PULLMAN, Wash. — Cal’s run game simply could not be stopped.
The Bears (3-4, 2-2 in the Pac-12) won their first road game of the 2012 season on Saturday night, riding the ground game to a 31-17 win over Washington State.
“I thought the offensive line played really well,” head coach Jeff Tedford said. “It was a good team effort.”
The final score, however, belies a sloppy start for both teams at Martin Stadium.
For the second game in a row, quarterback Zach Maynard’s first pass fell into the hands of an opposing player, this time to the Cougars’ Cyrus Coen at Cal’s 40-yard line.
But just four plays later, Washington State’s Connor Halliday returned the favor, tossing a ball into the hands of Cal’s Steve Williams in the back of the end zone and failing to capitalize on prime field position.
On his next drive, Halliday killed yet another drive with a pick, this time to Cal’s Michael Lowe.
Cal, it seemed, was finally ready to capitalize on the opportunity. Two plays later, Maynard found Keenan Allen on a quick crossing route, who shook off his defender, juked left and danced into the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown. Throughout the rest of the night, Allen proved too big and physical for any of the Cougar defenders, finishing the night with 11 catches for 166 yards.
“I’m just out there doing my job, being in the right place at the right time,” Allen said. “I just made a couple guys miss, and then off to the races.”
By then, Washington State head coach Mike Leach had seen enough from Halliday and put in quarterback Jeff Tuel. After Maynard threw another pick, Tuel led his team on a 17-play drive starting from his own 10 to open the second quarter.
Despite running six plays inside Cal’s 10-yard line due to a questionable personal foul called on Avery Sebastian, the Cougars had to settle for a field goal, pulling within 7-3.
The Bears immediately responded, marching 75 yards on nine plays down the field. Running back C.J. Anderson finished things off with a four-yard cut back, punching it into the endzone to put his squad up, 14-3.
Washington State failed to find any offensive rhythm or respond to Cal’s pressure. The Bears used only two down linemen for most of the game but blitzed on nearly every play and had both Tuel and Halliday throwing off their back feet all night.
“I knew he was going to pass the ball a lot,” Williams said. “I just kept playing hard. We were just out there playing.”
The loss of two starters didn’t help the Cougars, either. First, running back Teondray Caldwell was taken out by Sebastian and was unconscious on the sideline for a few moments. Sebastian later took out wide receiver Marquess Wilson — the Cougars’ best offensive player and a likely future NFL first-round draft choice.
Meanwhile, the Bears exploited their size advantage up front and ran straight over Washington State. After racking up 153 yards on the ground in the first half, the Bears continued to pound the rock. Cal opened up the third quarter with a 71-yard scoring drive that utilized seven running plays, including a one-yard dive from Maynard to extend Cal’s lead, 21-3.
From then on, the Cougars had to rely on the refs for help. On a drive fueled by a pair of Cal pass interferences, Tuel found Brett Bartolone underneath, who jogged into the endzone for an eight-yard score.
But Cal again responded, and Vincenzo D’Amato snuck a career-long 52-yard field goal over the uprights to bring the score to 24-10.
After that, the Bears used their balanced ground game to run out the clock and grind down the Cougars. Anderson put his finishing touch on the game, closing the door on the Cougars with a 29-yard touchdown sprint to make it 31-10.
Saturday night’s win was only Cal’s second conference victory of the season and its third overall.
“Football is a roller coaster,” Anderson said. “We had some downs, but we can’t let that harm us.”