WSU had more than twice as many turnovers — seven — as it had points, and it marked the first time since a 19-6 defeat against Oregon State in 2012 that the Cougars have been held without a touchdown.
BERKELEY, Calif. — Friday the 13th started with an ominous tone for a Washington State football team that was trying to get off to a 7-0 start for the first time since 2001.
The eighth-ranked Cougars arrived at California’s Memorial Stadium 20 minutes behind schedule after the defense’s bus broke down.
Things didn’t get much better from that point on as the Cougars were stunned 37-3 by a Golden Bears team that was winless in the Pac-12 until Friday night. The win gave Cal only its second upset of a top-10 team since 1978.
WSU had more than twice as many turnovers — seven — as it had points, and it marked the first time since a 19-6 defeat against Oregon State in 2012 — Mike Leach’s first season as coach — that the Cougars have been held without a touchdown.
“We didn’t play good in any aspect of the game. Cal outcoached us, Cal outplayed us at every position I saw. They wanted to win more than we did, they tried harder than we did, they tried more consistently than we did,” Leach said. “Our guys just sauntered around out there on the field like we’d accomplished something – which obviously is false, and Cal certainly illustrated that.”
In a nightmarish game plagued by self-inflicted mistakes, seven of WSU’s 13 offensive drives resulted in turnovers, and six of those turnovers came at the hand of senior quarterback Luke Falk. He threw a career-high five interceptions to more than triple his season total in one night.
Falk assumed the blame for the offense’s troubles.
“When your QB turns it over six times you’re not gonna have a real opportunity to win the game,” Falk said. “We just didn’t play in-sync, and didn’t do the things we needed to do to win. It starts on me. Gotta put the ball in play and get more points than three on the board to give ourselves a shot.
“We didn’t help the defense out tonight at all. We had seven turnovers and that’s unacceptable and it starts with the quarterback.”
Falk was also sacked a season-high nine times. The ninth one came with 5:26 left in the game, when linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk strip-sacked Falk, and Cal’s Gerran Brown recovered and scored on a 26-yard return that gave Cal a 36-3 lead and shut down the Cougars for good.
Falk finished 28 of 43 for 286 yards, but also had the five interceptions and was held without a passing touchdown for the second time this season.
Meanwhile, perhaps the best embodiment of the Bears’ charmed night came early in the fourth quarter. On third-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Cal quarterback Ross Bowers, son of former UW gymnastics coach Joanne Bowers, took a running leap and executed an acrobatic front flip over an onrushing Justus Rogers, to land nicely in the end zone for what was recorded as a rushing touchdown.
The highlight reel-worthy play dashed WSU’s slim hopes of a comeback as the Golden Bears took a 27-3 lead with 13:10 left in the game, and never looked back.
Watch | Cal QB Ross Bowers flips into the end zone
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) October 14, 2017
Bowers thoroughly outplayed Falk, finishing 21-38 for 259 yards with one touchdown pass, his front-flip rushing touchdown, and no interceptions.
“We were pathetic. We were a bunch of pathetic front-runners,” Leach said. “Their guys played hard and ours didn’t. Their effort far outshadowed ours.”
By that point, the Cougars’ defense was gassed after spending most of the night on its heels because WSU couldn’t get anything going on offense.
7 Sacks of Falk
5 Interceptions thrown
2 TDs lost by penalty
2 Fumbles lost
1 Yard punt
0 Touchdowns scored
For the second year in a row, former Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin got the better of Alex Grinch’s WSU defense.
Now the Cal offensive coordinator, Baldwin’s Bears offense outscored WSU 20-0 in the second half to hand the Cougars (6-1, 3-1) their first loss of the year and put a dent in their Pac-12 title hopes. The Bears converted 7 of 17 third downs and had 365 offensive yards to WSU’s 320.
Down three starters – both inside linebackers and cornerback Darrien Molton – the WSU defense managed back-to-back three-and-outs to start the night. But they couldn’t keep covering for the offense all night long.
In a mistake-riddled first half, WSU had three turnovers on offense, and had two touchdowns negated before the Cougars finally got to go into the locker room and regroup.
But not before Cal (4-3, 1-3) took a 17-3 lead on the misfiring Cougars.
Cal running back Vic Enwere romped all over the Cougars’ defense, rushing 22 times for 102 yards, and scoring on a 6-yard first quarter run.
Bowers’ one passing score came at the end of the first half, when he found tight end Kyle Wells wide open in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown that gave the Golden Bears a 17-3 lead on the Cougars at the half.
On this night, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for WSU.
Falk got off to a horrible start, throwing two red zone interceptions in the first half that both landed in the hands of Cal cornerback Camryn Bynum, who recorded the first two picks of his career at Falk’s expense.
Both times, the turnovers put an end to promising offensive drives for WSU.
The Cougars’ third turnover of the first half came courtesy of freshman slot receiver Jamire Calvin, who fumbled on the end of an 11-yard reception on WSU’s second offensive possession.
WSU’s best scoring opportunities came early on.
Renard Bell returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown – only to have the score calling back on a holding penalty by Dan Ekuale.
After Falk’s first interception ended WSU’s opening drive, the Cougars’ next offensive drive stalled on the Cal 32-yard line, which, ordinarily, wouldn’t have mattered because senior kicker Erik Powell was a perfect 9-for-9 on field goals over the last two weeks, and had only missed one kick all year.
Powell trotted out to take the 49-yard field goal but pulled it wide right. No points.
He did, however, bounce back to tie his career-long by converting a 52-yarder in the second quarter to give WSU it’s only points of the first half.
But even that scoring drive went awry for the Cougars after an 11-yard touchdown pass from Falk to Tavares Martin Jr. was called back on a debatable offensive pass interference call on Martin Jr. Thereafter, Falk was sacked for a loss of nine yards, and WSU settled for the 52-yard Powell field goal.
That was the only one of WSU’s seven first half offensive drives that yielded points. Three ended due to turnovers, one ended on the missed field goal, and one culminated in a Mitchell Cox punt that netted 1 yard.