Cal won a road game for the first time this season Saturday, and the Bears did it with a quarterback making his first career start. They also moved within one win of become bowl-eligible for the eighth straight season.
That would seem like an encouraging outcome for the Bears as they prepare for their Nov. 13 home game against unbeaten Oregon, especially because the Bears are 4-0 at home and have won all four by lopsided margins.
But things are not as rosy as they might seem. Cal had to struggle to get a 20-13 win over a Washington State team that has not won a Pac-10 game since 2008. The Bears trailed at halftime, did not do a lot offensively against a Washington State team that ranked last in the nation in total defense entering the game, and did not put the game away until it got a first down in the final minutes.
Washington State is a team Cal should bury, and it didn't happen, which had to be discouraging. The Bears obviously will have to play much better just to stay in the game against Oregon.
But there were some encouraging aspects of the game for Cal.
First, quarterback Brock Mansion played pretty well in his first collegiate start. He was just 12-for-24 and threw two interceptions against a poor Washington State defense that typically yields better numbers to opposing quarterback.
But several of his passes were dropped, and he showed poise and control throughout the game. And he got better as the game went on, ultimately directing the fourth-quarter touchdown drive that extended a 14-13 lead to 20-13.
All and all, it wasn't bad.
"For his first start, I thought he did real well," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said.
Playing against Oregon's speedy defense, which can apply a lot of pressure, will be a different kind of test, however.
The Cal defense played well Saturday, which was certainly not the case in the Bears' last two road games, when they yielded a combined 70 points in the first half against USC and Oregon State. The Cougars' passing game is not bad, but Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel was just 9-for-25 for 92 yards, the first time this season Tuel has been held under 200 yards passing.
The Bears' defense faces a much stiffer challenge against Oregon, which leads the nation in scoring, but that game will be in Berkeley, where Cal's defense has been outstanding. As bad as the Bears have been on the road, they have been outstanding at home.
NOTES & QUOTES
Two pass plays were the pivotal plays of the game. The first was an amazing one-handed catch by Marvin Jones that covered 27 yards and set up Cal's first touchdown. The other came midway through the fourth quarter with Cal leading 14-13 and facing a third-and-20 situation near midfield. Brock Mansion completed an inside screen to Jeremy Ross, who was hit by three Washington State defenders after gaining 10 yards. But Ross, with a boost from his teammates, pulled four Cougar defenders another 10 yards for a first down. Cal scored on that possession.
Cal's final three games are at home, where the defense has yielded just 20 points in four blowout wins. After Oregon, the Bears play Stanford and Washington.
Cal still needs two wins to avoid the first losing season since Jeff Tedford became the coach prior to the 2002 season.
The Nov. 6 win over Washington State ended Cal's six-game losing streak in games away from home. That includes a 42-10 loss to Washington last season and a 37-27 loss to Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl.
GAME BALL GOES TO: DE Cameron Jordan -- Jordan had a career-high 12 tackles, including four for losses and 1.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble for a Cal defense that dominated the game. He nearly had several more sacks and he frequently got to Washington State QB Jeff Tuel, who eluded the pass rush at times but had no time to throw effectively.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Marvin Jones -- Jones caught just four passes, but it was for 101 yards, his third game this season of more than 100 receiving yards. His one-handed catch when he leaped and stretched as high as he could was the best catch of the season for Cal. That 27-yard gain set up Cal's first touchdown. He has a knack for big plays.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think everyone understands what Oregon brings to the table. We're going to have to improve a lot." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, after the 20-13 win over Washington State, heading into the home game against Oregon.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Cal pass defense was the team's weakness last season, and it had its problems in recent road games, but it did an outstanding job against Washington State QB Jeff Tuel. Despite their problems, the Cougars throw the ball pretty well, but Tuel was just 9-for-25 for 92 yards with no touchdown passes. Tuel's previous single-game low in passing yardage this season was 200 yards. Cougars WR Jared Karstetter came into the game with 48 receptions for 527 yards, but he had just one catch for 7 yards against the Bears.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Cal's running game. Although Cal ran for 212 yards, including 112 for by Shane Vereen, the Bears expected to dominate the game on the ground even more against Washington State, which ranks 119th of 120 FBS teams in rushing defense. The Bears' running game has been their strength, and they need to pick up yardage consistently on the ground to protect inexperienced QB Brock Mansion. Mansion gives the Bears a running option Kevin Riley did not provide, and Cal needs to utilize it.
Freshman WR Keenan Allen did not play against Washington State, apparently because of a leg injury. His status for the Oregon game is uncertain.
QB Brock Mansion showed he is more of a running threat than Kevin Riley. Mansion carried five times for 25 yards, but that included two sacks.
LB Mike Mohamed wore a cast on his hand after sustaining a broken thumb during practice. His playing time was limited as a result, and he was taken out of the game in passing situations.
Trevor Guyton, normally a defensive end, was moved to nose tackle to give the Bears more speed, and he responded with seven tackles, including 2.5 sacks.