Looking back on 2006: The Washington State game

(Note to readers: Today we continue in our look back at the games in the 2006 season with Washington State.  Here are links to our past look backs: Tennessee, Minnesota, Portland State, Arizona State, Oregon State and Oregon.  Also note that because this game was not televised and that I couldn’t find a feed to review the radio broadcast, this review is based entirely on a textual play-by-play review.)

The storyline:
Cal headed to Pullman, WA to face a Washington St. team they hadn’t beaten on the road since 1979.  Cal was able to overcome history and avoid being tripped up in a low scoring 21-3 victory, Cal’s first score lower than 40 points since their opening game at Tennessee.  The low score was to be expected in a game against a stout defense on the road where Cal traditionally didn’t play well.

The reality:
The ‘jinx’ of WSU’s winning streak was highly overstated particularly considering that a Tedford coached Cal team had never played WSU on the road.  Tedford’s record was 1-1 including a 2005 victory (the loss was in Tedford’s first year against a much stronger WSU team).  Cal’s offense started off the game well sans a first drive interception, scoring touchdowns on 3 of their next 4 first half possessions.  There only other 1st half drive was a 3 and out shortly before the end of the half where it appears Cal was trying to run out the clock and get into the locker room.  However, the failed drive in the middle of the half was a sign of things to come in the 2nd half.  WSU was able to drop 8 men into coverage and forced Longshore into throwing a number of ill-advised passes.  While the Cal running game remained somewhat effective, without balance, Cal was unable to score in the 2nd half.  Luckily for Cal, the defense had arguably it’s best performance of the season.  They were able to 4 times stop WSU on 4th down and only allowed 3 points in 4 drives inside the Cal 30 including a remarkable goal-line stand with a first and goal from the 5 that kept WSU scoreless.  One almost doesn’t even need to mention that WSU was 0 for 11 on 3rd down conversions.  Nevertheless, that goal-line stand late in the 3rd quarter was the pivotal moment in keeping WSU’s hopes low as the Cal offense faltered.

The forgotten:
Forgotten in this game was the 2 interceptions that Longshore threw as well as the 4 fumbles (only one was lost).  Two of the three turnovers were inside the WSU 30 after sustained drives and were significant contributors to Cal’s inability to run up the score as in previous weeks.

The 2006 learnings:
WSU was the first team to stop the potent Cal deep passing threat and showed that Longshore had difficulty picking apart the coverage when WSU dropped 8 men into coverage.  What was additionally surprising is that WSU was able to drop 8 into coverage without giving up huge rushing gains.  In effect, the WSU game film became the prototype that all future Pac-10 defenses used to slow Cal down.  Cal never scored in the 40’s again in Pac-10 play and only twice in the 30’s.

The 2007 learnings:
The learings for 2007 are similar to 2006, albeit in reverse.  Tedford and Longshore will have to find a way to punish defenses that take a soft coverage approach to slowing Cal.  Without it, Cal fans may be surprised just how long of a season it could be.

The Conclusion:
Cal’s earlier 2006 opponents had been preparing defenses determined not to be beat by Marshawn Lynch.  By the time that WSU had their shot at Cal, the gig was up on what Cal’s most dangerous threat was the deep passing game.  WSU showed that if the passing game could be contained, Cal’s running game, although still potent, was much more manageable.  A few good bounces might prove all the difference needed for an upset.  For WSU those bounces never came,  but they were not the last who hoped to put their fate in the ball’s odd shaped hands.

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