BERKELEY — The fast start to the season under first-year Cal coach Justin Wilcox is a distant memory.
Three consecutive losses against some stiffer competition after a perfect nonconference slate made sure of that. The task only gets harder this week when the Golden Bears (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12) try to snap their skid Friday while hosting No. 8 Washington State (6-0, 3-0) in their third game against a top 10 team in four weeks.
“We’re just trying to come back,” quarterback Ross Bowers said. “Whatever bad habits we formed these past three weeks, we’re trying to get out of them and get back to our goals. We’re trying to get back to the win column and do all the little things right during the week.”
The Bears opened the season with wins against North Carolina, Weber State and Mississippi before dropping games to No. 5 USC, Oregon and No. 6 Washington in a grueling stretch of the schedule that continues this week.
“We appreciate the hard work and the effort they’re giving,” Wilcox said. “Unfortunately that doesn’t win games. You need it. You can’t win without it. We have to go out and perform better. There’s a lot to go into that. Everyone has a role in it.”
The Cougars have performed quite well so far this season and are off to their best start since winning their first seven games in 2001. Led by prolific quarterback Luke Falk and an improved defense, coach Mike Leach’s squad has the school holding its highest ranking in 14 years.
But Washington State still has much loftier goals in its sights.
“As happy as we are with six wins, it’s only six wins and it really gets us nowhere,” linebacker Dylan Hanser said. “It will be a lot better when we get the next six.”
Here are some other things to watch:
After arriving at Washington State as a walk-on, Cougars QB Luke Falk will leave as one of the most productive passers in Pac-12 history. He has thrown for 12,893 yards with 108 touchdowns for his college career, setting school records for career TD passes, passing yardage and total offense. He is eight TD passes behind conference record-holder Matt Barkley of USC and this week can break the school record for wins by a QB (24) held by Jason Gesser.
“It’s pretty cool to tie a guy who did such great things for our program here,” Falk said.
Bowers has struggled against top competition so far this season, throwing four INTs in a loss to USC and throwing for just 80 yards last week at Washington. He has completed 55.9 percent of his passes this season and has already thrown eight INTs. But Wilcox is sticking by his QB for at least one more week.
“Ross did some good things. He’s just got to be more consistent in his play,” Wilcox said. “That goes for everybody.”
LEACH ABOVE .500
Last weekend’s victory at Oregon gave Washington State’s Leach a record of 35-34 in his sixth year in Pullman. Leach has also taken the Cougars to three bowl games.
Leach doesn’t have a problem with late kickoffs like Friday's 7:30 start. A night owl, Leach is more upset by morning kickoffs. He also disputes the notion that night games hurt West Coast teams that are hoping to get into the College Football Playoff or get their players national exposure when it comes to the biggest awards.