Old WSU Posse member, now at Cal, impressed

PULLMAN — California Bears assistant coach and former Cougar corner Greg Burns might have aged 10 years in the four hours that it took for the WSU-Cal game to play out. Connor Halliday torched the Cal defense for an FBS record 734 passing yards. CF.C caught up with Burns and former Coug lineman David Davis, who now plays at Cal, for their thoughts after their wild win over Wazzu.

Burns, in his first year at Cal, said after the game it was virtually impossible to account for all of the Cougars’ skill players on the field. Three WSU receivers totaled more than 100 receiving yards on the night, and Vince Mayle racked up a WSU-record 263 hashes in the 60-59 loss to California.

“You don’t (stop them.) You’ve just got to make everyone do their job. There’s no special formula,” said Burns, whose coaching career includes stops at USC, Arizona State, Purdue and the NFL. “If there was, trust me, we’d look for it. The biggest thing is just, do your job.”

The lead in the game changed six times, and as Halliday inched ever closer to history, it became apparent to Burns that WSU wasn't going to allow momentum to swing Cal's way -- as they might have done last year or the year before. But Cal, he said, is also a different animal in Year Two of Sonny Dykes' tenure

“A lot of teams probably would have bowed down,” Burns said about Cal. “Our offense is phenomenal. They just keep finding ways to keep us in the game, and special teams was just freaking stellar today. When you say it’s a team effort, it came down to that. Defensively, we’ve just got to keep getting better. My guys, the back row, we’ve definitely got to keep getting better. We’ve got to make some more plays, I wish we would make some more. I’m happy for the win, I’m definitely not satisfied.”

It's understandable Burns, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from WSU, might not be satisfied with how his troops played on Saturday night. After all, Halliday and WSU torched the Cal defense and secondary to the tune of 734 passing yards, more than anyone had ever done before, with 812 total hashes, six TD passes and no turnovers.

Indeed, Burns and his defensive backs had no answer for Halliday and the Wazzu wide receiving corps. Halliday had exceptional time in the pocket for virtually the entire night. On the few occasions he was flushed out of the pocket, Halliday was able to gain space and either find the open receiver or throw the ball away.

Halliday was not sacked once in the entire game.

“When you have a signal caller who truly understands what he sees, and I thought even when studying him, he does a great job of dissecting the field, knowing where to go based on the coverage he sees, you’ve definitely got to disguise," said Burns. "And we try to do that but he still made some really, really great throws. All you can do is keep battling, and that’s all we told our guys. Ignore what happens, just keep battling.”

The Cal secondary is youthful, just like the Cougars’ defensive backfield.

True freshman Sulaiman Hameed started against Utah last week, but Taylor Taliulu was starting in his place on Saturday and tied for the team lead with 12 total tackles. Hameed was limited on Wednesday and Thursday of the practice week. Redshirt freshmen Darius Lemora and Charleston White, who also had 12 tackles, all solo. along with sophomore Daquawn Brown, rounded out the starting Cougar secondary against Cal.

Burns said he tried not to let the youthfulness affect the defensive game plan too much against WSU. His primary key against WSU, he said, was to keep the plan simple so the young players can compete and execute, and then effort would take over after that. That's how WSU did it, Burns explained, when he and three other freshmen were starting in the Cougar secondary in 1991. That group eventually matured into part of the best defense in WSU history, the fabled Palouse Possee.

“I never looked at it that way. When you’re playing, you’re just playing,” Burns said.

Burns, asked if he had any extra motivation to come out of this game with a win, answered in the affirmative with a laugh. But he also added that in every other game, he would be rooting for the Cougars.

“I wouldn’t say because I’ve been doing it for awhile, but it is a game that I actually personally want to win,” Burns said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been here, I’ve played here, I’ve bled here. And so forth, but if I’m an opponent, I want to beat them. And now, from this moment on, I’m cheering for him. I want them to win the rest of their games. I just don’t want them to beat me.”

Another former Cougar on hand was defensive lineman David Davis, who started his career at Washington State before leaving for the JUCO ranks. After a stint at Long Beach City College, Davis received a second chance to play Pac-12 football, this time at California.

“That was just crazy. I’m just happy we were able to finish,” Davis said after the game. “We needed that W. I know this is going to put us in a good spot right now, so I’m really happy with the outcome, no question.”

Davis was not listed on the participation list for Saturday's game against WSU. Cal lists him as having played in four games this season, with one tackle on the year.

Davis, whose grandfather is legendary Green Bay Packers defensive end Willie Davis, played fullback and linebacker in Pop Warner football. Once he reached high school, he moved to the defensive line just like his grandfather, whom he said he admires most for his work ethic and ability to persevere.

“It’s just awesome being around a group of motivated guys that are just driven to succeed and I think we’ve got a great future, especially just moving forward,” Davis said or being at Cal. “It’s been awesome just being able to play with these guys.

“I’m very impressed with all the stuff that has happened here (at WSU)," Burns said. "I haven’t been back in awhile so to see all the new things, that was pretty cool. At the same time, I’m happy where I’m at, I’m definitely happy for the win we got, I commend them for their great effort, Washington State is a hell of a team, and I expect them to win more games. I expect them to be a bowl team. Again, I’m very proud of our team. I think we did a good job. It was a battle down to the freaking wire, and I’m glad we came out on top.”


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