2012 California Football Week 7: Pullman Is Bear Territory [31-17W]by Nam Le on Oct, 14 2012
But when the clock in Pullman hit triple zeroes on Saturday night, the scoreboard read: California 31, Washington State 17.
All season long, the Bears have had trouble starting games, usually falling behind early, before fighting their way back in the second half. Perhaps motivated by a pass-happy opponent, the California secondary took it into their own hands to change that this week, imposing their will on the Cougars with a myriad of huge hits and physical play. Avery Sebastian’s play was a perfect example, as he knocked out two Washington State players out of the game in the first half – including star wide receiver Marquess Wilson.
And it worked. Ater picking off Connor Halladay twice in the opening minutes, the Bears took an early lead for the first time all season, never trailing at any point in the game.
Sebastian’s efforts highlighted a strong night by the secondary overall, as Kam Jackson played well in place of the injured Marc Anthony. And Steve Williams had an outstanding game with a career-high four passes defensed.
Despite the Cougars’ 384 passing yards, there was never a sense that the Bears were playing poorly on defense. Cal only allowed 6.1 yards per pass attempt, indicating that Halladay and replacement quarterback Jeff Tuel were more or less bottled up. Washington State was also helped by a number of “catches” that clearly weren’t, to say nothing about the numerous penalties that went in their favor.
The Bears brought that same physicality on offense as well, with C.J. Anderson, Isi Sofele and Brendan Bigelow bullying the Cougars for 234 yards on the ground. That number can be traced directly to a much improved offensive line, which not only consistently opened running lanes, but also kept Zach Maynard upright, allowing zero sacks for the first time all season. At the very least, there will be one less jersey for the equipment managers to wash tomorrow.
Maynard added 78 rushing yards of his own, showcasing his mobility on a number of keepers, options and scrambles. Cal has not had Maynard run much this season, but that tactic worked well on Saturday night; Cougar defenders simply weren’t athletic enough to keep up.
Coming off of a 4 touchdown game against the Bruins, Maynard passed for a less impressive 189 yards this week – all but 23 of which went to half-brother Keenan Allen. Still, he managed the game effectively and kept the offense moving, which was all the team really needed. The defense took care of the rest.
While the Bears played pretty well on Saturday, their win over the Cougars was more important because it maintained positive momentum, something the team has had very little of all season. Now, they turn their full attention to regaining the Axe, following last year’s heartbreaker in Palo Alto.
While the Big Game is always important, one could argue it is even bigger this year – a win over Stanford would even Cal’s record at 4-4, putting them back into bowl discussion. As recently as two weeks ago, that would have been unthinkable, and with Jeff Tedford’s job security still up in the air, a bowl berth could buy him one more season in Berkeley.
Though Stanford will likely be heavy favorites next Saturday, they are not unbeatable. Josh Nunes may be one of the few quarterbacks in the conference more unreliable than Maynard is, and outside of Zach Ertz, the Cardinal lack any real pass-catching threats. Linebacker Chase Thomas and defensive end Ben Gardner will likely cause huge problems for Cal, but if the offensive line can continue their improvement for a third straight week…
Well, the Axe could very well return to its rightful home here in Berkeley.