Bears' ground game overwhelms Cougars

GIVEN WASHINGTON STATE'S offensive woes, there arguably was no bigger factor for the Cougars than stopping California's formidable running game. But WSU had no solution for the Golden Bears' trio of talented running backs during Saturday's 31-17 loss at Martin Stadium.

It was imperative that the Cougars (2-5 overall, 0-4 Pac-12) contain C.J. Anderson, Brandon Bigelow and Isi Sofele. That is because slowing Cal's running game meant putting the ball into turnover-prone quarterback Zach Maynard's hands.

And there was some reason to believe that was achievable. For all of the offense's faults during the 19-6 loss Oct. 6 at Oregon State, WSU allowed just 2.5 yards per carry.

It appeared that an inexperienced defense was growing. But a week later, the Cougars looked about as capable of stopping the run as the talent-devoid defenses of former coach Paul Wulff's first two years.

Anderson had 112 rushing yards. The others, including Maynard's 78 hashes, helped the Bears finish with 318 rushing yards, an average of 6.4 per carry.

"Cal has the best group of running backs we've seen so far," redshirt freshman linebacker Darryl Monroe said during a postgame radio interview after he left the game with a hyper extended left elbow. "We would rather put the ball in [Maynard's] hands."

WSU's inability to stop the run allowed Maynard to step into the role of game manager – and allow the greatest receiver in Cal history, Keenan Allen, to make plays. That happened in the first quarter when Allen took a short pass, made a tackler miss and raced for a 69-yard touchdown.

Anderson mostly took care of the rest with two touchdown runs, including a 29-yard run late in the third quarter that gave the Bears a 31-13 lead.

THE FEW OPPORTUNITIES the defense provided rarely were capitalized on. Sophomore Cyrus Coen intercepted Maynard on Cal's second play to give the Cougars possession at the Bears' 40-yard line. Starting quarterback Connor Halliday, who completed just 4 of 10 passes for 74 yards, found sophomore Isiah Myers, who had a team-high 108 yards on eight receptions, for a juggling catch for a third-down conversion to Cal's 27. But Halliday took a shot into the end zone on the ensuing play and was intercepted by Steve Williams.

WSU's defense responded by holding the Bears to a three-and-out. But after a 40-yard completion to junior wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who 87 yards on four receptions before leaving during the first half with an injury, Halliday lost eight yards on a fumble and then was intercepted by Michael Lowe.

"We squandered the whole first quarter," Leach said.

With the exception of one play during the second half when senior Jeff Tuel was required to leave after having his helmet knocked off, that was it for Halliday's night.

"It's not an ideal situation, but it's the situation I was put into," Tuel said. "I love the challenge."

The decision to start Halliday, who has a conference-high 11 interceptions, was a controversial move by Leach. And the performance of Tuel, who completed 30 of 53 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, undoubtedly will lead to more second-guessing on CF.C's message boards.

Without the benefit of any semblance of a running game after freshman Teondray Caldwell left during the first half, Tuel led WSU on a pair of second half scoring drives with 8- and 6-yard touchdown passes to true freshman wide receiver Brett Bartolone.

Tuel's statistics would have looked even better with myriad drops. There were three in The Opening drive of the second quarter alone when the Cougars were in the red zone. Wilson had one in the end zone on third down, but WSU received a reprieve when Cal (3-4, 2-2) was assessed with a personal foul. Wilson never returned after that play, and the Cougars also squandered an opportunity to tie the game at 7 when Leon Brooks and Gino Simone both dropped passes – the latter in the end zone. That forced WSU to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Andrew Furney.

"It's very disappointing," said Bartolone, referring to missed opportunities in the red zone. "We've got to get our minds right and come out and get it next time."

Normally one of the team's most reliable players, Furney missed a straight 43-yard attempt wide left in the fourth quarter. That proved crucial later in the game when the Cougars were forced to go for it on fourth-and-13 instead of attempting a field goal. An extra six points in that situation would have cut WSU's deficit to eight and allowed for an onside kick.

Instead, the Bears easily stopped the Cougars and ran out the clock to win for eighth consecutive time in the series.

With its first bowl appearance since 2003 just about out of the question, WSU can only hope the upcoming bye week before it next plays Oct. 27 at Stanford provides some solutions. Tuel just hopes he is the starting quarterback as he believes the preparation during practice with receivers would be valuable.

"I think it can make a really big difference," he said. "If I'm given that opportunity, I'm all for it."

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: After a gaffe-filled first quarter, Allen's touchdown seemed to give Cal permanent momentum.

CATCH OF THE GAME: Myers' juggling first quarter snag on third down was questioned – Tedford challenged the call – but upheld.

STAT OF THE GAME: The Cougars surrendered 318 rushing yards.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: WSU converted three of four red-zone opportunities, but that hardly means the Cougars were strong in short-yardage situations.

LEADING TACKLER: Junior safety Deone Bucannon had a season-high 13 stops.

NEXT GAME: WSU has a bye week before it plays Oct. 27 at Stanford.

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