Except for QB play, Cougs looked solid at Cal

THE CRAMPED VISITOR'S locker room at California went dark Saturday. I'm not sure from pre-game reports if the lights went out suddenly or never came on at all, but we're told the tunnel leading the Cougars from their dressing space to the playing surface at Memorial Stadium was without light for some time, leaving 60 football players and their coaches groping their way to daylight.

Groping may not be exactly how the Cougars arrived for kickoff but groping is a pretty fair way to describe what they did come game time.

From the dinginess of the locker room to the sudden flood of stadium candlepower, quarterback Alex Brink appeared to need 58 minutes of game time for his pupils to stop dilating. That would at least suggest a reason why the skies above Strawberry Canyon were darkened by footballs, coming off Brink's hand, that did a great imitation of wounded birds spread out over an overcrowded Moses Lake duck blind.


Washington State's loss to the Golden Bears on Saturday marked the Cougars' sixth straight road loss, dating back to last November. In most of those losses -– but especially the last three -- Brink was woeful. Berkeley didn't feature the glaring turnovers the way Eugene did three weeks ago, but it put an exclamation mark on the fact Brink is a flat-liner on the road. Conversely, the Cougars on the other side of the ball threatened to spring the upset at Cal. The quietly maturing Wazzu defense, triggered by the surging Husain Abdullah, forced a couple of turnovers. The supporting cast was pretty solid.

Even the special teams, so complicit in so many Cougar losses over the last few seasons, contributed in a positive way. Romeen Abdollmohammadi, the vulnerable WSU kicker, knocked through all three of his field goal tries. The unorthodox punter, Reid Forrest, kept Cal pinned deep.

Coug pressure on Cal's once-potent offense paid off in the second half. Washington State's third-string running back, Kevin McCall, ran like a starter, which he's waited five years to become. Five years of limited playing time. A senior year starting on special teams. Finally, through injury, he gets his chance to start.

He carried the ball 16 times for 53 yards and caught four passes for 20. My compliments to McCall, a kid who was too proud and apparently too good to quit.

Coug receivers dived for passes hopelessly over and under-thrown. The scary part of Brink's game is that he easily could have been picked off a half-dozen times. Lucky for all of us he is the master of the short memory. He can put a bad performance behind him faster than any quarterback in the nation.

Expect him to come out next week in Martin Stadium looking like he never missed a wide-open receiver in his entire career. Stanford beware. Alex Brink is about to play add-on with school and conference passing records.

How many times in his long and occasionally distinguished run of ups-and-downs have we seen him rise through mediocrity and shine as the only gem in the otherwise flawed landscape that is Cougar football Saturday?

A generous handful, I will admit.

Likewise, how many times have we suffered with him as he tried to do too much and wound up doing so little?

Two hands full, if you're scoring at home. How often have we shuddered when he simply failed to fire? Like Saturday night.

This one -- a 20-17 Cal win -- came to life when Brink came to life, too late for the Cougs to forestall their fate, a return trip to the Pac-10 basement which they now share with the Huskies.

The Cougs, now 3-6, are -- unofficially but no doubt obviously -- out of contention for a bowl game, since the best they can manage is six wins and we all know what six wins gets you. Washington State won a half-dozen last year and got bowled over when post-season invitations went out. Six wins only makes you eligible.

So what's left? A couple of cold-weather dates with a couple of beatable mid-level foes leading to the Crapple Cup. The Pac-10 basement right now is the exclusive province of the state of Washington. The Crapple Cup will go a long way to deciding who'll settle there for as long as scores are kept and standings are filed away.

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