion attempt.

The Bears defense then forced a quick 3-and-out on the Cougs. More importantly, the Cal D made a statement with two sacks of Wazzu QB Luke Falk here.

On the first sustained drive of the game, the Bears got into that long field-goal range. Instead of allowing Matt Anderson to kick a long field goal, Sonny Dykes opted to go for it on 4th and 1. Unfortunately, the Bears were 0 for 3 on 4th down in this game and Daniel Lasco had no chance on this play as he was tackled before getting back to the line of scrimmage.

Wazzu took advantage of this missed Cal scoring opportunity. Despite having the Cougs on the verge of punting on a 3rd and 12, the Bears D did that too familiar thing again of not being able to pressure and allowing the opposing QB to make a long pass for a first down. Cougs sustained the drive and found the endzone on a 4-yard TD pass from Falk to River Cracraft.

The Bears then answered right back, Goff found Darius Powe for 14 yards on a 3rd and 13. Then on two consecutive plays found Kanawai Noa for 20 yards and then Bryce Treggs for 34 yards (all in the air) and a TD—Jared Goff broke the tie with Kyle Boller for most passing TD in Cal history. Of course, Goff was just getting started on the day. It was a quick and efficient drive that highlighted the effectiveness of the Bear Raid and balance as 3 of the 8 plays were runs.

Just when one thought this game was going to be that advertised shootout, the two teams traded two three-and-out drives, with a penalty wiping out a Goff–to–Kenny Lawler connection.

2nd Quarter:

This win had been called a comeback, which meant that Wazzu went ahead again. Bears could not stop the run on a 3rd and 3 and eventually allowed Gerard Wick to rumble into the endzone for a touchdown. Cougs added to that lead when they converted two 3rd and long (8 yard and 9 yard) on long passes that the Bears defense should have expected were coming. Going for it on 4th and 1 from the goal line thanks to a second effort by Wazzu QB Luke Falk allowed the Cougs to go up by 14 points—leading 21–7 with just about 2 minutes left before the half. Cal fans were collectively left to ponder whether this curse of being a ranked team and having expectation is going to doom us once again.

Bears put together an efficient two-minute drill to answer right away, however. Jared Goff did his best Aaron Rodgers impression (I guess he did not attend this game? At the very least, Rodgers was not interviewed on the Pac-12 Networks, unlike Wazzu alum and Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson.); drawing the Cougs offsides, Goff got a free play and he threw it down the field, finding Kenny Lawler on a 40-yard strike (it would have been a TD if Lawler could have kept his balance making that catch near the sideline). I am sure that Aaron Rodgers would have been proud, if he did see this play. The drive ended with a nice one-handed basket haul by Kenny Lawler in the endzone of a Goff pass.

Cal fans know better than to assume that the PAT is automatic—Matt Anderson shanked the extra point here. Anderson showed further Cal special team problem by kicking the ensuing kickoff out of bounds (but deep). In his post-game press conference, Coach Dykes implied this was not by design, although a CGB commenter has been advocating this strategy. Cougs didn't try to do anything and took a 21–13 lead into the half. Hey, it's still just an one-possession game.

3rd Quarter:

Following the same script as the last couple of games, the Bears have played their best in the 3rd quarter. Cougs received the ball to start the 2nd half. On a drive that was going nowhere, Mike Leach decided to be cute and have a fake punt. The Wazzu punter, Zach Charme, was trying to run for a first down but got mauled—hard—by the Cal defense. Tony Mekari was credited with forcing the fumble. Stephen McClure picked up the loose ball and returned it 45 yards for a TD. Sonny Dykes opted to go for 1 and Anderson redeemed himself by making this and the Bears trailed by just 1.

Wazzu would not allow the Bears to sustain this momentum, however. Just when it looked like the Bears may force a 3 and out, Falk found a wide open Gabe Marks for 19 yards on a 3rd and 16. Cougs eventually found the endzone, converting three more 3rd downs including one where Falk found Marks for the TD.

