Everything went wrong in WSU’s 37-3 defeat to Cal

Cougars suffer team-wise breakdown in loss to Cal

BERKELEY, Calif. — Mike Leach was apoplectic as he addressed the media after Cal’s 37-3 upset of his eighth-ranked Washington State football team Friday night at California Memorial Stadium.

“There is no bright spot,” Leach said. “We were pathetic. We were a bunch of pathetic front runners. Their guys played hard and ours didn’t. That’s where it all starts. Their effort far overshadowed ours.”

He’s right. Any way you look at it, this one was very much a team collapse. It’s hard to pick out any silver lining.

So what went wrong against the Bears? Everything, it seemed. Here’s how it all unraveled.

1 — Luke Falk was off his game, everything devolved from there

Luke Falk, Washington State’s senior quarterback, played what was, statistically, the worst game of his career based on the turnovers he was responsible for.

Falk was off all evening, throwing five interceptions spaced at maddeningly regular intervals throughout the game. His first pick came on the third play from scrimmage, when Cal cornerback Camryn Bynum stepped in front of the receiver and stole the ball mid-air.

Falk’s final pick came late in the fourth quarter, when Cal’s Quen Tartabull intercepted him at the Cal 18-yard line.

In between, there was the shovel pass interception that was probably also the fault of the receiver, James Williams, the underthrown pass meant for Tavares Martin that Jordan Kunaszyk picked off, and the ugly strip-sack fumble that resulted in Gerran Brown’s 26-yard score off the fumble recovery.

The Bears made Falk uncomfortable all night by dialing up an assortment of creatively disguised blitzes, and it worked. They sacked Falk nine times, and the blitzes came from everywhere. Mike linebacker Kunaszyk led the way, accounting for 2.5 sacks, cornerback Darius Allensworth sacked Falk once, defensive ends James Looney and Luc Bequette had one sack apiece, and so did linebackers Gerran Brown and Cameron Goode.

“They did a good job disguising some stuff and bringing some different pressures, but, you know, it’s my job to find the hots and know how to put the ball in play,” Falk said. “We didn’t do that tonight.”

2 — Falk didn’t get much help either

A few of the nine sacks against Falk came from the quarterback holding onto the ball just a little too long, but his offensive line also wasn’t very effective at keeping the Bears off him, and his receivers couldn’t really get open.

The offensive line struggled all night and had trouble diagnosing and fending off Cal’s ferocious pass rush.


Leach’s take: “Because I think they think they’re too good, and they’re not very tough. That’s why,” he said.

WSU lost 64 yards on those nine sacks Falk took, and the Cougars went 0-for-3 on touchdown opportunities in the red zone in large part due to his costly turnovers.

On the occasions where the offensive line did manage to buy Falk time to make his reads and throw the ball, he often found no one to throw to because WSU’s receivers struggled to get separation from Cal’s defenders.

“The wide receivers create separation? That didn’t happen,” Leach said. “No, they didn’t create separation because they’re not very tough either. They’re not tough enough to go out and do what they do in practice, and they think they’re gonna show up for the game and all their stuff is accomplished. Way too much listening to the noise.”

3 — There were just way too many self-inflicted wounds

Renard Bell returned the opening kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown, and if that play had held up to give WSU a 7-0 lead to start things out, the game might have played out a little differently.

But unfortunately for the Cougars, Bell’s big play was called back on a holding penalty by Daniel Ekuale.

The Cougars found themselves mired in that “one step forward, two steps back” cycle throughout the night.

An 11-yard pass from Falk to Tavares Martin in the second quarter was also negated by a pass interference call on Martin.

Those two touchdowns would’ve delivered 14 first half points that the Cougars never made up for. Combine that with Erik Powell’s missed 49-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter, and that’s 17 points left on the field.

Falk’s biggest pass completion of the night — a 43-yard catch-and-run to Jamal Morrow, set the Cougars up well at the Cal 14-yard line. But on the very next play, Falk’s shovel pass to James Williams bounced off Williams hands and into the open arms of Raymond Davison.

Mistakes like that at inopportune moments added up over the course of the night.

4 — Evaluating the defense

While the most glaring mistakes came on offense, the defense was also not blameless in the loss. As Leach pointed out, WSU’s defense gave up 102 rushing yards to Vic Enwere, Cal’s backup running back and allowed Cal to go 4-for-4 in the red zone.

The Cougars’ defense also didn’t force any turnovers, gave up several chunk yardage plays to Enwere and receivers Kanawai Noa (6 rec, 95 yards) and Vic Wharton III (4 rec, 59 yards), and wasn’t as effective as usual in getting to the quarterback, tallying only two sacks — both by Hercules Mata’afa.

However, they did stand their ground on back-to-back three-and-outs in the first quarter, and force a pair of punts in the second quarter and another pair of punts in the third.

But when your offense keeps turning the ball over and forcing the defense back onto the field, it’s really a matter of time before the other team turns those opportunities into points, and 13 of Cal’s 37 points came off WSU turnovers.

5 — Special teams had its blunders too

Even special teams had its ugly moments against Cal — Ekuale’s penalty on Bell’s kick return touchdown, Powell’s missed field goal, Mitchell Cox’s 1-yard punt and Powell’s 38-yard punt that was returned for 31 yards.

For a unit that had done so well in the last two games — Powell was Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week two weeks in a row — this game proved a bit of a letdown.

Then again, that’s really how it went for the entire team.