BERKELEY, Calif. – It may be hard to convince anybody of this, but Washington State’s defense came in for a lot of plaudits here Saturday on an afternoon when Cal threw for a school-record 506 yards.
“I want to say hats off to our defense,” said quarterback Connor Halliday. “Our defense is playing unbelievably right now.”
Well, the defense hardly stoned Cal, but it did force five turnovers in WSU’s 44-22 victory. Two of them were fumbles inside the 10-yard line in the first half, one caused by defensive lineman Toni Pole, who hails from nearby Union City and said he had 40-50 friends and family members at the game.
“It’s really fun,” Pole said, breaking into a smile. “It’s always fun when you win.”
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One of those Cal fumbles came on a bad quarterback-running back exchange, but Pole accounted for the second, ripping the ball from Brendan Bigelow to highlight a goal-line stand in the second quarter.
“We take pride in the goal line,” said Pole.
The Cougars got good pressure on Cal quarterback Jared Goff, sacking him three times, but when they didn’t, the Bears turned around WSU defensive backs for some big plays, including scores of 89 yards by Chris Harper and 53 by James Grisom.
“I thought our offense kept responding until our defense got in sync,” said WSU coach Mike Leach.
He added that he thinks the sometimes-leaky secondary coverage is fixable, saying, “We made a lot of really good plays deep in the secondary. They’re kind of minor adjustments. They (the mishaps) resulted in big plays. I don’t see them as huge adjustments.”
WSU unveiled a little-known player at strongside linebacker for a good portion of the second half in Mitchell Peterson, who took over for Cyrus Coen.
Peterson is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound fourth-year junior from West Valley High in Spokane who switched earlier this year from safety to linebacker. He came to WSU to play outfield in baseball, but switched over in 2011. He moved up to the second unit this week in practice and filled in for Coen, whose status is unknown.
“It was a blast,” said Peterson, whose only previous college action came in one late game a year ago on special teams. “It’s football.”
• The one sack allowed by the Cougars makes it 10 in six games, compared to a nation-leading 57 a year ago. “We always want to play like that,” said guard Joe Dahl. “One sack is almost too many.”
• Marcus Mason, who had a field-reversing 68-yard scoring play after a short catch from Halliday, became the first WSU back to have 100 yards receiving since Deon Burnett in 2000. “I was going to cut straight upfield,” Mason said of his long play, “but I saw there was more out there.”
• Nose tackle Junior Gauta had his first two solo sacks of the season, and S Deone Bucannon had a 47-yard return with an interception.