Cal, WSU vying to reverse early season trends
The Washington State Cougars and the California Golden Bears have each endured various bumps along the road throughout the first half of the 2012 season. With both teams sitting at 2-4, Saturday’s matchup at Martin Stadium is basically a must-win situation if either team wants to make a serious push at a bowl bid.
Matchup: California Golden Bears (-7) at Washington St. Cougars (+7)
Venue: Martin Stadium (Pullman, WA)
Game Time, TV: 7:30 PM (PDT), Pac-12 Networks
Date: Saturday, October 12, 2012
Weather: 64 High, 40 Low, Few Showers
Team Records: Cal (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) WSU (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12)
On none other than Mike Leach bobblehead day, the Cougars will look to get back on the right track after an encouraging defensive performance against nationally ranked Oregon State, while the Bears are coming into Pullman confident after handling #25 UCLA.
With showers and cold weather expected, the Cougars find themselves with their first “real” home game since the devastating defeat to Colorado.
And the Cougars are in a desperate need some home cookin’.
Game Notes / How They Matchup
As we head into the second half of the season, there is a sense of urgency, not only for Washington State, but for California as well.
For Washington State, the wheels started falling off the Leach-hype wagon after the devastating loss to Colorado during Homecoming but the Cougars have followed up with two encouraging performances — albeit losses — against the Oregon schools.
On the other hand, California and head coach Jeff Tedford have, in recent years, been as inconsistent as any program in the country and this season is no different.
And this weekend, Tedford could, more than likely, be coaching for his job.
California’s winningest coach has been walking a thin line, and a loss against the Cougars would require the Bears to win four of their final five games to become bowl-eligible — the assumed minimun standard for Cal this season under Tedford.
Despite being a matchup of two teams at the bottom of the Pac-12 North, this is a game that could have huge implications moving forward.
The Bears, however, have won seven straight meetings against the Cougars, including a 30-7 drubbing last year in Berkeley. California has also won their last three meetings in Pullman.
What to Watch: Washington St.
First and foremost, can Connor Halliday learn from his awful performance against Oregon State last weekend and get this offense on the right track?
Last week, Halliday was just 9-of-20 for 81 yards and three interceptions. He was able to spread the ball around to seven different receivers but was unable to find any rhythm throughout the game.
Whether it has been Halliday or Jeff Tuel under center, both seem to be trying to do too much. The two gunslingers have combined for 12 interceptions this season, the most interceptions of any team in the country.
For the Cougars, it comes down to protecting the football and sustaining drives.
Three-and-out’s have plagued the offense all season due to a combination of things – receivers not getting open, offensive line lapses and poor quarterbacking decisions.
On a positive note, can the Cougars’ defense build off of their impressive performance from last week?
The defense was on the field for nearly 40 minutes and were constantly backed up against their own endzone, but relinquished just one touchdown against a potent Beavers offense.
It’s hard to depend on the defense to replicate that type of performance, so the offense will need to improve — and improve drastically to keep up with a quick strike Bears offense.
What to Watch: California
The Bears are a hard team to read. Will the Bears team that nearly pulled off the upset against Ohio State in Columbus and upended #25 UCLA 43-17? Or the Bears team that lost to Nevada, was routed against USC and lost at home to Arizona State?
This team goes as far as quarterback Zach Maynard. When he’s good, the Bears are good. When he’s bad — and he can be really bad — the Bears are bad.
So with that said, the Maynard that shows up to Pullman on Saturday night will, most likely, determine Cal’s performance.
Maynard has plenty of weapons at his arsenal including All Pac-12 WR Keenan Allen who can completely dominate any secondary on a given night.
The Bears also boast a trio of capable running backs including Isi Sofele, C.J Anderson and Brandon Bigelow, who ran wild against the Buckeyes to the tune of 160 yards on just four carries and two touchdowns.
The defense has been up and down this year, as well.
Giving up an average of 28 points a game, the Cal defense can be scored on but it will take a solid offensive game plan to beat their excellent secondary. Led by cornerback Steve Williams, the Bears’ secondary will pose is significant test against the Air Raid.
Washington St. Offense vs. California Defense
Last week, the Cougars failed to score a touchdown for the second time this season and just the 5th time in Leach’s head coaching career. WSU totaled just 227 yards and struggled running the ball, once again, with just 20 yards on the ground.
California ranks 72nd in the country against the run, giving up 167-yards a game, so expect the Cougars to at least attempt to run the ball and establish a running game. I expect the Bears to follow the trend of previous defenses and drop seven and eight men in coverage opening up chances to run the ball, but it’s been a struggle this season, thus far.
Despite being ranked 87th in total passing defense, the Bears boast one of the top secondaries, personnel wise, in the country. Led by the previously mentioned Williams, the Cougars will have their hands full.
The most intriguing matchup will be Marquess Wilson vs. Williams. Williams is a step down from Jordan Poyer, who locked down Wilson last week and intercepted three passes, so Wilson should be able to have chances to make plays downfield.
The Cougars are going to need to establish the run and, most importantly, limit the interceptions while sustaining drives.
That all begins with Halliday not trying to fit balls into tight spaces on nearly every play. He needs to be smart and realize that if things aren’t open down field, use his safety check down — something that has been absent in his drop backs so far.
California Offense vs. Washington State Defense
Zach Maynard can be dynamic in the passing game, but if he’s pressured, he has a tendency to turn the ball over.
Pressing the receivers and blitzing Maynard off the edge will be the Cougars’ best chance of stopping the California offense. The Bears have been susceptible to giving up sacks this season. Through six games, they have yielded 28 quarterback sacks amounting to the most in the nation.
Travis Long, who has recorded 7.5 sacks already this year, could be in line for another big day against a skeptical Bears offensive line.
Cal is 53rd in the country in rushing offense and will be led by Anderson, who has averaged 6.8 yards per carry after taking over the majority of snaps from Sofele, who has struggled to gain 4.0 yards a tote.
The Cougars will attempt to stop the run and force Cal into passing situations where they can apply pressure, while jamming the receivers, hoping to disrupt Maynard.
If the Cougars can get to Maynard, the should be able to translate those opportunities into turnovers in the passing game.
Prediction and Analysis
Vegas is predicting this game to be a close matchup and that’s entirely what should occur. The teams matchup well, but Cal holds a decided advantage in nearly every facet but with the game being played in Pullman, which should be wet and cold, it changes the dynamics of the game.
It’s always tough coming into Pullman this time of year as the weather creates a Cougars advantage, for the most part.
If the Cougars can play solid defense, limit the big plays like they have in recent weeks, and hold on to the football they’ll have a chance.
Getting to the quarterback is going to be imperative and sustaining offensive drives are what this game is going to come down to.
WSU is desperately in need of a win and I think that the Mike Leach bobblehead gives them the edge in this one.