BERKELEY, Calif. — Washington State University took the monkey off its back, whipped it around and flung it into San Francisco Bay.
Thanks to a stellar game from quarterback Connor Halliday, the Cougars never trailed in a 44-22 Pac-12 Conference dismantling of the California Golden Bears, who had beaten WSU in their eight previous contests.
Halliday was knocked out of last weekend’s game against Stanford in the third quarter, and it was anyone’s guess if the quarterback — who once finished a game with a lacerated liver — would be effective against Cal. Halliday answered those questions by throwing for three touchdowns and 521 yards – the most by a quarterback in the conference since WSU’s Alex Brink in 2005.
“I was pretty sure I was going to start,” Halliday said. “It’s always going to be something; I’m going to be dealing with this for a while. A little frustrating, but I’m just going to go out and play the best I can every week.”
The redshirt junior finished the game 41-of-67 with touchdown passes to Vince Mayle, who entered the game with two touchdown catches in his career, of 35 and 72 yards. His third touchdown was a short pass to running back Marcus Mason, who
cut across the field to score on a 68-yard play. The only blemishes for Halliday were an interception and a second-quarter safety suffered after he audibled, at his 1-yard line, into a stretch run play that gave Cal its first points.
The defense set the tone early for WSU (4-2 overall, 2-1 Pac-12), which forced a pair of first-quarter fumbles while backed up inside its 10-yard line. Defensive tackle Kalafitoni Pole secured the ball both times.
Turnovers were the story of the game. The Bears scored just two touchdowns despite piling up 585 total yards — 15 more than WSU. Halliday’s interception was the only giveaway for a WSU team that secured five takeaways.
A big Cougars player who affected Cal’s offense in a big way was nose guard Ioane Gauta. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior sacked quarterback Jared Goff twice and also batted down a pair of passes. Just as important, he anchored a defense that held Cal to 79 yards rushing on 29 carries. Running back Brendan Bigelow was limited to 41 yards.
“It started from film work,” Gauta said. “Just watching their offensive lineman and their tendencies, I took advantage of it. We did as a defense, as a defensive line. I know we missed a couple sacks, but we played well today.”
Cal (1-4, 0-2) scored on a 53-yard pass from Goff to James Grisom, and on a stellar 89-yard reception by Chris Harper, in which the wide receiver turned around cornerback Damante Horton before faking out safety Paris Taylor. But aside from those two breakdowns in the secondary, WSU turned Cal’s pass-happy offense into an exercise in field position.
After surging to a 14-0 lead, the Cougars suffered the safety and then gave up a field goal and a touchdown to let Cal back in the game. But that was as close as the Bears would get. Mason scored with a little more than a minute remaining in the half. WSU outscored Cal 23-7 in the second half.
“I thought our defense came together and rallied instead of just spiraling down,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “I thought they rallied well. I thought our offense kept responding until the defense got in sync, and then the defense got some key turnovers, which was really good.”
WSU is spiraling up and has won one more game than it did all of last season. The Cougars are two games shy of qualifying for a bowl game, and are getting road wins against programs that have had their number for nearly a decade.
The Cougars earlier beat USC, 10-7, for their first victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 13 years.