Cal 101: Battle of Air Raids in WSU vs. Bears

THIS WEEK ALL the chips are on the table – a win is big and a loss is huge for both WSU and Cal. The Bears have problems, losing three games in convincing fashion and barely escaping with a win over Portland State. But the one thing that's working in Berkley is Sonny Dyke's passing game - Mike Leach's former assistant has his version of the Air Raid putting up better numbers than his mentor.

Cougars (3-2) vs Golden Bears (1-3)
1:00 pm Pacific Time

Memorial Stadium (62,467)

FOX Sports 1

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Cougs by 1 1/2

2012, WSU lost 31-17.

Cal leads series 44-25-5.

Cougs 38, Cal 27


Players to Know
Jared Goff, QB: The true freshman had picked up the offense quickly, completing 60 percent of his throws for 1,317 yards and seven scores but then last week turned everything upside down. Goff is now fighting for his job with Zach Kline listed as an –OR– on the depth chart for the first time since August. Poor play against Oregon fueled the sudden quarterback controversy but the weather conditions were awful and it seems odd that Dykes chose to introduce uncertainty there.

Brenden Bigelow, RB: A talented running back with serious speed. His position in Dykes' version of the Air Raid offense keeps him less utilized, (62 carries in four games) but he is still a threat.

Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, WRs: At the "X" and "Z" positions, respectively, Treggs and Harper have been Cal's most reliable targets this season.

Dykes and OC Tony Franklin are both Leach disciples, so the Cougs should be familiar with their Air Raid scheme, though it's worth noting it's different (for example there's more play action.) Cal is averaging 373 passing yards per game and has half as many interceptions (5) as WSU. As with the Cougars, the Bears seem much stronger at outside receiver than inside.

The Bears have struggled in pass protection and the Cougs need to get their pass rush going again badly. Ideally WSU would get there with four but if not, there should be plenty of blitzing. Could that mean a larger role for BUCK Kache Palacio, or will Cyrus Coen be busy trying to disrupt the passing lanes and timing? We'll see on Saturday. But if WSU is effective in bringing pressure, the Cougar secondary probably also needs to play up a little more to contain the hot routes in this Cal offense.

Key Statistic
15 Sacks Allowed: Cal's 15 sacks surrendered is fifth worst in the country.

Offensive MAPS Score: plus-16


Players to Know

Khairi Fortt, WLB: The Penn State transfer was one of the nation's top linebacker recruits back in 2009. Fortt leads the team in tackles so far this season.

Hardy Nickerson, MLB: Nickerson is the son of the former NFL All-Pro of the same name. He has earned a starting role as a freshmen and could develop into a star in the years to come.

Cal runs a pretty basic 4-3 defense, and they've struggled mightily. To be fair, they have one of the youngest rosters in the conference but the bottom line is they've looked overwhelmed. Frustrations boiled over this week as Dykes ended up kicking starting d-end Chris McCain off the team. The Bears' defense has the worst MAPS score of any unit in the conference by a considerable margin, and they rank 119th in total defense out of 123 FBS teams. But how much of that has to do with the gauntlet of opponents they have faced? Oregon, Ohio State, and Northwestern all have Top-25 ranked offenses.

Cal's defense will either get well against the Cougars' struggling offense or they probably never will in 2013. The Bears have looked particularly bad in run defense, so Leach may take more opportunities to give the Cougar running backs touches. Teondray Caldwell, Marcus Mason, and Jeramiah Laufasa average nearly 5-yards per carry between them.

Key Statistic
1.0 Sacks Per Game: Cal's 4 total sacks this season ranks No. 110 in the nation.

Defensive MAPS Score: minus-32

Senior Vincenzo D'Amato is a Groza candidate and is 9-for-10 in field goal attempts this year.

-Even though WSU has a winning record at 3-2, there's a lot of pressure on the Cougs to get their second Pac-12 road in in as many tries. Win, and things look brighter for a bowl season. Lose a game they should win, and doubts start to creep in from every conceivable angle.

-This is an interesting bout on the recruiting front. With both head coaches running relatively similar schemes on offense, it would also follow that they'll be after many of the same players in the years to come. The superior offense could grab the bragging rights this off-season.

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