After ascending to No. 8 in the polls last season, Washington State went on the road at Cal and ran into a buzzsaw during a brutal loss where they didn’t play particularly good in any phase of the game.
After ascending to No. 8 in the polls this season, the Cougars played host to a pesky Bears team and very nearly ran into the same kind of buzzsaw, needing a last minute scoring drive to secure a sloppy 19-13 win and keep whatever slim hopes of a College Football Playoff appearance there is for the Pac-12 alive.
This was, no exaggeration, one of the worst games to watch of the season so far and a very, very dark edition of Pac-12 After Dark. Despite there incredibly being only two 3-and-outs the entire ballgame, there were four combined turnovers (two apiece) and just eight 3rd down conversions. The two sides dropped passed, made mind-numbing play calls, had issues in the red zone and generally played the anthesis of the wide-open football we normally find out West.
Wazzu QB Gardner Minshew was not as sharp as he has been in rolling through conference play but came up big in the final minutes when his team needed it most. Throwing darts on the final drive, he needed just six plays to cover 69 yards before finding Easop Winston in the corner of the end zone. That naturally delighted the home crowd, who sat through plenty of boring football in the three quarters prior to the stakes getting turned up a few notches for the final frame.
All told, the mustache-laden signal-caller threw for 334 yards and that one score while also tossing an interception on the third series of the game. The Cougs run game was not all that consistent against a tough Bears front and even short passes over the middle were a struggle compared to some of the team’s recent outings. Gardner still found 11 different receivers by the time the clock had expired, with Winston leading the way with 92 yards and the one score while tailback James Williams added 10 receptions to go with five carries for 34 yards on the ground.
The loss will be one that Cal head coach Justin Wilcox won’t enjoy watching back in the coming days. While his defense did play well, the offense punted four times, turned the ball over twice, missed a field goal and saw time expire on them at the end of the game. In fact, their most consistent form of picking up first downs might have been penalties on their opponents that gave them a free one.
The coaching staff did rotate quarterbacks as they have done in past games but they strangely took out the hot hand under center at the time — Chase Garbers, who had 127 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and led the team with 67 yards rushing — for a backup during a key late drive. Brandon McIlwain entered late in the fourth quarter and wound up throwing an interception in the end zone on a bad decision — only bailed out when WSU missed a field goal after promptly marching down the field themselves.
There is a thought that surviving and advancing at this point in the college football season is all that matters and Washington State has to hope the Selection Committee doesn’t mind them doing just that against a Cal team that is still looking for that elusive sixth win for bowl eligibility. The Cougars didn’t play well at all but a win is a win and they might benefit from chaos elsewhere across the country on Saturday to even move up a spot or two in the rankings from where they sit now.