Cal football was on the road this weekend visiting Pullman, where it fell to Washington State 9-28 in a dreary contest.
Although Martin Stadium was a lively billow of red, the first half action on the gridiron was a far cry from riveting.
In fact, it was rather dull.
An exchange of eight punts and inadequate attempts on third down put just 10 points on the board prior to the intermission. Instead, the opening half of play accumulated into a gritty defensive battle with distinctly mundane offense.
The Cougar defense muted Cal’s season standout Jaydn Ott, who collected a mere 11 rushing yards, despite frequent touches in the first two quarters.
Driven by veteran linebacker Daiyan Henley and defensive back Jaden Hicks, Washington State’s defensive unit launched an afternoon of quick containment and relentless pressure on the passer.
The result: Cal’s prolonged struggle to put together a feasible scoring drive, concluding the opening half without a possession in the red zone.
As Jack Plummer and his corps of receivers failed to ignite a spark, the Bears’ defense took command. A characteristic strong-suit during Justin Wilcox’s tenure as head coach, Cal’s defense subdued the production of Washington State’s NFL-Caliber play-caller, Cameron Ward.
While carving up the defense with his strong arm and extended time in the pocket at times, Cal worked tediously in one-on-one match-ups to damper Ward’s AirRaid scheme. Safety Daniel Scott’s stealthy snatch of Ward’s endzone heave, intended for WR Victor Lincoln, kindled momentum for the blue and gold. Cornerback Collin Gamble also paraded a notable defensive showing, notching solid coverage and six tackles for the afternoon.
After a rather sluggish start – a lone rushing punch in the endzone for the Cougars and a mere field goal for the Bears – the game finally came to life in the second half.
With a 47 yard sling to WR Renard Bell, Ward ascended to start the second half. Shifting in the pocket on Cal’s delayed pass-rush effort, the transfer quarterback routinely connected with Bell, compiling a statline of bombs. He finished the matchup on 24-36 passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns including four heaves of over 20 yards. While the contest underwhelmed in many capacities, Ward put together an admirable highlight reel.
As Ward was firing up, the Bears’ offense gathered momentum as well, staging an impressive campaign of big plays. Spearheaded by Ott’s pair of break-away rushes for 18 and 11 yards, Cal’s offense showed a glimpse of glory in the third quarter.
Plummer and WR Jeremiah Hunter reiterated their special connection, completing a 30 yard play immediately followed by a massive 49 yard link. Yet, this display was but a glimpse, as the Bears’ produced just one knock in the endzone for the afternoon.
Jack Plummer finished his stint completing 23 of 33 throws for 273 yards, exiting at around the five minute mark of the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury.
The Bears were unable to upkeep their defensive forces enough to splinter Ward’s stellar playmaking – or find a sustained rhythm on offense either for that matter. Now, with uncertainty surrounding Plummer’s health, the Bears should focus their attention on cleaning up the offensive line and adhering to their strength in the run-game.
As a bye-week awaits Cal, it’s time the team gets back to work.