Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin knows a thing or two about defeating the Cougs. He did it last year, when he was head coach at Eastern Washington.
Washington State may be 6-0, ranked No. 8 and favored by two touchdowns going into Friday’s game against Cal.
But even though the Golden Bears are on a three-game losing streak and still looking for their first Pac-12 win, you can be assured that the Cougars aren’t going to overlook them.
They know Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin has beaten WSU before.
On Sept. 3, 2016, Baldwin and his Eastern Washington team traveled to Martin Stadium and stunned WSU 45-42 to hand the Cougars’ their second loss to an FCS team in two years.
The Eagles’ offense hung 606 offensive yards on the WSU defense, with quarterback Gage Gubrud passing for 474 yards, and Cooper Kupp catching 12 balls for 206 yards.
The Cougars haven’t forgotten that defeat, and memories of how it felt to stumble out the gate last season have helped fuel WSU’s meteoric six-win start to 2017.
But for Baldwin, that game is old news. The game film of his former team’s big upset of WSU doesn’t necessarily contain any gems that will help him defeat Alex Grinch’s resurgent 2017 WSU defense, he says.
As he game plans to face the Cougars this Friday, Baldwin says he hasn’t thought much about that EWU win. He took a quick look at that game film, but didn’t spend much time on it.
“That seems so long ago,” Baldwin said this week in a phone interview. “That was Game 1 of last year. So much time has passed already, and they’ve played enough games this year that it’s much more beneficial to look at that. I don’t know that last year’s Game 1 has anything to do with Game 7 this year.”
Instead, the former EWU head coach has other, more pressing matters on his hands.
Such as: How do you rebound from a game in which your offense was practically running backwards against the Huskies? Cal finished with minus-40 rushing yards, and a season-low 93 total yards in last week’s 38-7 defeat to UW.
Or: How do you rejigger the offense after losing running back Tre Watson and top receivers Demetris Robertson, Melquise Stovall and Kanawai Noa to injury?
Molding an offense to fit the abilities of his players has always been one of Baldwin’s strengths, and part of why first-year Cal head coach Justin Wilcox sought out Baldwin to join his staff.
“Beau is an excellent coach and he obviously did a great job at Eastern Washington,” said Wilcox, who was hired by Cal on Jan. 14. “We didn’t know each other until now, but I had a ton of respect for him and what he’s done. He always did a great job of utilizing his personnel.
“If one year, they had two tight ends or even three tight ends, they played a lot of that group. The following year, maybe they’re more of an 11-personnel (offense) and another year, they’re more of an empty team. He always utilizes his personnel to get the most out of his players.”
In Bothell native Ross Bowers, Baldwin has a quarterback who’s much more of a traditional passer than the last two signal prolific callers he trained at EWU – Gage Gubrud and Vernon Adams Jr.
But all the injuries at the receiver position have taken away some of Bowers’ biggest weapons, the Golden Bears need young guys like sophomore Jordan Duncan and freshman Jeremiah Hawkins to step up.
Bowers told local Bay Area reporters this week that he too needs to perform at a higher level.
“I haven’t been at my best. I haven’t been doing my job to the highest of execution. That’s something I’ve got to look in the mirror and fix,” Bowers said.
Bowers was pulled for backup Chase Forrest with about nine minutes remaining in last week’s game against UW.
However, he’s still the Bears’ starting quarterback, Wilcox said this week.
Baldwin, too, defended Bowers after his rough game – 11 of 18 for 80 yards – against the Huskies.
“We didn’t have success early in the year simply because of Ross Bowers, and we’re not struggling right now just because of Ross Bowers,” Baldwin said. “It’s a collective effort. We just have to keep working to get to a level where we can be more successful, especially early in ball games.”
Cal averaged 31.7 points through their first three games and won every one. Since then, the Bears have lost three-straight and the offense has averaged 17 points per game.
Still, Baldwin’s track record suggests he’ll get the ball rolling at Cal sooner rather than later.
In his nine seasons as EWU head coach from 2008-16, Baldwin’s teams ranked in the FCS top 10 for passing offense and total offense eight times.
He won one national championship with the Eagles in 2010, and his last EWU team made it to the national semifinals.
Baldwin, a Tacoma native, says he was happy in Cheney and wasn’t shopping around for a new job when Wilcox came calling.
The two men had never met, but they had some mutual friends in the coaching industry and have always respected each other, they say.
“We didn’t start talking until that second week in January,” Baldwin said. “But it felt like we knew each other for years. He knew people who had competed against me, I knew people who had competed against him.”
In the end, the chance to take his offensive system to the Pac-12 and work for Wilcox at a school with a good academic reputation sold Baldwin on the Cal job.
“It wasn’t something where I was trying to go anywhere, but with this one, there were too many great things with this opportunity,” Baldwin said. “It was also timing. It felt right.”