By Jacob Thorpe The Spokesman-Review
BERKELEY, Calif. — Washington State University took the monkey off its back, whipped it around, and flung it into San Francisco Bay. Thanks to a stellar game from quarterback Connor Halliday, the Cougars never trailed in a 44-22 dismantling of the California Golden Bears, who had beaten WSU in their eight previous contests.
Halliday was knocked out of last week’s game against Stanford in the third quarter, and it was anyone’s guess if the quarterback — who once finished a game with a lacerated liver — would be effective against the Golden Bears. Halliday answered those questions by throwing for three touchdowns and 521 yards — the most by a Pac-12 quarterback since WSU’s Alex Brink in 2005.
“I was pretty sure I was going to start,” Halliday said. “It’s always going to be something; I’m going to be dealing with this for awhile. A little frustrating but it is what it is and I’m just going to go out and play the best I can every week.”
The redshirt junior finished the day 41-of-67 with touchdown passes to Vince Mayle, who entered the game with two touchdown catches in his career, of 35 and 72 yards. His third touchdown was a short pass to running back Marcus Mason who cut back across the field to score on a 68-yard play. The only blemishes for the Ferris High grad were an interception and a safety suffered after audibling, at his 1-yard line, into a stretch-run play to put Cal on the board in the second quarter.
The defense set the tone early for the Cougars (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12), who forced a pair of first-quarter fumbles while backed up inside their 10-yard line. Defensive tackle Kalafitoni Pole secured the ball both times it hit the ground.
Turnovers were the story of the game, which saw the Golden Bears score just two touchdowns, despite piling up 585 total yards, 15 more than WSU. Halliday’s interception was the only giveaway for a WSU team that secured five takeaways.
A big Cougar that affected Cal’s offense in a big way was nose guard Ioane Gauta. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior sacked quarterback Jared Goff twice and batted down a pair of passes as well. Just as importantly, he anchored a WSU defensive that held Cal to just 79 yards on 29 carries. Running back Brandan Bigelow was limited to 41 yards.
“It started from film work,” Gauta said. “Just watching their offensive lineman and their tendencies, I took advantage of it. We did as a defense, as a defensive line. I know we missed a couple sacks but we played well today.”
Cal (1-4, 0-2) scored on a 53-yard pass from quarterback Jared Goff to James Grisom, and on a stellar 89-yard reception by Chris Harper, in which the wide receiver turned around cornerback Damante Horton before juking safety Paris Taylor. But aside from those two breakdowns in the secondary, the Cougars turned Cal’s pass-happy offense into an exercise in field position.
After surging out to a 14-0 lead, the Cougars suffered the safety, and then gave up a field goal and a touchdown to let Cal back in the game. But that was as close as the Golden Bears would get, as Mason scored with just over a minute left in the half. WSU outscored Cal 23-7 in the second half.
“I thought our defense came together and rallied instead of just spiraling down,” head coach Mike Leach said. “I thought they rallied well I thought our offense kept responding until the defense got in sync and then the defense got some key turnovers which was really good.”
With the win, WSU is spiraling up, and has won one more game than it did all of last season. The Cougars are just two games shy of qualifying for a bowl game, and are getting road wins against programs that have had their number for nearly a decade.