Perhaps the key for Cal is to have Zach Maynard throw an interception on his first pass each game.
He threw a pick on his first pass attempt against UCLA on Oct. 6, and the Golden Bears won that game comfortably 41-17. Maynard also threw an interception on his first pass against Washington State on Oct. 13, and again the Bears won decisively, beating the Cougars 31-17.
The method of victory was different, though. Maynard completed 25 of 29 passes after the pick against UCLA and was the chief reason Cal upset the Bruins.
Against Washington State, it was the Bears’ running game that dominated the contest, and the offensive line tore big holes in the Washington State front, enabling Maynard and Cal’s three-man tailback rotation to pile up a season-high 318 yards on the ground.
Certainly, Washington State’s offense was stunted by the loss of standout wide receiver Marquess Wilson and starting running Teondray Caldwell, both of whom were knocked out of the game with injuries in the first half, but this was still an impressive victory for the Bears, who seem to have turned things around since their three-game losing streak left them at 1-4 after five games.
Now the Golden Bears are riding momentum heading into their traditional rivalry game on Oct. 20 against Stanford, which lost to Notre Dame 20-13 on Oct. 13.
If the Bears could somehow beat Stanford in Berkeley, then beat struggling Utah on the road the next week, Cal would be above .500 for the first time this season.
The bowl berth that seemed out of reach when they were 1-4 following the home 27-17 loss to Arizona State on Sept. 29 now seems very much within reach.
What was encouraging about the victory over Washington State was that Cal did it by overpowering the Cougars with their ground game. That had been Cal’s formula for success over the second half of last season, and was expected to be their approach in 2012.
The Bears have had their best two running games the past two weeks, running for 295 yards against UCLA and being even more effective against Washington State.
Keenan Allen supplemented the running game by catching 11 passes for 166 yards against the Cougars.
Running the ball effectively against Stanford will be a lot more difficult, but the Bears will no doubt try.
The Cal pass defense, particularly the work of its cornerbacks, has been impressive the past two games. The Bears forced Washington State coach Mike Leach to replace starting quarterback Connor Halliday in the first quarter after Cal picked off two of his passes.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Cal plays archrival Stanford on Oct. 20 in Berkeley. The Cardinal is 4-2 after its 20-13 overtime loss to Notre Dame, and it is 0-2 on the road, having failed to score an offensive touchdown in either. After Stanford beat USC and rose to No. 8 in the ranking while Cal was 1-3, it looked like this game would be a mismatch. That’s not the case now. After that Cal plays a road game against Utah, which has quarterback problems and has lost three straight.
–Perhaps the most encouraging statistic for Cal was that QB Zach Maynard was not sacked against Washington State. Coming into the game, the Bears had yielded 28 sacks, which was at least six more than any other team in the country and was the team’s biggest offensive problem. Cal remedied that with its strong running game against Washington State, a threat that slowed the Cougars’ pass rush.
–Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast again used a lineup that included just two defensive linemen, along with four linebackers and five defensive backs. Necessitated somewhat because of injuries to defensive linemen, that alignment worked well against both UCLA and Washington State, who rely heavily on their passing games.
–QB Zach Maynard completed just 14 passes, but 11 of them were to his half brother Keenan Allen. Allen now has 196 career receptions, passing Dameane Douglas for second place on Cal’s career receptions list. He is just six shy of Geoff McArthur’s school record of 202, so Allen has a good chance to break that mark against Stanford. The only other Cal players to catch passes against Washington State were TEs Richard Rodgers and Jacob Wark, who had one reception apiece, and Chris Harper, who made his only catch with less than seven minutes left in the game on Maynard’s final completion of the game.
–Cal has beaten Washington State eight times in a row.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Cal’s cornerbacks have been outstanding the past two weeks, despite the absence of the most experienced of its cornerbacks, Marc Anthony. Kameron Jackson was not as effective as he was against UCLA, when he intercepted three passes and was named Pac-12 defensive player of the week, but he played pretty well again despite being called for pass interference twice. The star against Washington State was CB Steve Williams, who broke up four passes, picked off one pass and did an excellent job covering Marquess Wilson before Wilson got hurt. Williams might get consideration for conference defensive player of the week this week. In 2010 and for much of last season, cornerback was the weak link of the Cal defense. Now it is its strength.
LOOKING GOOD: Cal’s running game had its best showing of the season against Washington State. The Cougars are not a great against the run, but they aren’t awful either, and the Cal offensive line carved out huge holes for the Bears, who are giving three tailbacks work. Four players – C.J. Anderson, Isi Sofele, Brendan Bigelow and Zach Maynard – had more than 50 yards rushing apiece, with Anderson leading the way with 112. Anderson provides inside power, Bigelow offers the chance for a big play each time he touches the ball, and Maynard ran the ball effectively as well, rushing 10 times for a career-high 78 yards. Maynard’s running threat provides another dimension to the Cal offense. The Bears finished with a season-high 318 rushing yards.
NEEDS WORK: Little things still plague the Bears. They had 81 yards in penalties, and Zach Maynard threw two interceptions, the second one robbing the Bears of a chance to score after getting to the Washington State 10-yard line in the first quarter.
QUOTE: “We’re starting to get our identity up front, from the backs understanding what they need to see and our linemen doing what they’ve been doing.” – Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on his team’s running game in the victory over Washington State.
CAL PLAYER NOTES:
–WR Keenan Allen had a season-high 11 catches for a season-high 166 receiving yards. It was the first time he surpassed 100 yards receiving this season after getting more than 100 yards in five of his first six games last season.
–TB C.J. Anderson had his second straight game rushing for more than 100 yards, gaining 112 against Washington State after rushing for 151 against UCLA. Those were the first two 100-yard rushing games of his career.
–QB Zach Maynard had a career-high 78 rushing yards against Washington State.
–CB Steve Williams had his third career interception and sixth of his career in the game against Washington State. He also broke up four passes in the contest.
–K Vincenzo D’Amato kicked a career-long 52-yard field goal against Washington State and has now made six field goals in a row after missing four straight.
–DL Aaron Tipoti missed the Washington State game with a knee injury. He’s questionable for the game against Stanford.
–CB Marc Anthony the Washington State game with a knee injury sustained against UCLA. It’s uncertain whether he’ll be able to play against Sanford.
–CB Kameron Jackson got his first career start against Washington State.
–LB Nathan Broussard made his first career start against Washington State, and he also had a sack for a 13-yard loss.