With the Cougars’ defensive line aiming for him, Jared Goff stared down Trevor Davis in the hopes that his receiver could find separation.
But Washington State cornerback Marcellus Pippins, taking advantage of a jittery Goff, jumped the route, picking off the Bears’ quarterback and returning the ball to Cal’s 46-yard line. The Cougars, however, failed to earn points off the turnover, with quarterback Luke Falk being sacked twice — courtesy of Kyle Kragen and James Looney — and Washington State struggling against the blitz.
This missed opportunity by the Cougars would later prove to be crucial, as Washington State (2-2) ultimately fell to the No. 24 Bears (5-0) at Memorial Stadium, 34-28, in a hotly contested Pac-12 matchup.
The Bears’ offense looked out of sorts early in the first quarter, with Goff nearly getting picked off again, throwing into double coverage on Cal’s second drive. Running back Daniel Lasco, who had his first carries for the Bears since suffering a hip injury against San Diego State on Sept. 12, also struggled on the drive, unable to get a first down and bringing up another punt for Cal.
Despite tallying three sacks, the Bears struggled to pressure Falk during the first quarter when they didn’t send extra bodies, leaving Falk with ample time in the pocket to find a receiver. Washington State eventually capitalized, with Falk connecting with tight end River Cracraft on a 4-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead with just more than five minutes left in the opening quarter.
But Goff quickly settled into a rhythm on the next drive, getting the ball to Kenny Lawler, Darius Powe and Kanawai Noa before finding Bryce Treggs for a 34-yard touchdown to tie the game. With the score, Goff broke Cal’s all-time record for touchdown passes with 65.
Cal’s offense stalled with its first drive of the second quarter — marred by a false start and an illegal touching penalty — which culminated in a punt. Washington State then completed a 10-play, 85-yard drive to bring the score to 14-7 off a rushing touchdown from running back Gerard Wicks.
The Bears, who had been attempting to incorporate the run game, saw their next drive end with a turnover on downs after Lasco ran into a host of Cougar linemen and failed to convert on fourth-and-1.
Falk, taking over at Cal’s 47, proceeded to complete passes to four receivers on the next drive en route to taking the ball into the endzone himself to push the Cougars’ lead to 21-7.
The Bears finally scored again on Goff’s 9-yard pass to Lawler, but a failed extra point from Matt Anderson left Cal with an eight-point deficit heading into halftime.
The third quarter opened with the Bears’ first takeaway of the game, as safety Stefan McClure, who had sacked Falk earlier in the third quarter off a zone blitz, recovered a fumble by Zach Charme and took the ball into the endzone for a 45-yard touchdown.
“We definitely had a chip on our shoulder. Last year, we posted the passing yardage in the locker room,” said Cal defensive tackle James Looney. “We’re determined to change the views of the defense.”
After Falk completed a quick pass to Gabe Marks for a touchdown on the next drive, Goff found Lawler for a 20-yard score but was picked off on the two-point conversion, leaving the Cougars with a 28-26 lead.
The final points of the game came from Cal receiver Maurice Harris, who took the ball 24 yards to the house to make the score 32-28, Washington State. After a two-point conversion to Treggs was ruled incomplete and then reversed, Cal found itself with its first lead of the game.
Cal’s defense kept Washington State off the board in the final quarter, helped in large part by the Bears recovering the Cougars’ two fumbles and by safety Damariay Drew intercepting Falk.
With Saturday’s 34-28 win, the Bears are now 5-0 for the first time since 2007.
“I got in front of them and told them we have a big game next week,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, “and they said, ‘Because it’s the next one.’ ”