Five WSU keys to 1st place in Pac-12 North

SO HOW BIG is this?! Washington State is playing tonight for sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North when the Cougs square off against Cal at 7:30 (Pac-12 Networks). Here are five keys to how the Cougs post that big win on homecoming weekend.

Cougars (2-3) vs Golden Bears (3-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (32,952)

TELEVISION:
Pac-12 Networks

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

THE LINE:
WSU by 3

LAST MEETING:
2013 WSU won 44-22

THE SERIES:
WSU trails 44-26-5 in the series.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 45, Bears 34

WHEN WSU HAS THE BALL
1. Spread the defense and spread the wealth.
Cal's secondary has looked thin and outmatched in Pac-12 play. Attack it at all points and keep them off balance.

2. Don't let off the gas.
Cal's defense has worn down badly over the course of games, so it is important to keep the pressure on them. But it is also important to remember that the Bear's offense is very potent in its own right. The only way to protect your lead is to keep building it.

WHEN WSU IS ON DEFENSE
3. Don't get beat deep.
WSU's defense deserves a big pat on the back for their performance last week, but they were perilously close to disaster at times. Badly thrown balls by Travis Wilson and one huge drop on a perfectly thrown ball masked the fact that WSU defensive backs were getting beat on the deep routes. Jeff Goff is a much more dangerous passer than Wilson, especially on the house routes. Cornerback Charleston White and safety Darius Lemora (pictured above) along with the rest of the Cougar defensive backfield need to bring their A-game.

4. Don't get beat deep!
In addition to the obvious, WSU is missing out on a fair number of turnovers that ought to have come with the increased amount of pressure the defensive line -- and front seven -- has applied on the quarterback. The Cougs generated five turnovers in last year’s matchup. Goff takes a fair number of gambles over the top, and he can be picked off -- if the safeties don't get drawn out of position.

WHEN WSU IS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
5. Be smart, be decisive.
While WSU committed their fifth significant gaffe on special teams in five games, much of it is highly correctable. The punt return for a TD was sprung by contain men on the right side converging on the ball rather than maintaining lane integrity, (and a terrible block in the back that wasn’t called.) Ricky Galvin's poor field position management, fielding punts inside the 10-yard line, requires a review and reinforcement of what to do and when to do it. WSU needs to be smart, but confident. Hesitation will only trigger more catastrophes.

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