The UCLA game had been a letdown, but because UCLA was thought to be good, there was still hope for the program after the loss. The Oregon State loss was devastating. There was no excuse for the loss. Oregon State hadn’t even played a particularly good game. They had given the Bears plenty of opportunities to put away the game. The fallout was felt throughout the entire athletic program.
With Washington State coming to town, the general consensus was that the Bears should win by grinding out the run game. However, the confidence in that consensus was weak with plenty thinking that it was all too possible that the Bears could lose the game and if they did, there wasn’t a game left on the schedule that the Bears would win. Was it possible that a 5-0 team could go 5-6?
Tedford showed confidence in his team by deciding to take the opening kickoff. He also had Ayoob throw the ball on quick out patterns on two out of the first three plays, both of which were complete with WSU playing the run aggressively and hence playing the corners soft with very little protection behind them. However, after completing two 1st downs, Lynch was stuffed on 1st down and Ayoob sacked on 2nd down when his protection broke down early, the Bears were faced with a 3rd and 13 of which the screen play fell 3 yards short.
The Cougars took over at their own 16 yard-line after the punt and didn’t waste any time testing the secondary throwing a bomb to Jason Hill on 1st down. To prevent the big play McCluskey committed the pass interference penalty, limiting the damage to 15 yards. After Cal forced a 3rd and 6, WSU made another attempt at the long play. This time the receiver out ran Mixon to the ball for an easy 66 yard touchdown pass. Bear fans around the globe were in a panic less than five minutes into the game, down early, 0-7.
The Bears got 8 yards on their first play of their next possession, but Forsett was stuffed for no gain on 2nd down. Luckily in 2005 the Manderino fullback crash was still a guaranteed 1st down on 3rd and 2. However, faced with the same scenario 3 downs later, WSU was ready for Manderino on his 2nd attempt. Luckily in 2005, the 4th down quarterback sneak was still working on 4th and inches. Two plays later, the patience in the running game paid off when Lynch found a big hole on the right side and was able to sprint to the endzone to tie the game, 7-7.
The Bears forced a 3 and out on the Wougs* next possession, giving the Bears the ball back on the WSU side of the field after Mixon was able to get a fairly good return on the outside. On 2nd down Ayoob made a bad read and tried to force it to his receiver on the inside slant route. The back was able to tip the ball up where it was intercepted, giving the ball back to WSU just as Cal looked to be taking control.
WSU went for the kill on the next play throwing another bomb to Hill who was able to beat Damien Hughes down the sideline for another long pass play, this one being forced out of bounds at the Cal 5 yard-line. The Bears were able to hold WSU out of the endzone forcing the chip-shot field goal, the Bears in a hole again, 7-10.
Cal went straight back to the run game and just as Cal seemed powerless to stop the deep passing game of the Wougs, WSU was incapable of stopping the run game. After a 34 run by Forsett got the ball down to around the WSU 30, Ayoob was able to find a hole in the now run-focused defense getting a well thrown and timed pass to the rarely used David Gray in the endzone putting the Bears back on top with less than two minutes left in the 1st quarter, 14-10.
The Bears were able to hold WSU to a single 1st down before forcing the punt, which sailed into the endzone. After a few plays re-establishing the run, Tedford loosened the leash on Ayoob yet again. Two consecutive pass plays, the first on 3rd and 9, got the ball down to the WSU 17 yard-line. Unfortunately a personal foul penalty on the following 1st down put the Bears behind the chains and they were forced to attempt a long field-goal. To add to the struggles the attempt was pushed wide right resulting in zero points.
The Bears went back to the run game on their next possession. Minus a 3rd down completion mid-drive by Ayoob, Lynch was responsible for all of the Bears yards getting the ball down to the WSU 43. After WSU locked down the run game and a delay of game penalty set up a 3rd and 15 that Ayoob was unable to convert, nearly throwing a pick, but ultimately resulting in a punt downed inside the 20 yard-line.
