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Cal and Washington State provide a chaotic, bittersweet finish to the Pac-12 in Berkeley
The California Golden Bears and the Washington State Cougars offered up one last reminder of all we're missing out on.
Cal has never been good in the Pac-12 era, and being home at Berkeley hasn’t done us any favors.
In Memorial Stadium, you can count on your hands (hand?) the decisive Pac-12 wins we’ve had. The bizarro 2012 Zach Maynard/Richard Rodgers blowout against future Pac-12 South champs UCLA. Jared Goff throwing frustration touchdowns on Oregon State after four straight losses. The Smoke Bowl against Wazzu where the Cougars handed the ball back to Cal drive after drive. The dullest Colorado game imaginable.
Nearly everything else?
Car accidents. Pileups. Things passerbyers peer out their window at to survey the wreckage.
Cal plays in the middle field of success, within the reasonable margin of error. “Never in doubt” has become a running refrain of our success and failure. We are rarely good in our wins, but always memorable.
So it made perfect sense that in their final Pac-12 game in Berkeley, Cal led practically start to finish, and it still came down to the final seconds and Washington State had multiple chances to put this back in their hands. But today was our day.
Cal closed out their Pac-12 good times in Memorial Stadium the way they started—bizarre, spectacular, heart attack finishes. That’s life for most college football teams that aren’t yelling for their coach to be fired after every loss, but an unending decade of this is rough.
I’ll miss it all. It’s bittersweet.
Of all our matchups in the Pac-12 era, Cal-WSU was the one most marinated in chaos.
After a decade of Jeff Tedford dominance with the House of Fireball, Cal and Washington State have offered up some memorable finishes this past decade.
2014: Connor Halliday sets passing records. Trevor Davis negates them with kick returns. WSU misses a 19 yard field goal. Cal wins 60-59.
2015: Cal converts a 3rd and 36. Washington State fakes a punt and it’s returned for a Cal touchdown. Cal wins and goes to 5-0.
2017: Washington State rolls in at 6-0, eighth in the nation, and proceeds to commit eight turnovers, get sacked nine times, and punt a football 1 yard. Ross Bowers also jumped very high. Cal wins 37-3.
2018: Washington State is top ten again, yet gets dragged into the mud with a Cal team whose play style can be best described as mutual strangulation. Chase Garbers throws a pick-six that is fumbled for a Cal touchback. Cal subs QBs on every play only to throw a pick into the end zone. Wazzu misses a 30 yard field goal and an extra point. Cal drives 155 yards on two second half drives and scores three points. Wazzu wins 19-13.
We haven’t had many weird ones (thanks Bill Musgrave for somehow making this boring). We were due.
I’m not going to bother with a deep analysis of this game. Let’s just run through my 15 favorite things from this nonsensical experience.
Washington State attempts the Tush Push on the opening drive touchdown. The result is a Cal scoop and score by Cade Uluave.
Cal drops an interception on one drive. A few plays later, Lu-Magia Hearns lands a pick only to have it taken away by penalty. Washington State scores, preventing the Bears from really pulling away. Cam Ward tries to throw a few more interceptions but Cal drops them all. No comfortable win coming!
Cal went up double digits three times in this game. Washington State would score immediately on the subsequent drive to keep it a one score game. When Cal went up 18 after the second fumble recovery touchdown, Wazzu would score in two minutes, get a Jaydn Ott fumble, and immediately score again.
The Pac-12 replay review booth makes about a half-dozen weird decisions, choosing not to review several fumbles, making questionable decisions on stops. Nohl Williams returned a fumble for a touchdown that travelled 20 yards downfield out of Cam Ward’s hands. No one thought to review that. Maybe the video was buffering on the wifi.
Cal could not stop committing penalties, killing multiple drives and saving Washington State several times. Wazzu got in on the action, combining for 18 penalties and 160 yards of flags. And there were some very strange calls that probably could have gone the other way. The sloppiness felt indicative of two teams that hadn’t won in a month.
