Lifeless Cougars still dangerous

California is well-aware of the dangers Washington State wide receiver Marquess Wilson, defensive end Travis Long can present Saturday.

BERKELEY, Calif. – Hiring Mike Leach, the offensive guru who made Texas Tech nationally relevant with his explosive Air Raid spread attack, was supposed to bring the languishing Washington State program back to life. Instead, the early results have the Cougars looking more like the undead masses from the hit cable series, "The Walking Dead," especially after Leach called some of the seniors he inherited as "empty-corpse quality" during a press conference.

"Some of them have had kind of this zombielike, go through the motions, everything is like how it's always been, that's how it'll always be," Leach said Monday, with Washington State sitting at 2-4, 0-3 in Pac-12 play.

Despite inheriting All-America wide receiver Marquess Wilson and two talented quarterbacks in Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel, Leach's offense is actually less productive than it was last season under former head coach Paul Wulff, down just over eight points per game and 70 yards per game.

Halliday, who will start this Saturday night against California, and Tuel have combined for 12 interceptions, worst in the FBS. The offensive line is allowing 3.5 sacks per game, while the rushing offense ranks second to last with just over 41 yards per game.

Even the wildly effectively Wilson, who led the conference with 1,388 receiving yards in 2011, has seen his productivity dip.

But the Golden Bears are keenly aware of these struggles, having been in a similar position just last week, desperately needing a win to try and save their season before pummeling UCLA in a 43-17 upset.

Cal (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) finds itself as a decisive favorite headed to the Palouse, but is still trying to carry the same underdog mentality that worked so well.

"I'm sure they are in the same position we are in, just as hungry, if not hungrier," nose guard Kendrick Payne said. "It sounds good, but it definitely has to be told to us that we are definitely playing a team like that."

Head coach Jeff Tedford doesn't have an answer for why Washington State has struggled in its first year under Leach. The offensive fundamentals are largely similar, a pass-heavy offense that deploys four wide receivers on almost every play.

"It looks like the same (scheme), spread out throwing the football," Tedford said. "They throw it a lot, 70 percent pass and 30 percent run, so they lead with the pass without a doubt.

"They do similar things, so I don't know exactly what the difference in their transition is."

Still, the danger is there, especially with the 6-foot-4, 185-pound junior in Wilson capable of creating an explosive play at any time. Safety Josh Hill said it might be easy to dismiss the lanky junior based on his slight build, but looks are deceiving in case of Wilson, who has caught 34 passes for 553 yards and five touchdowns this season.

"He is deceiving on film. He's a lot better in person than film might show. We know what he can do. We know we can't take him lightly at all. He is their main target, so we have to really focus on shutting him down," Hill said.

"We've been going against him for a couple years, so we know what he can do. If we can kind of hold him down, we'll have a great chance of winning."

There is one noticeable improvement Washington State has made under its new coaching staff, as the defense ranks 13th nationally in sacks since moving to a scheme that can alternate between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments.

With 7.5 sacks already, senior Travis Long has been the point of the sword for this newfound aggression.

"Long is a relentless pass rusher," Tedford said. "They do a lot of different things with him. They put him down outside as an end, they put him inside, they put him as an outside linebacker and inside linebacker, so they move him all around."

While the Cal offense fared better in pass protection against UCLA, they still rank last nationally in sacks allowed per game. Against a desperate opponent, they can't give up field position or turnovers by allowing Long to get in the backfield.

With a chance to put themselves back into bowl contention, Cal knows it needs every edge possible to put together its first winning-streak of the season.

"We both are in a situation where we pretty much need to win out to have the chance we want to have," Hill said. "They are going to come with everything, we got to come with everything. It's going to come down to execution and who executes the best."

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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