WSU-CAL NOTEBOOK: Welcome to a nightmare

PULLMAN – It was the game that would have vaulted Washington State into first place in the Pac-12 North. The game that would have given Connor Halliday the national notoriety – and Heisman visibility – that has escaped him for the most part. It was the game that would have provided tangible proof that the Cougs are ready to challenge anyone and everyone.

So much for the dream scenario. Instead, welcome to the Cougars’ nightmare. Again.

Reality punched the Cougars in the mouth when Quentin Breshears missed a 19-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in a game that ranks among the wildest in college football history. Final score: California 60, Washington State 59.

The victory leaves the young, rebuilding Bears alone atop the Pac-12 Conference North Division standings at 2-1. The loss leaves the Cougars at 2-4 and in desperation mode in regard to salvaging a winning season, never mind a bowl trip.

Afterward, Mike Leach was the master of diplomacy. Leach said “offense, defense, special teams together lost it.” He credited the Bears for being an “explosive team.” He said he does not know “what the lapse was” that enabled California to score on back-to-back kickoff returns. The coach even went so far as to say, “I shouldn’t have called a time-out (right before the missed field goal). In hindsight, we should have run another play.”

Halliday, minutes removed from the greatest passing game (734 yards) in major-college history, begged to differ with Leach, saying he called the timeout. Not only did Halliday dismiss the idea that the Cougars should have run another play before attempting the field goal – “I mean, it’s an 18-yard (technically 19-yard) field goal” – but he said it was his decision to use WSU’s final time-out before Breshears barely missed wide right.

“That was my move,” said Halliday, forever honest to a fault when dealing with the media. “Yes, I called the time-out.”

The last of Halliday’s 70 passes, a 17-yarder to Vince Mayle, advanced the Cougars to the 4-yard line. After two Gerard Wicks runs, Halliday called time-out on third down to set up the field goal.

“If we score that last touchdown,” Leach noted, “we’re not even having this conversation.”

Asked if he would have preferred to have Halliday pass on third down, Leach said, “Yeah. We probably should have done that.”

None of it would have mattered if Breshears, a junior walk-on, had converted a chip shot. Leach said the snap may have been a bit low, but that the hold appeared fine.

“Coach Leach preaches, ‘Make routine plays. Make routine plays.’ We didn’t make a routine play,” wide receiver River Cracraft summed up.

  • The devastating defeat spoiled a brilliant performance by Halliday. He completed 49 of 70 passes, tied a school record he already shared by throwing six touchdown passes (two others were dropped in the end zone) and threw no interceptions.

    The Cougar o-line protected him well, WSU allowed no sacks despite the 70 pass attempts.

    Halliday broke the single-game passing record of 716 yards, set by Houston’s David Klingler in 1990.

    “It really doesn’t mean much right now, because we’re 2-4 now,” Halliday said. “We’re really in a must-win situation going down to Stanford.”

    WSU heads to Palo Alto Friday (6 p.m., ESPN). The Cougars (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) have lost six straight to the Cardinal (3-2, 1-1).

    Stanford is ranked 14th, though they will likely drop in the polls after losing on Saturday 17-14 in a last-minute decision to Notre Dame on Saturday.

    WSU must now win four of its remaining six games to be bowl eligible.

  • Halliday’s record day moved him into 11th place in Pac-12 history in career passing yards (10,483), and he’s now fifth in career touchdown passes (84). For sheer shock value, however, he might not ever again top 734 passing yards in one game.

    “It’ll be fun to look back on when I’m 30 years old and talking to friends and family, whatever,” Halliday said.

  • Almost lost amid all the other numbers was the fact that WSU set a school record for total offense for the second time in three weeks. The Cougars racked up 706 yards against Portland State, then went for 812 Saturday against Cal. The 59 points tied the season high set against Portland State.

    Mayle caught 11 passes for a school-record 263 yards. Deron Pointer had held the record of 255 yards since 1983. Mayle caught a 90-yard touchdown pass (fourth longest in school history) in the first quarter, and River Cracraft hauled in an 86-yard TD pass in the third quarter.

