One could say the Washington State Cougars had a rough weekend.
First, the team traveled nearly 300 miles to host a “home” game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle where it expected to generate a sellout against fifth-ranked Stanford. Instead, it generated an attendance of just over 40,000, barely over the 35,100 capacity of Martin Stadium in Pullman.
Then came the football game which it lost 55-17 to the Cardinal and lost starting quarterback Connor Halliday to injury to boot.
Yet, like all weekends, it fades into the past and a new one follows. The Cougars (3-2, 1-1) look to get healthy in a game at California (1-3, 0-1) on Saturday.
The matchup with the Cal Bears reunites WSU head coach Mike Leach with a former assistant in Sonny Dykes, now the head coach at Cal. Dykes was a graduate assistant alongside Leach at Kentucky, followed him to Texas Tech and assisted on Leach’s offensive staff. It’s safe to say there are commonalities between the two offenses.
Both offenses like to pass the football. WSU ranks 14th in the FBS averaging 327.4 yards-per-game passing while Cal ranks fourth with an average of 373. The Bears display better balance offensively, too, with a running game behind junior back Brendan Bigelow that averages 125 ypg. That’s nearly 500 total yards of offense per game for a team that has already faced ranked foes Northwestern, Ohio St. and Oregon.
The defense for Cal hasn’t been as good. The Bears have yielded an average of 45 points per game in their four contests to start the season. They have been particularly poor against the run, yielding 262.5 yards-per-game on the ground.
The good news for coach Dykes and his squad is that WSU doesn’t like to run the ball. Maybe it’s because they can’t. The Cougars bring in the nation’s 121st-ranked running game averaging a measly 60.6 ypg. It would behoove the Cougars to take some pressure off of Halliday or Austin Apodaca, whoever is behind center Saturday, by running the ball consistently against Cal.
Key Matchup when Washington St. has the ball
It’s no secret that WSU likes to throw the ball. Its best receiver is sophomore Gabe Marks who has the speed to gain separation and create big plays. It will likely be the job of Cal cornerbacks Kameron Jackson and Stefan McClure to slow him down.
Key Matchup when Cal has the ball
Quarterback Jared Goff versus WSU secondary led by Deone Bucannon. If it seems obvious, that’s because it is. Cal’s biggest strength is its passing game which matches up well against the porous pass defense of WSU.
The Bears present a good opportunity for the Cougars to return to the win column before the strength of their schedule really starts to pick up, but I don’t see it happening this weekend. Unfortunately for the Cougars, they don’t excel at running the football and that’s the one area where Cal really struggles. Cal also has been vulnerable to the big play, and I see WSU having its share of them, just not enough to emerge victorious.
California 45, Washington State 38
-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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