Washington State runs 97 plays. Cal 57. Washington State netted 32 first downs. Cal 16. Washington State piled up 358 passing yards, Cal 150. In the fourth quarter, Washington State had 11 first downs, Cal 2. Washington State ended up with a net two-plus drives thanks to the fumbles, and the Cougs ran 33 plays in the fourth quarter to Cal’s 13.
This is the 4th quarter QB box score comparison: Cam Ward: 14-25, 136 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT Fernando Mendoza: 0-1, 0 yards. Yet Wazzu only outscored Cal 15-14 in the fourth.
Cal, which has the worst pass rush in the Pac-12 and only three sacks in conference play, sacked Cam Ward six times. Cal had 28 points off of forced fumbles or recovered fumbles and still couldn’t escape. Sure.
The official box score credits offensive lineman Brian Driscoll with a 0 yard touchdown rush because he recovered a fumble in the end zone. While technically correct, that is impossible by the laws of football. I decided Driscoll discovered UC Berkeley's 17th chemical element. Driscoll then proceeded to show up at the postgame in a Fitzmagic look, and Mendoza would wear a Driscoll jersey shirt backward in his honor.
When Cal had a 42-24 lead, ESPN’s win probability had Cal at 99.9%. When Cal was about to punt the ball back, the win probability was at 99.5%. Cal had essentially WON this game twice. Still nearly lost.
The Cougars had a kicker named Janikowski who missed two crucial 4th quarter field goals. Okay, that was not surprising.
Washington State ran a play that got the Cougars a first down that the officials took off the board because Cal defender Patrick McMorris fell down after the play (with maybe some sideline instruction). The refs called it illegal substitution, then overruled it and called it an injury, and took the play off the board. McMorris returned to the game soon after. Cougars fans are shockingly not thrilled.
The Cal Yell Leaders started doing the Bear Territory chant before Cal clinched the game with a first down. Everyone immediately started booing. Cal punted and Washington State nearly blocked it. Game definitely not over and karma avoided again.
As Ward threw his Hail Mary to the end zone, the Victory Cannon went off, and as it fell to the end zone, the fireworks in the other end zone went off. Then a Cougar receiver had it in his hands for a second and karma nearly delivered us the funniest result.
Jaydn Ott, who has probably been aware of the Pac-12 for a few years, was asked about his thoughts on the Conference of Champions, dropped the bar, “RIP Pac-12”.
Cal and Washington State has been defined by its insanity. I want them to play forever until the cosmos rips apart.
It was a fitting end to the Pac-12 in Berkeley. A closely contested win contested in a half-empty stadium full of the diehards still hoping for moments that may never come.
The expanded Conference of Champions was not kind to Cal. With nearly every other program going all in, and the Bears in full self-sabotage mode, it was mostly a decade of suffering, with some moments of happiness sprinkled in-between.
But it was still our home for a century-plus, and now we are going to have to venture off to places like Wake Forest and Pitt next year. It will hit different making the cross country trips.
We have two more games left, but the Big Game isn’t going anywhere and UCLA will likely find its way back to us at some point. But our current history with the rest of our western counterparts is very much in doubt.
It’s possible Washington State could be scheduled next week for a home-and-home, but their own future is very perilous without outside interference. The Cougars, like Oregon State, are headed on a very uncertain path.
Washington State’s fate could soon be Cal’s. If we don’t play our cards right in the coming years, everything is on the table. Relegation, elimination, extinction. We don’t know. This new world of college athletics is ruthless. Every Cal Bear needs to be pushing the administration hard in the direction that prioritizes success in football, because the current approach has left us in a pretty undesirable spot.
Cal and Washington State authored us one last memory of what we’re losing when this conference goes. Results were always uncertain, but at least we knew the faces and names. A century of familiarity is out the window. We are starting fresh.
Maybe when everything spirals out of control in the unpredictable world of college sports, one day we all come back to each other and do it again.
For now, all we can keep is our memories.
(PS: For those wondering where my Oregon thoughts were last week, it’s coming. I do have things to say and they won’t be very game-related.)