    Cracraft set career highs with 11 catches, three touchdown receptions (tying a school record) and 172 receiving yards. Cracraft and Dom Williams (107 yards) combined with Mayle to give WSU three 100-yard receivers in one game for the first time since Michael Bumpus, Brandon Gibson and Charles Dillon accomplished the feat in 2007.

  • California sophomore Jared Goff completed 37 of 53 passes for 527 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.

    “He did a great job getting rid of the ball … they have some real talented receivers,” WSU linebacker Cyrus Coen said.

    “I’d probably say it’s the funnest football game I’ve ever played in my life. It has to be,” Goff said.

    The Cougars gave up season highs of 527 passing yards, 589 total yards and 60 points. Mind you, the total yards doesn’t include 100-yard and 98-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns by Trevor Davis in the third quarter.

    WSU led 24-13 at the half, then was outscored 47-35 despite Halliday’s school-record 397 passing yards in the second half.

  • WSU junior safety Taylor Taliulu returned to the starting lineup after his replacement (true freshman Sulaiman Hameed, who did see action) appeared to be hobbled during practice during the week.

    Taliulu and redshirt freshman cornerback Charleston White each recorded a career-high 12 tackles, but they also made their share of mistakes.

    “I thought they (WSU defensive players) played well in the first half,” Leach said. “They (the Bears) threw some double-move stuff at us in the second half … they kinda picked on Charleston a little bit (in the second half). They have real fine receivers out there. Their quarterback does a good job, too.”

    NOTABLE:

    -- WSU senior wide receiver-punt returner Rickey Galvin, tackled hard on a nice punt return in the first quarter, left the field without putting weight on his right leg. He did not return.

    Galvin grew up a Cal fan in Berkeley and wanted to play for the Bears, but they didn’t recruit him. Galvin has battled injuries at WSU, though he’s usually started (as a running back originally) or played a significant reserve role.

    -- Despite having gorgeous weather for homecoming, the game did not sell out. The crowd of 30,020 left 2,932 seats vacant.

    -- The Cougars have lost 10 of the past 11 homecoming games, and nine of the past 10 games with California. Last year, WSU won at California and beat Idaho at homecoming.

    -- The Cougars are also 4-23 in conference home games since 2008 (4-25 counting three unofficial home games in Seattle).

    -- WSU dropped to 41-49-3 all-time at homecoming since the tradition began in 1913 with a 23-0 victory over Whitman, the small private school in Walla Walla.

    -- The Cougars were 3 1-2-point favorites over Cal, which came as news to CBSSports.com. The website, which ranks all 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, had Cal at No. 48 and WSU at No. 74.

    -- The Cougars have lost the last four games they were favored against Football Bowl Subdivision rivals: California, Nevada and Rutgers this year, and Colorado State at New Mexico Bowl last season.

    -- The Cougars and Bears may be young on the field, but they’re loaded with experience in the broadcast booth. Joe Starkey, in his 40th year as Cal’s broadcaster, interviewed Bob Robertson prior to the game. Robertson is the longest-tenured college football broadcaster in the nation with 48 years calling Cougars games. Starkey ranks seventh.

    -- Former WSU track great Jeshua Anderson, a quality wide receiver for the Cougars before he gave up football to concentrate on track, raised the Cougars flag prior to the game. Anderson, a three-time NCAA champion in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics. Anderson, who has always said he might take a crack at pro football, said he intends to do so after the Olympics.

    -- The Bears are wearing patches on their jerseys and decals on their helmets in honor of former Cal defensive end Ted Agu. Agu, who would have been a senior this season collapsed and died after struggling through a team conditioning run in February. An autopsy determined that Agu died from the same heart condition that killed former Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers. His family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school.

    -- Cal placekicker James Langford is a distant relative of President Harry S. Truman and baseball legend Ty Cobb. Langford is was a six-time All-American in youth track, winning silver and bronze medals in distance races.


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