Whether it was a short week, a late start, a high national ranking or a low opinion of Cal after its 38-7 loss to Washington last week, the Cougars were way under-prepared for what hit them in Berkeley Friday. The 15-point-underdog Bears sacked Heisman Trophy candidate Luke Falk nine times and created seven turnovers in a 37-3 walloping (box) that ended Washington State’s best start since 2001 in ignominious fashion.
Freshman QB Ross Bowers from Bothell High School passed for 259 yards on 21 completions in 38 attempts and had an amazing front flip off two feet over the goal line for a rushing touchdown in the biggest win in the rookie tenure of head coach Justin Wilcox, the former Huskies assistant.
The eighth-ranked Cougars (6-1, 3-1), down 17-3 at halftime, surprisingly mustered nothing in the second half to end the fanciful notion of a battle of undefeated teams in the Apple Cup against Washington. It was Cal’s first win in 14 years against a top 10 team.
“Cal out-coached us at every level, starting with the head coach,” said the head coach himself, Mike Leach. “I can’t think of a position on our team that they didn’t out-play us. I can’t think of any position on their team that didn’t want to win more than any position on our team.
“I think our guys spent too much time listening to the noise. We got complacent. We had a pretty good week of practice, but we need to have a serious sense of urgency to improve. We got hit the mouth and thought, well, this will take care of itself. Somewhere in the second half, we panicked.”
The Cougs’ well-regarded offensive line was nearly helpless to keep upright Falk, who had five interceptions, including one on a shovel pass. The only score was a career-long 52-yard field goal by Erik Powell. The Cougars rushed 26 times for 23 yards. He also missed a field goal and the Cougars had a one-yard punt.
The game, played in smoky conditions from the devastating fires still raging 50 miles north of campus, was haywire from the start when a penalty disallowed a touchdown on the return of the opening kickoff, the first of two taken off the board by penalties. Things ended just as poorly when Falk fumbled on his final sack and Cal LB Gerran Brown scooped and scored from 26 yards.
The Cougars were diminished on defense by the injury absences of three senior linebackers — Peyton Pelluer, Isaac Dotson and Nate DeRider — and Bowers, rocked the previous week by Washington’s defense, gradually built his confidence.
“We can’t allow this game to identify us,” Leach said. ” We have to attack teams instead of showing up like it was for some exhibition celebrity softball game.”