Cal fans continued to panic as Kenny Lawler fumbled the ball on the ensuing drive to give Wazzu very good field position at midfield. Falk found Marks again for a 35-yard strike, but the Bears forced a field goal attempt after a huge 3rd down sack where Stephen McClure went basically untouched. Remember what happened the last time that the Cougs tried to kick a field goal against the Bears? Well, they Coug'ed it again here. Bears remain only down by 8 as the Bears again benefited from a Wazzu kicking woe.

Well, earlier I did say that the Bears did well in the 3rd quarter. A successful Bear Raid series ensued with another highlight-worthy long Goff-Lawler connection in the end zone. Bears unsuccessfully went for two (Goff's throw was picked, but not brought back all the way...in college, extra points could be returned for two points). Then, the Cal special teams unit truly did something special—they successfully recovered a surprise onside kick (I initially thought it was a fortuitous shank of the kickoff that went off the hand of a Cougar), chased down by Darius Powe. Goff marched the Bears down the field and connected underneath with Maurice Harris who ran in for a 24-yard passing TD, Goff's fourth of the game. Bears went for two again (Because why not? A 4-point lead and 6 -point lead are both about the same) and Goff found Treggs at the edge of the endzone. A review was needed to confirm this conversion.

Bears led the Cougs 34–28 at the end of three.

4th Quarter (is ours!):

It was time to hold on for dear life for the Bears in the 4th quarter. Instead of having a three-possession lead, the Bears merely had 6 points to work with.

The opportunistic Cal defense was at it again, forcing a big turnover by causing Wazzu receiver Marks to fumble the ball. The slowed-down Bear Raid again hit a snag but ate by 3+ minutes on six-play drive before a punt.

With some time to rest, the Cal defense was again up to the challenge. They forced a quick 3 and out on the Cougs and it was time for Goff and the Bear Raid to go to work again.

Bears started this next drive going the wrong direction. Jared Goff not only was sacked but also fumbled the ball on 2nd down, which the Bears were very very fortunate to have retained the ball. On 3rd and 36 from basically their endzone, the Bears gave the ball to Vic Enwere for an expected run. It was a standard conservative play call, except that Enwere kept going, stayed on his feet after a spin move and deflected some contact, and went for a huge 42-yard pick-up for a first down. This run allowed the Bears to eat up an additional 3–4 minutes and give more time for the Cal defense to rest.

The drive ended with the Bears going for it again on 4th and 3rd at the Wazzu 35. Sonny Dykes know that the best Cal defense is a good offense that retain the ball. Unfortunately, Bears got stopped and had to rely on the defense again for the final five minutes of this game.

Falk and the Cougs were in a hurry throwing down the field—Damariay Drew was ready, however, and got an interception to end this drive.

Bears then picked up two 3rd down to force the Cougs to use up their timeouts. Bears did punt with about 12 seconds left in the game clock to give the Cougs a Hail Mary attempt.

Instead, it was another gift turnover to be recorded by the Cal defense this year. Cougs tried to lateral the ball back but the band was not on the field. Bears picked up the loose ball to ensure a showdown between two unbeaten teams next week in Salt Lake City.

Overall, the Bears showed that they still got more things to improve upon. Jared Goff concluded the game going 33 for 45 (to 11 different receivers) for 390 yards and 4 TD to 1 INT. Kenny Lawler caught two more TD and got 105 yards. The Cal offense and defense both had brilliant moments follow by some "this again" moments (particularly those 3rd and long conversions allowed on defense). Special teams remain a work in progress. Nevertheless, a victory means that Cal fans can keep that hope alive. Why not Cal (for winning the Pac)?

Bears will be back in the familiar (and lovable?) role of being the underdog at the currently top-10 ranked Utes next week (Utes had a bye this week), although we may also move up a few spots on the rankings. For those Old Blues who are worried about Cal being ranked, praised nationally, and so on, Cal Football has earned this attention. I think the way that we have won many of these games has been the most ideal scenario. The team knows that they need to be better (and are motivated to practice tougher), but we still get those extra checks in the win column. One of these days, should the Bears put everything together and sustain that for 60 minutes, there is no team that we cannot beat on any given Saturday.

Go Bears!