WSU quarterback Alex Brink made his first mistake of the game on 3rd and 7 on the next drive’s first set of downs, throwing a pick to Greg VanHoesen who jumped the route and ran it in for an easy touchdown and increasing the Bear lead to 21-10.
Brink was unable to correct his ways on the next series. Trying desperately to get some points on the board before halftime, he threw another ill-advised pass that Mixon was able to jump. Unlike the previous interception, Mixon was only able to get the ball down to the 3 yard-line before being dragged down. Ayoob got away with an ill-advised pass of his own throwing to a well covered Manderino, nearly throwing it at his feet. Manderino was able to adjust down to the ball and grab the weakly thrown touchdown pass, putting the Bears up 28-10.
Summing the 1st half, the WSU offense had consisted entirely of two long pass plays. Otherwise the defense had shut the Wougs down as well as adding 14 points to the Cal point total. On the other side of the ball, the Cal offense had played mediocre, but it seemed to be good enough for the opponent being played. Ayoob had been inconsistent again, showing some signs of brilliance, but also plenty of moments of incompetence. Nevertheless, everything seemed to be going the Bears way as long as Cal could prevent WSU from getting the 3 or 4 big plays it would need to get back in the game.
The first of those big plays came on WSU’s first possession of the 2nd half. After getting a couple first downs with a nice mix of run and pass, Brink threw another bomb to Hill. This one was well contested by Hughes, but a nice last minute adjustment by Hill gave Hill a touchdown on the slightly under thrown ball. The Bears lead was cut to 28-17.
Ayoob didn’t come out of the locker room well, throwing the ball at the feet of Hawkins on 2nd and 7 on a quick out pattern. After a sack took Ayoob down when WSU brought an effective blitz on 3rd down, the Bears were forced to punt.
WSU continued on their comeback on the second play of their next drive throwing yet another bomb to Hill who had beat Hughes yet again. This time he was able to streak down the sideline for another easy touchdown. On two big plays, in relatively quick succession, WSU had undone the damage of the two interceptions in the 1st half. After WSU completed the 2-point conversion, the Bears lead was down to a field-goal, 28-25.
The Bears went back to the run game again. This time with Lynch on the bench taking a quick breather, Forsett busted two quick runs to get the ball down to the Woug 30 yard-line. The next set of downs was hampered by an over-throw by Ayoob on 1st down in the endzone. After a Lynch run setup 3rd and 5, Ayoob tried to run for a 1st down, coming up just short. Tedford uncharacteristically went for it on 4th and inches, again running a QB sneak for the 1st down. Lynch ran a both unremarkable and signature 8 yard run, spinning out of 4 or 5 tackles after being stopped in the back-field, making something out of nothing. Unfortunately, his determination was not rewarded when Manderino was stripped on 2nd down, turning the ball over to WSU when the offense had the ball in the redzone.
The defense saved face for the offense, forcing a 3 and out. Ayoob made sure to keep his collapse alive, throwing 3 consecutive incompletions. The first was a slight over-throw to Hawkins. The 2nd and 3rd were screen plays that were broken up from the get-go that Ayoob forced in there anyway, both nearly being intercepted. The Bears were forced to punt.
WSU caught a break on the punt after the returner dropped the ball. Cal was poised to jump on the ball with three or four guys in position to pounce on it. Unfortunately it bounced sharply off one of those Cal players out of bounds, giving the ball back to WSU. The Cougars then broke the game open on two consecutive plays. First their running back Harrison had his only good run of the game, getting the ball to the Cal side of the field. On the next play Brink went back to his favorite target Jason Hill. With Mixon now covering Hill after Hughes proved not up to the challenge, he tipped the ball. Unfortunately it went up into the air and Hill was able to adjust to the ball to get yet another touchdown. The Bears were trailing for the first time since the mid-1st quarter, down 28-32.
