Washington State is gaining on Cal. It took the Bears two plays to score a touchdown this time.
Jahvid Best caught a 27-yard scoring pass from quarterback Kevin Riley on the game's second play from scrimmage and the Bears rolled to a 49-17 victory over the Cougars on Saturday in front of 54,738 at Memorial Stadium.
Best scored on an 80-yard touchdown run on the game's first play in Cal's 66-3 over Washington State last season. The Cougars were believed to be marginally improved from last year, but they didn't provide much resistance as the Bears raced out to a 35-3 lead early in the second quarter.
"It's definitely huge going out and getting a huge start and getting their hopes down," said Cal quarterback Kevin Riley, who threw three touchdown passes on his first three attempts.
It didn't take long for the Bears (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) to leave little doubt that the Cougars couldn't hang with them. Cal's defense forced a three-and-out on Washington State's first possession and the Bears struck back with a quick 89-yard drive over six plays, culminating in a 37-yard touchdown pass from Riley to wide receiver Marvin Jones. Following another three-and-out, Cal's Jeremy Ross returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown and it was 21-0 with 8:04 left in the first quarter.
"You never want to play down to anybody's level," Ross said. "Not taking anything away from Washington State, but we just tried to come out and play our game."
Despite the strong start, it wasn't all smiles in Cal's locker room at halftime. The Cougars, who entered the day with the second-worst offense in the country (269.3 ypg), put together two long drives in the second quarter and also struck for a 68-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jeff Tuel to wide receiver Johnny Forzani. Washington State also got a 24-yard field goal from Nico Grasu and a 19-yard touchdown throw from Tuel to Gino Simone to cut the deficit to 35-17 at the half.
Cal allowed 299 yards of offense in the first half alone, prompting some forceful words from coach Jeff Tedford at halftime.
"I think we lost our focus," said defensive coordinator Bob Gregory. "We jumped out to an early lead, they thought it was too easy and we lost our focus. It doesn't matter what you do if you lose focus. And clearly we lost that in the second quarter and played soft."
Cal held the Cougars to 141 yards and no points in the second half.
"I thought the defense responded pretty well," Tedford said. "I thought they played hard in the second half. You have to give Washington State credit. They made some plays in the passing game. Their quarterback made some nice throws. But I'm pleased that we held them to no points in the second half."
After scoring 14 unanswered points to end the first half, the Cougars received the kickoff to start the second half. After a 13-yard completion from Tuel to tight end Zach Tatman, the Bears forced them into a punt. Ross beat Washington State cornerback Terrance Hayward for a 61-yard completion on the Bears' next possession, and Best scored from two yards out two plays later to make it 42-17.
"We just went out there like the score was 0-0," Riley said. "The defense made a stop and we scored on our first drive, and we just picked it up from there."
The Bears did a better job of putting pressure on Tuel in the second half, recording four of their five sacks after halftime and hurrying him into a handful of other throws. Cal, which employs a three-man front as its base defense, went with four defensive linemen on certain pass plays and it worked effectively.
"(It's) just to get bigger guys going, guys that can push a little bit," Gregory said. "I think we got some good push. In passing situations, I think it's a good deal for us."
Defensive end Cameron Jordan had 2 ½ sacks and nose tackle Derrick Hill had two. After throwing for 232 yards in the first half, Tuel had just 122 after the intermission.
"It's been two years since we've done that, and to be back out there in a 4-3 was a great experience," Hill said. "We had a lot of fun doing it. When you have four men, it's harder to double-team."
After an 0-2 start to Pac-10 play, the Bears have evened out their conference record and are in a congested midsection of the conference standings. A Pac-10 title is still a long shot, but Cal is feeling much better about itself than it did after blowout losses to Oregon and USC.
"We just got refocused," Best said. "That's the biggest thing. We got our mindsets right, got those two losses out of our head and now we're back to playing how we should be."