BERKELEY, Calif. — If Washington State could protect Connor Halliday, the Cougars were confident he’d have a big day.
Halliday threw for 521 yards and three touchdowns in the second most prolific passing game in school history and Washington State used its highest scoring conference game in 10 years to snap an eight-game skid against California with a 44-22 victory Saturday.
“He’s a tough kid,” guard John Fullington said. “We have confidence in him. If we give him time, he’ll make plays.”
That’s just what Halliday did a week after getting knocked out in a loss to Stanford. There were questions about whether Halliday would start this week and he answered them quickly with TD drives on the first two possessions for the Cougars (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12).
That launched a big day as Halliday completed 41 of 67 passes and had the biggest passing day in the conference since Alex Brink set the Washington State record for yards with 531 in 2005 against Oregon State.
That helped lead the Cougars to their highest-scoring conference game since beating Oregon 55-16 in 2003.
“The offensive line played unreal,” Halliday said. “Those guys really got into a rhythm up front and dominated the game for four quarters. I think I got hit twice. That’s a lot of fun back there when you have so much time to get rid of the ball.”
Vince Mayle caught two TD passes and Teondray Caldwell, Jeremiah Laufasa and Marcus Mason also scored touchdowns for the Cougars, who last beat the Golden Bears (1-4, 0-2) in 2002.
Freshman Jared Goff threw for 489 yards and two touchdowns for his third 400-yard passing game already this season and Chris Harper had 13 catches for 216 yards and a score. But it wasn’t enough to give coach Sonny Dykes his first win against an FBS opponent in a disappointing debut season with the Bears.
Cal’s only win this season is against lower-division Portland State and the Bears current nine-game losing streak to FBS opponents since beating Washington State Oct. 13, 2012, is the longest of any team in a BCS conference.
“After a game like this, our confidence is going to be low,” Goff said. “That’s just how it works.”
Halliday and Goff traded big plays on an afternoon as they combined for 1,010 yards passing against overmatched defenses.
Halliday’s 72-yard TD pass to Mayle gave the Cougars a 35-15 lead late in the third quarter after Cal was stopped on a fourth-and-1.
But Goff answered right back with a 53-yarder to James Grisom to get the Bears within 13. That’s as close as Cal got as the Cougars surpassed last season’s win total and matched their most victories in a season since 2007.
“We need to steadily improve,” coach Mike Leach said. “We don’t have anything to be satisfied with.”
The game marked a reunion for the coaches. Dykes spent seven years as an assistant under Leach at Texas Tech and credits his mentor for teaching him the nuances of the spread offense he currently uses at Cal.
A game featuring Leach’s “Air Raid” offense against Dykes’ “Bear Raid” version got off to a predictable start with the teams throwing for 622 yards in the first half as the Cougars took a 21-15 lead into the break.
There could have been even more scoring except Cal lost a pair of fumbles by Daniel Lasco and Brendan Bigelow after driving inside the Washington State 10 with Kalafitoni Pole recovering both of them.
“When you are a very fragile team without a lot of confidence it probably has a big impact on you,” Dykes said. “That is what we are.”
Cal had better luck reaching the end zone from inside its own 20 than near Washington State’s goal as Goff found Harper behind the coverage for an 89-yard score in the second quarter for the second longest pass play in school history. Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen have the record with a 90-yard TD pass two years ago against Washington.
The Cougars answered with a 68-yard TD pass from Halliday to Mason, who took a swing pass and cut back through the Bears defense for the long score to make it 21-12.
Cal began the day by announcing that starting center Chris Adcock was out for the year with a knee injury and safety Alex Logan retired for medical reasons. Then the Bears lost cornerback Stefan McClure (knee) and linebacker Jalen Jefferson (head) in the first half and cornerback Joel Willis was taken off on a stretcher after the opening kick to the second half.