The Bears refused to let Ayoob continue his slide on their next drive and were rewarded by Forsett and Lynch combining for over 30 yards on 3 consecutive plays. After Lynch was stuffed on the following 1st down and Ayoob threw another ball at the feet of his receiver on 2nd down, it setup a fairly important 3rd and 10 at midfield. Ayoob proceeded to both throw behind and lack any touch on his pass on 3rd down and the Bears were forced to punt with the 3rd quarter nearly over.
With Ayoob one for seven in the 2nd half, the play calling continued to heavily emphasize the run. Again Lynch got the ball out to midfield and again Ayoob made another mistake, forcing the ball to a well covered DeSa. After it bounced off of DeSa’s knee, it was free for the WSU safety to intercept it. WSU was now in position to ice the game away with the ball just on their side of midfield.
The Cal defense made the adjustments to their defense to prevent the deep pass from burning them yet again. However, WSU was instead able to chip away getting just outside the Cal redzone. Brink was then able to throw a nice pass into the endzone while rolling out after avoiding pressure. While it wasn’t Hill who caught the ball, it was nevertheless another 2nd half passing touchdown for WSU. After the extra-point was botched, Cal was down more than one score in the 4th quarter for the first time all season, 28-38.
After the Bears went 3 and out on another pathetic series of downs, WSU was able to get a couple of 1st downs. The most troubling aspect is that the running game was working for WSU for the first time all game. The Bears finally forced 4th down around midfield on the back of a big sack on 1st down. WSU tried a fake punt out of the same playbook that UCLA used, doing a short snap. This time the Bears were waiting and the Bears got the ball back around their own 45.
Ayoob, fresh off stinking up the 3rd quarter, reminded all Cal fans just why he was so frustrating. He through a nice crossing route pass to Cunningham on 1st down that he was able to break past the safety for a WSU-like easy touchdown, the Bears back in it with 5:20 left in the game, down 35-38.
The Bear defense was re-invigorated by the improved situation and forced a 3 and out. After a short punt and 10 yard return, the Bears were in business with over four minutes remaining at the WSU 45 yard-line. Ayoob connected again with his new favorite receiver, Cunningham, on yet another slant down to the 20. Lynch then took it well into the redzone on 1st down, getting 7 yards. The Bears were now in position to at least tie the game and the clock down to just under two minutes after Lynch ran for another 1st down setting up 1st and goal at the 9 yard-line. Just when everyone thought Cal was going to ram it down WSUâ€™s throat while running out the clock en-route to a touchdown, Tedford gave Ayoob a chance to win the hearts back of Cal fans. Ayoob delivered a strike to Hawkins on a quick slant for the go-ahead touchdown, the Bears up by 4 after the extra-point, 42-38.
The Wougs were unable to score the desperation comeback touchdown with the minute and a half they had to work with.
Summing the game, Ayoob’s performance only confirmed the worst fears of Bear fans who had witnessed his unraveling against Oregon State. While Ayoob was able to salvage some respect with his late comeback, everyone who understood the situation knew that it was not a positive game for him. More relevant to this game was the atrocious play of Damien Hughes. Hughes has gone on to win our hearts in later seasons, but in this game he nearly cost the Bears the game single handedly. I’ve never witnessed a game where an offense was so one-dimensional as the WSU offense was on this night in ’05. Take away 5 ridiculously easy long plays and WSU would have only had 7 points on the board. Add on that Cal had a 28-10 lead where playing the deep ball should be a top priority and it was inexcusable how poorly the secondary as a whole and Hughes in particular played.
Would the secondary be able to get their act together against Tedford’s old team? Would Ayoob finally put the pieces together against Oregon?
Find out on Saturday.
(* At the 2007 WSU game, there was a set of 5 shirtless guys in the WSU section with letters painted on their chests that was not easily visible from our seats on the other side of the stadium. Using my telephoto lens by brother tried to read the letters and said “something ‘O’ ‘U’ ‘G’ ‘S’ what’s that spell, WOUGS!?!”. Apparently he didn’t remember their nickname was the Cougs and had assumed the first letter was a ‘W’ for WSU. Nevertheless, neither of us has been able to call the Cougars anything but the Wougs ever since.)