Instant analysis/reaction: Cal’s huge win against WSU gives Bears a much-needed boost

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Key takeaway
The Cal curse is one thing, but Washington State’s — and the state of Washington’s — curse against Cal is another. Beau Baldwin actually seemed to be playing to starting quarterback Devon Modster’s strengths, particularly the deep ball that has been very elusive to the Bears’ offense this season. The offensive line’s pass protection was markedly better with the addition of previously injured Michael Saffell back in the lineup, giving Modster more time in the pocket to spot and light up receivers downfield. Modster notched his longest career throw with the Bears on his 52-yard reception to Makai Polk in the fourth quarter and threw for 230 total yards. Since the offense was actually moving the ball, the defense didn’t need to do as much heavy lifting as it has had to do in games past. Washington State was also diligent about moving the ball up the field. Wazzu quarterback Anthony Gordon’s ability to hit receivers like clockwork certainly helped the Cougars keep traction, but the Bears’ defense consistently made clutch tackles and sacks. Of course, there were plenty of missed opportunities on both sides of the ball for Cal — a few more completions from Modster and a clutch tackle or two, and this game would have had a much different score than the final 33-20. 


Cal’s game MVP

Even with the unforgettable night from many a Cal player, this win would not have happened without offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin. Yep, I said it. We’ve seen what happens when the coaching staff doesn’t respond to unexpected changes in the roster and instead attempts to revel in what might have been by treating every drive as if Chase Garbers was still under center, which resulted in embarrassing losses to teams such as Oregon State and Utah. Tonight, we saw what happens when every facet of Cal’s team is clicking at the same time, and much of it was kickstarted by Baldwin finally throwing Modster a bone — or throwing receivers the ball — and treating him like the downfield threat that he is. Baldwin exhibited a good balance of play actions with long balls, finally putting an offensive product on the field that seemed to throw Wazzu’s defense for most of the game. Of course, even a brilliant offensive scheme is nothing without great games from players such as Modster, running back Christopher Brown Jr. and receiver Kekoa Crawford. Safety Jaylinn Hawkins and his interception and forced fumble combination, in addition to Josh Drayden’s monster tackles, didn’t hurt Cal’s cause either. 


Eye-opening stat 

This game was really, really weird and not just because of the strangeness of the first minute — Cal had two kicks blocked on the night. Greg Thomas, usually a reliable kicking machine for the Bears, surrendered two easy points to Wazzu in the first minute of the game and missed an easy 39-yard field goal that could have given Cal an edge. The unconventionality of the game didn’t stop there, either. Among third-string punt returner/first-string safety Ashtyn Davis receiving the Cougar’s kicks, Gavin Reinwald fumbling to lose the Bears a fourth down only to score a touchdown on the next drive, a 37-yard gain for Cal on one down thanks to two 15-yard penalties on Wazzu and a 52-yard touchdown catch from true freshman Makai Polk, equanimity was out the window from the get-go of this matchup. Notably, Cal was not slated to win this game, so even though not everything went by Plan A, all of the night’s atypical moments ultimately ended in the Bears favor.


Looking forward 

It’s that lovely time of the year again when Cal and its fans alike are sitting like ducks — not Oregon Ducks, as they’re definitely going to a bowl game — waiting to see if a postseason matchup is in the picture for the Bears. Cal’s last home game of the season is next weekend against USC, one of four Pac-12 teams already qualified for a bowl game. After tonight, the Bears need one more win to become bowl-eligible, but the last three games on the schedule for Cal are going to be uphill battles. Even though Cal’s defense seems to be the Achilles’ heel of Washington State, the Bears should not expect a win against the Trojans to come easily — USC is second in the Pac-12 South and will be coming off a 31-26 win against ASU in a gritty offensive showdown, and neither of those facts translate into a game in which the Bears are likely to walk away from with a victory. Tonight’s win against the Cougars, anomalistic as it was, should still inspire some hope for the Bears in games to come. Holding Wazzu head coach Mike Leach’s infamous air raid offense to only 20 points is a good omen in terms of shutting down USC and its 30.5-point-averaging offense.

Emily Ohman covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.