Berkeley, CA – The California Golden Bears (5-4, 2-4) and Washington State Cougars (4-5, 1-5) entered their Saturday, November 9, match-up at Memorial Stadium with identical schedules both in and out of conference, each coming off a bye week, and both teams desperately needed a win as they fight for bowl eligibility.
It was Cal that would survive to earn its first win, 33-20, since starting quarterback Chase Garbers was lost to injury during a Friday Night home contest against the Arizona State Sun Devils in which they began a four-game losing streak after opening the year at 4-0 and earning a spot in the Top 15 rankings.
The game itself was a fairly evenly matched slugfest with both teams capitalizing on explosive plays and ultimately relying on their bread-and-butter styles. The Bears played stingy defense, especially in the red zone, while the Cougars threw the ball all over the field.
Saturday’s action kicked off early. The opening minute of play included an interception followed by a rushing touchdown for the Bears, and a blocked point-after try returned for a two-point score for the Cougars, making it 6-2 with 14:15 remaining in the first quarter.
The back-and-forth scoring would continue through much of the game, but the Cal defense would ultimately make the difference. With a forced fumble to go along with the early interception and key stops in the red zone leading to field goals instead of touchdowns as well as a key turnover on downs forced in the fourth quarter which allowed the Bears to pad their lead late.
Cal head coach Justin Wilcox announced Friday that quarterback Devon Modster (6) would start against the Cougars after he was forced out of their game against Oregon State October 19. Modster had started against both Oregon and Oregon State after taking over the offense with Garbers’ injury.
Though Modster had failed to produce much success leading into the match-up with the Cougars, the UCLA-transfer was clearly more likely to lead the team to a win than freshman Spencer Brasch (13), who struggled heavily in the Bears’ 35-0 loss at Utah.
Modster provided his strongest performance at Cal by far in this one. Finishing with 230 yards on 16-of-24 attempts for 3 touchdowns, including a huge 52-yard score on a third-down tunnel screen to freshman receiver Makai Polk (17) to go along with 54 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He led the offense with poise and proved that the unit was capable of giving the team’s dominant defense a chance.
He was quick to point to the team-effort in earning the victory after the game saying “I think it just shows a lot of grit, coming off of a four-game losing streak, our spirits didn’t die. We came out to work every day and I think it showed tonight.”
The Bears offense also ran the ball far better than in recent weeks, thanks in part to key returns from injury on the offensive line, along with a porous rushing defense from the Cougars, who had allowed over 193 yards per game and 5 yards per carry coming in.
Christopher Brown Jr. (34) led the way for the Cal rushing attack with 101 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown as well as 13 yards receiving with two catches, while redshirt junior DeShawn Collins (26) added 34 yards on six carries.
For the Cougars, the nation’s leading passing attack, their proficiency through the air simply wasn’t quite enough.
Senior quarterback Anthony Gordon (18), who led or tied for the lead nationwide in total passing yards, passing yards per game, total offensive yards, and passing touchdowns entering the day, finished with 407 in this one, completing 45-of-58 with two touchdowns and the lone interception.
The Cougars closed the game with just 16 yards rushing, however.
Though they were able to add a late touchdown following Modster’s scamper in the end zone to put the Bears up 33-14, they were also held out of the end zone for nearly the entire second half.
The Cougars have now dropped five of their last six games and three straight in Berkeley.
Washington State cornerback George Hicks III (18) said that head coach Mike Leach did not mince words with his team after the game, telling his group “We have to be better. There was a lot of talk throughout the week, and at the end, we didn’t execute. That’s it. We have to put things into action come Saturday.”
They will return home to Pullman to take on Stanford as they look to add two more wins in three remaining contests, including a trip to Seattle for the Apple Cup, to give themselves a shot at post-season play.
National Defensive Player of the Year Candidate, linebacker Evan Weaver (89) and his fellow seniors will play in their final game at California Memorial Stadium next week as the Bears welcome the USC Trojans for senior night and their final home stand of 2019.