Cal’s first three losses were frustrating. Cal’s 21-6 home loss to Washington State on Saturday was inexplicable.
The Bears’ offense had shown promise in the 22-17 loss to Nevada, the 34-32 defeat at TCU and the 31-24 overtime road loss to Washington.
On Saturday, Cal’s offense laid an egg, scoring just six points and failing to score a point after the first quarter against a Washington State defense that ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense and 11th in scoring defense and had allowed at least 24 points in each of its previous four games.
You can detect Cal coach Justin Wilcox’s bewilderment in the way his team performed in the video atop this story.
“We all expected to play much better than that,” he said.
It was Cal’s most discouraging showing of the season.
“My job is to prepare our team to be successful,” Wilcox said. “I failed.”
In its previous four games, Washington State (2-3, 1-2 Pac-12) had recorded just four sacks, the second-lowest total in the conference. But on Saturday, the Cougars had four sacks, and that does not fully indicate the constant pressure they put on Cal quarterback Chase Garbers.
After being productive in the first four games, Garbers was pressured into his worst game of the season, completing 14-of-30 passes for 152 yards, no touchdowns and an interceptions.
Through three quarters the Bears had just 65 passing yards, and 44 of those came on a play early in the first quarter that led to Cal’s only touchdown with 7:44 left in the first quarter.
The Bears (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12) did not score again.
It was Cal's lowest scoring output since getting shut out by Utah 35-0 in 2019, but that game was on the road when the Bears were forced to play their third-string quarterback, freshman Spencer Brasch, against the 12th-ranked team in the country.
Cal had only moderate success on the ground against WSU, with Chris Street being the leading rusher with 51 yards on eight carries.
“We didn’t really do much of anything all that well,” Wilcox said.
He said his team had a pretty good week of practice coming into Saturday’s game, so this came as a surprise.
“I didn’t see that coming at all,” Wilcox said.
Adding to the problems was another muffed extra point and an odd blocked punt that may have been the turning point of the game – if there was a turning point.
Washington State led 7-6 and planned to punt when it faced a fourth-and-6 from its own 29-yard line in the first quarter.
The Cougars' Nick Haberer had his punt blocked by Cal's Nick Alftin. However, WSU's Ron Stone Jr. picked up the loose ball and advanced it 7 yards for a Cougars first down. WSU turned that possession into a touchdown and a 14-6 lead with 1:46 left in the first quarter.
Overlooked because of the offense’s struggles was the fact that Cal’s defense could not stop the Cougars early in the game, although it performed batter in the second half.
Jayden de Laura went 5-for-5 on the Cougars’ opening drive that went for a touchdown, and – aided by the odd punt block and first down – he guided WSU to a touchdown on its second possession. That second WSU touchdown provided the play of the day as Cougars receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. made a spectacular one-handed grab at the edge of the end zone. Even the officials couldn’t believe he made the catch as it was ruled incomplete on the field, but overturned after a video review.
There were no such memorable plays for the Bears.
“Their offense beat our offense. That’s simple,” Garbers said.
The Cal offensive line had been giving Garbers plenty of time to pass in past games, but Garbers was constantly under pressure Saturday against a WSU team whose pass rush had been mediocre.
“There’s just a lot of things we could have done better,” Cal center Matthew Cindric said, “and we did some things to make them look better.”
Cal has a bye this week to stew about this performance before it plays a Friday night game on Oct. 15 on national television at Oregon, which is also coming off a loss.
Cover photo of Chase Garbers being sacked by Justus Rogers is by Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports
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