No two losses are created equal. There are bad teams who lose. There are good teams who get beat by better teams. There are good teams who don't play up to their standard and lose to an inspired team (see:).
And then there are teams that, for whatever reason, can't do anything right. No. 8 Washington State was that team on Friday night in a 37-3 blowout loss to Cal. There are upsets, but no one could have predicted this. Even for #Pac12AfterDark, this was abnormal.
What happened to the Cougars defies categorization. They're not a bad team; they just beat USC a few weeks ago and were undefeated. This wasn't a classic upset, either, in which the underdog plays up to the moment and capitalizes on just enough key mistakes to squeak away with the W. The Golden Bears are obviously improved, but this was not a black-and-white matter of being outmatched or caught sleeping. Cal, in fact, had just one win vs. a team ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll since 1978 (now 2-52-2 in such games).
Washington State simply played terrible. It was a game in which nothing went right and everything went wrong for Wazzu.. Not to say Cal didn't deserve to win, but this was kind of a fluke. So if you're wondering how a top 10 team lost by 34 points to a .500 opponent who was previously winless in conference play, here are all the awful things that went horribly wrong for the Cougars.
1. Turnovers: My oh my were they bountiful. Washington State had a stunning seven -- seven! -- turnovers. That's one turnover for every two offensive possessions on the night -- 50 percent. There were turnovers of every variety. Tip drill hot potato interceptions (see top of story), forced fumbles, shovel pass picks -- you name it. There were five turnovers in the first 40 minutes alone. The Wazzu drive chart will make your eyes bleed.
2. The 1-yard punt and ensuing Cal touchdown: If you missed it, Washington State punter Mitchell Cox for a net of 1 yard late in the second quarter. The fascinating context is coach Mike Leach's typical desire to go for fourth downs.
The poor punt gave Cal excellent field position, and the Golden Bears marched the ball down to goal line with four seconds remaining in the first half. Instead of kicking a field goal, coach Justin Wilcox opted to go for the touchdown. The gamble paid off thanks to a touchdown pass from Ross Bowers for the easy score. Momentum is an intangible factor, but it gave the Bears a ton of confidence coming out into the third quarter.
3. A missed field goal: In the big picture, a missed field goal doesn't do a whole lot when the margin of victory is almost five touchdowns. However, Erik Powell missed a 49-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter that would have tied the game at 3-3 when it was still a defensive struggle. That missed opportunity, which basically acts as a turnover, helped set the tone for the rest of the game.
4. Poor pass protection: When Washington State wasn't turning the ball over on offense, it was doing a bad job of protecting quarterback Luke Falk. In fact, Cal had a whopping nine sacks. Granted, these things are usually part of the same vicious cycle: turn the ball over, give up points, fall further behind, abandon the game plan and pass more frequently to catch up, fail in pass protection, give up a sack and maybe another turnover. Washington State actually has a notable offensive line anchored by Cody O'Connell, but they were bullied up front.
5. Pac-12 scheduling: OK, so this isn't Washington State's fault. It's the Pac-12's fault. The Cougars played a Friday night road game less than one week after going on the road against Oregon (whom they beat 33-10). That's not an ideal scheduling practice, and in a perfect world, no one has to be subjected to it. Road games are tough. Back-to-back road games are tougher. Back-to-back road games on a short week should be illegal. Plenty of coaches have griped about it, and it's hard to imagine Leach will do anything different moving forward.