Instant analysis/reaction: WSU spoils Cal’s homecoming with double-digit drubbing

Photo of Cal football vs Washington State
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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Key takeaways

The Bears’ defense is no longer what it once was, but it’s enough

When Washington State marched down the field and into the end zone on both of its first two drives, it looked like it’d be a long afternoon for Cal’s defense. The Bears, who have been renowned as a defensive force under head coach Justin Wilcox, gave up 30 or more points in each of their last three outings prior to meeting the Cougars. But when it could have rolled over, Cal’s defense settled in. On WSU’s next three drives, the Bears responded with back-to-back interceptions and a fourth-down stop. Cal’s secondary was still suspect, and the front seven failed to generate any relevant pressure on WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura, but even then, the defense did its part Saturday.

Cal’s offense can’t get out of its own way

One of this season’s lone bright spots has been the growth of Cal’s offense under offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. But on Saturday, the Bears’ offense fell flat. After an impressive first drive that ended in an 11-yard touchdown by running back Christopher Brooks, Cal could not get out of its own way, mustering a measly 104 total yards in the first half and 273 by the end of regulation. Every time the Bears’ defense gained some semblance of rhythm, the offense failed to capitalize. An incomplete pass from quarterback Chase Garbers that fell short of the sticks on fourth-and-goal effectively ended any hopes of a Cal comeback early in the fourth quarter. Turnovers, penalties and broken plays were all too common against the Cougars — that’s something the blue and gold will likely attempt to remedy during their upcoming bye week.

Special teams are not so special

It is no secret that Cal’s special teams have struggled this year. It feels like the unit has endured missed field goal attempts and botched PATs in almost every contest this season, and its performance against WSU was no exception. Following the Bears’ opening drive touchdown, a mishandled snap left Cal in a 6-7 hole. On the ensuing Wazzu drive, the Bears blocked a punt only to have the ball bounce into the hands of a WSU player who charged ahead for an unbelievable first down. The Cougars went on to find the end zone on that same drive and never looked back. Even when things appeared to be going right for Cal, they inevitably went wrong.

Cal’s game MVP

When sophomore running back Damien Moore suffered a mild injury during the last play of Cal’s loss to Washington last week, all eyes shifted toward Brooks. The senior, who has now started in 15 games for the Bears, took over as the lead back Saturday. Brooks appeared to be the only consistent player on Cal’s offense, rushing for 40 yards and bouncing off of several WSU defenders en route to the blue and gold’s only touchdown of the day.

Eye-opening stats

One of the biggest storylines heading into Saturday was the Cougars returning both de Laura and star running back Max Borghi from injuries. Borghi, who was named to both the Doak Walker and Biletnikoff awards’ preseason watch lists, is widely considered WSU’s top offensive threat. But the Bears bottled up Borghi, holding the senior to just 44 all-purpose yards and a mere 3.1 yards per rush.

Garbers managed just two pass attempts through Cal’s first three drives. In contrast, he had 11 rushing attempts throughout the game, an indication of how many broken plays the Bears experienced against the Cougars.

Looking forward

Cal enters its bye week clinging to its 1-4 record and now sits alone in the Pac-12 North basement. A week of rest could not have come at a better time for a Bears team that has suffered a devastating number of losses and injuries over the past few games. While the blue and gold battled it out with the Cougars, No. 3 Oregon was upset by Stanford in overtime to the tune of 31-24. After the bye week, Cal will travel to Eugene, Oregon, for a Friday night clash with the Ducks, to be aired on ESPN.

Kabir Rao covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @kabirr26.