On a night when rival Stanford was arguably robbed of a last-second win over Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., ending a three-game Cardinal winning streak in the series, California continued its ownership of Washington State in Pullman, Wash., defeating Mike Leach and the Cougars 21-17 to give the Bears some much-needed momentum heading into next week's Big Game showdown for The Axe, winning their eighth straight game over Washington State.
The Bears (3-4, 2-2 in the Pac-12) took advantage of the No. 7 rushing defense in the league by turning to the run early and often, with 318 total rushing yards on 50 attempts. Four players tallied at least eight, including three tailbacks -- led by C.J. Anderson's second straight 100-yard effort (15 carries, 112 yards) -- helping open up passing lanes for quarterback Zach Maynard, who completed 14-of-23 passes for 189 yards, with 11 of those passes going to his brother Keenan Allen for 166 yards.
While Maynard was rather ordinary throwing the ball, he had perhaps his best running game of his Cal career, rushing 10 times for 78 yards and one touchdown.
The game was a coming-out party for speedy corner Steve Williams, who helped bottle up Cougars wide receivers all evening in man coverage to the tune of a career-high four pass break-ups and one interception in the back of the end zone.
Early on, Cal traded interceptions and injuries with the Cougars (2-5, 0-3), as both starting quarterbacks -- Maynard and Connor Halliday -- threw a pair of picks in the first half, and top Washington State weapon Marquess Wilson went down at the start of the second quarter with a head injury, followed by big hits to Bears safety Avery Sebastian, Anderson and Allen, though all three Cal players returned to action.
But, while all three dinged up Bears returned in the second half, both Wilson and talented freshman tailback and kick returner Teondray Caldwell -- who was knocked out by Sebastian on first-and-10 at the Cougars' 23 in the first quarter -- were sidelined for the rest of the evening, taking much of the punch out of the Washington State offense.
The Cougars managed 430 yards of total offense, as Tuel went 30-for-53 passing for 320 yards after relieving Halliday thanks to the strong play by the Bears secondary, headlined by Williams.
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For the second game in a row, Maynard's first throw of the day was to someone in the wrong jersey, but the Cal running game -- after some early misfires -- got rolling in a big way, racking up 153 yards on the ground in the first half with Anderson and Isi Sofele combining for 93 of those on 16 carries.
After two of the first three Cougars possessions ended in interceptions, Maynard hooked up with Allen for a 69-yard touchdown strike on an inside slant which saw the talented junior playmaker releasing off his defender to gain 64 yards after the catch, putting the Bears up, 7-0.
The score was Allen's 16th career receiving touchdown and moved him into fourth place all-time in school history for receiving yards.
After a three-and-out by the Cougars, Cal drove from its own 21 all the way to the Washington State 10, but Maynard's inside screen pass to Allen was picked by Anthony Carpenter at the Cougars' five-yard line.
Williams was in the hip pocket of Washington State's biggest weapon in receiver Wilson for the first quarter, and as the second stanza dawned, was particularly stout against the 6-foot-4 receiver, breaking up two passes intended for Wilson on the Cougars' first drive. Washington State didn't do itself any favors on that drive, getting flagged twice.
On third-and-goal at the Bears five, Wilson was sandwiched between Sebastian and Williams in the back of the end zone, with Sebastian lowering the boom on the falling Wilson and knocking him out of the game. Williams would wind up with a career-high three pass break-ups on the evening.
After the Cougars failed to punch it in after six plays inside the Cal 10, the Bears drove 75 yards on nine plays, chewing up 3:39 on the clock and churning out 36 yards on the ground, including the final four on an Anderson TD run. On that drive, Maynard found his groove, going 3-for-3 for 39 yards -- all to Allen.
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The Cougars scored on their first drive of the second half for just the first time this season, taking advantage of two pass interference penalties by Williams and Kameron Jackson -- making his first career start -- to drive 75 yards for a score, with senior signal-caller Jeff Tuel finding Brett Bartolone at the six-yard line for his first TD strike of the game.
With Washington State moving the ball well on its next drive, thanks to a 40-yard run by backup tailback Leon Brooks -- who came into the game with just 66 career rushing yards - Sebastian -- or rather the specter of Sebastian -- struck again. On third-and-10 at the Cal 37, Tuel looked for Kristoff Williams over the middle, but Williams heard the footsteps of the sophomore safety and saw the ball pop in and out of his hands, quashing the Cougars drive.
The Bears responded with a field goal on their next drive on a career-long 52-yarder by Vince D'Amato, going up 24-10 with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
Cal scored its final touchdown of the game on a seven-play, 74-yard drive at the start of the fourth quarter, with 59 of those yards coming on the ground, culminating in a 29-yard touchdown run by Anderson.
The Cougars made things interesting on the very next drive, manufacturing a nine-play, 75-yard drive thanks to Tuel, who went 5-for-6 for 42 yards, with Bartolone hauling in his second touchdown of the game on a cross to the back left corner of the end zone, looking for the ball over his right shoulder before twisting around and reeling in the ball over his back shoulder for the score.
The Cal defense, though, held strong, continuing to pressure Tuel on the final Washington State drive of the game, flushing him outside the pocket to the left, away from his throwing arm on fourth-and-13 to force Tuel's second throw-away on fourth down of the night.