WHAT A DIFFERENCE a month makes. In early October, Washington State appeared to be in good position to make its first bowl appearance since 2003. But after the Cougars suffered their fifth consecutive loss, 30-7 Saturday against California at AT&T Park in San Francisco, there appear to be more pertinent questions surrounding this program.
How how much progress is occurring for the Cougs, (3-6 overall, 1-5 Pac-12)? Television color commentator Mike Pawlawski, a former California quarterback, repeatedly defended the “strides” that coach Paul Wulff has made in his four seasons with the Cougars. Fans and alumni might feel differently.
WSU is no longer routinely surrendering 60 points per game as they did a few years ago. Similar to other vocal Wulff supporters, Pawlawski also contends that WSU is close to a turnaround. Last week’s battle against No. 7 Oregon could have even reinforced that notion with a WSU upset -- or at least a nailbiting finish -- versus the Golden Bears (5-4, 2-4).
“We had high hopes coming into this game,” WSU junior defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi said postgame. “This is a disappointing loss. It wasn’t close all game.”
But WSU was once again disoriented, they even looked disinterested at times, in their seventh consecutive loss against California. It marked the second time in three weeks that the Cougars have looked uncompetitive against a lower-tier Pac-12 team, (Oregon State).
“Emotionally, I don’t know,” said Wulff, referring to his team’s poor performance after playing far better against ranked Stanford and Oregon teams. “We just didn’t respond really well in those games.”
The defining play Saturday might have come when come in the third quarter when Will Kapp -- a former walk-on who is the son of former coach Joe Kapp -- broke a tackle by sophomore cornerback Damante Horton and outraced several WSU players en route to a 43-yard touchdown that gave the Golden Bears a 30-0 lead early in the third quarter.
That was just one example among myriad breakdowns for the Cougars.
Missed tackles. Bad angles. Dropped passes.
They came in bunches Saturday.
“We didn’t play really well and it was disappointing,” Wulff said. “It wasn’t there from the opening kickoff.”
ONE WEEK AFTER outgaining the Ducks, WSU’s offense made California look like a reincarnation of the Palouse Posse. Senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who completed 15 of 37 passes for 155 yards, and the offense routinely struggled to sustain drives against a Golden Bears’ defense that ranked No. 33 among Football Bowl Subdivision programs entering the game. Cal's defense is good, but they're not as good as WSU made them look.
Sophomore kicker Andrew Furney, a semifinal for the Lou Groza Award, missed both a 53- and chip-shot 27-yard field goal. The Cougars’ only score came when Isi Sofele, who had 138 yards on 23 carries, fumbled at his own 28 and it was recovered by sophomore safety Deone Bucannon. Five plays later, Rickey Galvin scored on a 5-yard run.
WSU was outgained 411 to 224 in a contest that was supposed to be an inspirational game for 22 Cougars who grew up within four hours of the Bay Area. Instead, beleaguered quarterback Zach Maynard threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Miller while Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson had 1- and 5-yard touchdown runs, respectively, at the end of long Cal drives. Add in a Giorgio Tavecchio 43-yard field goal and the Golden Bears led 23-0 at halftime.
Instead, of a close-but-not-quite season, it felt too similar to the uncompetitive recent years.
Pawlawski repeatedly defended dismissed WSU’s infinite errors as “youthful mistakes.” But the mistakes in Week 9 were painful, by any measure.
WSU fans had visions of grandeur a month ago. Now, it looks not only like a distant memory, but a long shot.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: A struggling California offense gained immediate momentum when it needed just six plays before quarterback Zach Maynard found Anthony Miller for a 19-yard touchdown.
CATCH OF THE GAME: WSU sophomore Marquess Wilson had an amazing, acrobatic, one handed 29-yard reception in the third quarter.
STAT OF THE GAME: California's 411 yards of total offense to 224 for WSU.
MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: WSU did not turn over the ball, while the Golden Bears had one giveaway. But that did one did not come until the second half when the outcome was determined.
LEADING TACKLERS: Junior safety Tyree Toomer had a team-high 10 stops, while senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis added nine.
NEXT GAME: WSU hosts Arizona State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: Versus).