California 101: Two seasons on the edge

AFTER A 1-4 start, California's season and maybe Jeff Tedford's job were potentially saved by an impressive victory over UCLA last week. Washington State also stands at 2-4 on the year, and fan hopes for a bowl game are hanging in the balance. What should Cougar Nation expect to see on Saturday night in Martin Stadium? Here's the breakdown…

Cougars (2-4) vs Golden Bears (2-4)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (33,522)

TELEVISION:
Pac-12 Networks

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Cal by 7

LAST MEETING:
2011, WSU lost 30-7. .

AGAINST Cal:
WSU is 25-43-5 in the series.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 28, Bears 27

THE BEARS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Zach Maynard, QB: The senior's overall game compares well to Connor Halliday but Maynard is much more mobile. He does however have a tendency to float his long passes and throws too many picks. In six games he's thrown nine touchdowns against five interceptions (61.9 percent, 225 yards per game).
Keenan Allen, WR: Ranks 3rd in the conference with 41 receptions and has more than twice as many as any other Bear receiver. Allen has settled into more of an inside receiver role this season. His 11.4 yards per catch average isn't overly impressive, but the big play ability is still there.
Iso Sofele and C.J. Anderson, RBs: Sofele is a compact, workhorse back with some quicks while Anderson brings more big-play ability. Between the two they have rushed for 740 yards (5.7 avg) and four touchdowns this season.

Overview
The Tedford spread offense is driven by the running game. There are a lot of power runs mixed with misdirection. The talent is present at receiver to complement the ground game, but the offensive line has struggled terribly with pass protection.

Strategy
This game will be a test for WSU's defensive line and run stopping front. The Cougs 'run defense has looked substantially stronger of late and they have also had success pressuring the quarterbacks. If that trend continues, the Bears could very much struggle. But if WSU is forced to bring extra men up front to deal with Sofele and Anderson, Allen will attack the safeties and corners.

Key Statistic
Twenty-nine sacks surrendered: California ranks dead last nationally in sacks allowed. The heat coming at him from all sides has contributed to many of Maynard's turnovers and California's tendency to struggle in the red zone.

THE BEARS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Steve Williams, CB: It is never a good sign when your corners are your leading tacklers. Williams leads the team with 29 solo tackles (41 total) and seems to get picked on most by opposing quarterbacks.
Deandre Coleman, DT: He's been a rock solid run stopper from Garfield High the first half of the season.

Overview
The Bears ate UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley alive last week (4 interceptions, 6 sacks), but they had really struggled up till that point (9th in total defense, 419 yards per game). They run multiple defensive looks: mostly out of a 2-4-5 and 3-4 set. It is a young group featuring only two seniors and has very little star power -- but overall speed and athleticism is good.

Strategy
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast demands pressure on the quarterback, blitzing if he must. WSU's offensive line has to be up to the task and the quarterback will need to have hot routes at the ready -- both of which WSU has yet to master this season. The Cal secondary likes to keep the action in front of them, typically giving a good cushion to receivers. They will try to take away the deep ball, running a lot of 4 deep zones, but the short routes are likely to be widely available.

Key Statistic
An opposing quarterback rating of 133.4: Despite a solid performance last week, the Bears still rank 10th in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense.

THE BEARS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

Keenan Allen is one of the most dangerous punt returners in the country. Scatback Brenden Bigalow also lends his big play ability to the kick return game. Kicker Vince D'Amato has converted only four of nine attempts beyond 30 yards but seems to be settling in --he has made his last five field goal attempts.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-WSU has not beaten Jeff Tedford since their first meeting back in 2002 (1-7).

-Keenan Allen and Marquess Wilson have been compared to one another since they were freshmen. Expect both to bring their A games this Saturday in an effort to make their case for first team All-Conference consideration.

-The line of 7 seems low given WSU's struggles and Cal's 26 point victory over a top 25 team last week. But the oddsmakers seem to question Cal's desire to win (see losses to Nevada and ASU, and an ugly win over Southern Utah). With rival Stanford looming next week, WSU might have caught Cal looking ahead if they were not so desperate for wins and sitting at 2-4.


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