The Bears come in having lost all four of their road games this season, three in blowout fashion, and without starting quarterback Kevin Riley, lost for the season in last week's defeat at Oregon State.
But the Cougars, who felt they were making progress, reverted to their old, sorry form last weekend at Arizona State, losing 42-0.
So Washington State coach Paul Wulff says the goal this week is to just have a chance late.
"We need to play a good football game this week and get into the fourth quarter in a position to win it," he said.
And to do that, Wulff says the Cougars need to "get back and play tough football."
They didn't do that against Arizona State in a game in which they were dominated in every manner, falling to 1-8 on the season and 0-6 in Pac-10 play.
And after a few weeks of losses that were at least competitive and that had taken some of the heat off of Wulff, the talk of his future is again starting to burn.
Washington State is 4-30 under Wulff, 1-23 in Pac-10 games.
Wulff had earlier in the year stated that he thought this team could win a few games this season.
This week, in what sounded like yet another plea for patience, he said he wasn't sure that was possible.
"We are going to try to do everything we can to win ball games with what we have and we are doing that," he said. "We are playing in a lot of ways to our potential and what we are capable of doing. We are close. If you look back at the last 5-6 weeks, we are headed in a very good direction with a very youthful team and we try to take it one game at a time. We've got three games and right now our focus is on Cal."
The focus of the Cal game shifts a little bit with the loss of Riley as the Bears will now have to give their first start to little-used Brock Mansion.
Wulff, though, said what you might expect, that he doesn't expect the Bears' offense to change greatly.
"They are still going to do their main offense," Wulff said. "They are still going to run the football. That is their bread and butter."
Indeed, with Mansion starting for Riley, the Bears are likely to rely even more on standout running back Shane Vereen, who is fourth in the Pac-10 in rushing with 774 yards and 5.5 yards per carry. The Cougars remain pretty helpless against the run, ranking last in the Pac-10 at 224.3 per game and 5.5 per attempt.
NOTES & QUOTES
--Against Arizona State, senior P Reid Forrest, who averages 45.2 yards per punt, set a Washington State career record for punts and punt yards. He now has 256 punts for 10,879 yards, passing Kyle Basler (250 punts, 10,794 yards from 2002-05).
--Other than net punting and passing offense, Washington State ranks seventh or worse in the Pac-10 in every statistical category.
SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads Washington state 41-25-5 (last meeting, 2009, Cal 49-17).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The book on Washington State has not changed all season -- the Cougars are good for 200 or so passing yards per game but unable to really run, and that means that while Washington State often moves a little between the 20s, they are not able to score consistently. Cal leads the Pac-10 in pass defense so this will be an interesting matchup as the Cougars may need to get more of a running game going. Washington State is averaging just 2.3 yards per carry, down even from last year's 2.4, one statistical area where Washington State has made no progress under coach Paul Wulff.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: With Cal QB Kevin Riley injured, expect the Bears to try to establish the run and control the game on the ground. That will be a challenge for a Cougar defense that remains last in the Pac-10 against the run at 5.5 per attempt. Washington State is no better against the pass, ranking last in the conference in pass defense efficiency. But with weather maybe an issue and Cal QB Brock Mansion getting his first start, it makes sense that the Bears will try to take the air out of the ball a little bit.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "No matter what we did we just had very little emotion and I felt like we played on a tank that was empty with emotion and we've got to regain that." -- Washington State coach Paul Wulff, on what happened in the 42-0 loss at Arizona State and what needs to happen this week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cal at Washington State, Nov. 6 -- The Cougars host a wounded Bears team in what may be their best chance to date at actually winning a Pac-10 game this season. Washington State hasn't won a Pac-10 game since Nov. 2008, against Washington in Pullman.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Stop the run. The Bears are likely to try to run the ball as much as possible to take some pressure off backup QB Brock Mansion, now forced to start. So the Cougars have to contain that enough to make Mansion make plays. Convert drives into points. Washington State has gained some yards the last few weeks but then stopped in the red zone -- Washington State is last in the Pac-10 in red zone offense converting just 17-29 attempts. That needs to change to actually get a win. Play well on third down. Cal has not been a good third-down team this season, ranking ninth in the Pac-10 at 35 percent. Washington State's defense needs to get off the field when it can. Start quickly. Always a key, but with a home game and coming off a dispiriting loss, Washington State needs to get the momentum quickly.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Marquess Wilson -- The true freshman caught five passes for 89 yards at Arizona State and leads all Pac-10 players with 885 yards receiving (19.2 yards per reception) and 98.3 yards per game. Those numbers lead all freshmen nationally.
QB Jeff Tuel -- Tuel has had a bad knack for the critical interception the last few weeks and is now up to 11 picks, second-most in the conference behind only Arizona State's Steven Threet. Tuel needs to cut that down. He threw for a career-high 357 yards against the Bears last season.
S Deone Bucannon -- The true freshman continues to shine and has 39 tackles over the last three games. He'll need to be a sure tackler against the Bears, who figure to try to test the Cougars often with the running game. He is now 14th in the conference in tackles with 62.
S Tyree Toomer -- Another back-end player having a decent year, he is second on the team in tackles for a loss with six.
--RB Carl Winson (hamstring) is probable this week.
--S Chima Nwachukwu, a former starter who has been out recently with a hamstring, could be back this week.
--MLB Mike Ledgerwood, also out recently with a hamstring, may also be back, adding depth to the defense.
--Washington State may be without guard B.J. Guerra, who suffered a stinger against Arizona State.