BERKELEY, Calif. -- Over the first half of the season, Washington State played its way into the College Football Playoff discussion, while quarterback Luke Falk built a strong foundation for a Heisman Trophy campaign.
Both of those dreams ended Friday night in a 37-3 loss to California.
After waiting nearly 14 years to play as a top-10 team, it was one of WSU’s worst performances since Mike Leach arrived on the Palouse in 2012. The eighth-ranked Cougars (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) were outschemed, outplayed and at no point looked like the team that has earned national attention over the past few weeks.
Leach agreed wholeheartedly.
“We weren’t good in any aspect of the game,” he said. “Cal outcoached and outplayed us at every position that I saw. There may be an exception, but I don’t think there is.
“Every position I saw, Cal outplayed us, they wanted to win more than we did, they tried harder than we did and tried more consistently than we did.”
Falk came into the game leading the nation with 19 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He was picked off five times Friday, fumbled on a play that was returned for a touchdown and was sacked nine times.
Two WSU touchdowns were wiped away by penalties and seven of its 13 drives ended on turnovers.
It was a brilliant defensive game plan from first-year Cal coach Justin Wilcox and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. With the Bears (4-3, 1-3) dropping several players into coverage, Falk seldom had options to throw, and Cal’s defensive line still managed to create constant pressure.
“We played mostly four-man rush and a little bit of three-man rush and rushed five a couple times,” Wilcox said. “But we wanted to change up where the four were coming from. So most of it was four-man rush during the game. It was which four guys were coming. That’s what we changed up. That’s part of how we structure our defense and the guys executed it well.”
On a night that also featured defending national champion and second-ranked Clemson losing at unranked Syracuse, this result feels just as shocking -- if only because of how one-sided it was.
Going into the game, these seemed like teams headed in opposite directions.
Cal started 3-0 but had lost its previous three, including lopsided defeats to Washington and Oregon the past two weeks. The Cougars, meanwhile, upset USC two weeks ago and easily beat the Ducks in Eugene last week.
In the days leading up to the game, a lot of the conversation was related to the wildfires in Northern California that left the air quality in the region at unhealthy levels. Cal and Pac-12 officials were monitoring the Air Quality Index levels through the game, but they never reached the threshold the NCAA previously determined was unsafe to play in.
“I didn’t notice it at all,” Cal cornerback Camryn Bynum said. “It didn’t really affect us. We knew we were going to have to ply the game no matter what.”
Still, the conditions contributed to a crowd of just 26,244 at Memorial Stadium, which has a capacity of 63,000.