The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Bears

THOSE BELIEVING Washington State has little to no chance in Saturday's road game against No. 24 and heavily favored California might want to check out what's been happening in the Pacific-12 Conference early this season.

The sample size is small, to be sure. But the road teams are 6-0 in conference games. Six-and-oh. Let that sink in a little bit, even as the Cougars are, at last check, a 19-point underdog at Berkeley.

Not only are the road teams winning, they're dominating. Five of the six games have been won by double digits. Utah by 42 at Oregon. USC by 28 at Arizona State. UCLA by 26 at Arizona. Stanford by 18 at Oregon State, by 10 at USC.

The lone road team to win by less than a touchdown was California, a 30-24 winner at Washington.

Now, you'll note this list is largely made up of league powers, not Washington, Oregon State and Colorado. But who saw Utah by SIX touchdowns at Oregon? Or Arizona and Arizona State getting boat-raced on their home fields?

Also in the Cougars' favor is their road track record under Mike Leach. Since he took over at WSU in 2012, the Cougars have a better record on the road (7-11) than home (7-14). You can easily make a case that Washington State, at least under Leach, plays better on the road than home, particularly after his first year. The past three years, the Cougars are 6-6 in road games.

About California: Saturday's 1 p.m. game (Pac-12 Networks) features a Bears team off to its hottest start since 2007. California (4-0, 1-0) is aiming for its first 5-0 start to a season since 1950. The Bears found themselves in the AP Top 25 this week for the first time since 2010.

Cal has a prolific offense, averaging 46 points a game. But the Bears have also proven to be clutch, as they could easily be 2-2. The Bears beat Texas 45-44, the difference a missed extra point on the Longhorns' final touchdown with 1:11 remaining. Last Saturday, Cal let Washington hang around until the end before escaping with a 30-24 win in Seattle.

The Bears also have runaway wins over Grambling State (73-14) and San Diego State (35-7) this season. They're 2-0 at home.

Cal coach Sonny Dykes is a Mike Leach protégé, having coached on his Texas Tech staff from 2000-06. Dykes is in his third year at California, where he's 10-18. Prior to Berkeley, Dykes was head coach at Louisiana Tech, where he coached three years and led the team to a Western Athletic Conference title in 2011.

In two previous games against the Leach Cougars, Dykes' Bears are 1-1, each team winning on the road.

Offensively among Pac-12 schools, Cal ranks third in scoring, second in total yards (542.5 per game), sixth in rushing (192 yards ppg), and third in passing (350.5 yards ppg). Defensively, the Bears are seventh in scoring (22.2 ppg), ninth in total yards (382.8 ppg), seventh in rushing (168 yards ppg) and passing (214.8 yards ppg).

You'll notice in those stats one big difference between the Cougars and Bears' air-friendly offenses is the running game. The Bears run the ball a fair amount; they have 167 carries through four games, 12 more than their opponents. Khalfani Muhammad leads Cal in rushing yards with 309, though their best running back is senior Daniel Lasco, idled the past two weeks with a hip injury. Lasco, who ran for 123 yards two weeks ago against San Diego State, is expected to practice and play this week. Lasco ran for 1,115 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014.

Quarterback Jared Goff is one of the Pac-12's most experienced signal callers. The 6-4 junior has thrown for 8,721 yards and 64 touchdowns in three years at Cal. This season, Goff is completing 69.2 percent of his throws (92 of 133) for 1,240 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Goff's primary receiving targets are Kenny Lawler, who has 21 grabs for 294 yards and six touchdowns, Trevor Davis (9 for 222, 1 TD) and Darius Powe (14-131, 1 TD).

Defensively, senior defensive end Kyle Kragen is coming off a Pac-12 defensive player of the week performance against Washington, where he had six tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble. The Bears leading tackler is junior safety Damariay Drew, with 21 stops this season. Cal is quite good at forcing turnovers, with 13 this season. The Bears have nine interceptions, including two by senior cornerback Darius White.

The series: California leads the 76-game series 45-26-5 after last year's horror in Pullman, a 60-59 Cal win in which the Cougars missed a 19-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the game. Connor Halliday torched the Bears defense for 734 yards and six touchdowns. In 2013, Halliday threw for 521 yards in a 44-22 win over the Bears in Berkeley.

Familiar faces: Cal defensive tackle David Davis began his career at WSU. California also has five Washingtonians on its roster, including three freshmen in quarterbacks Andrew Black (Spokane/Lewis & Clark) and Ross Bowers (Bothell) and defensive end Cameron Saffle (Sammamish/Skyline). Also on the roster are junior corner Cedric Dozier (Tacoma/Lakes) and sophomore linebacker Devante Downs (Mountlake Terrace). As for coaching connections, aside from the Dykes-Leach relationship, Cal safeties coach Greg Burns (1991-95) is a former three-year starter at Washington State.

NOTABLE NOTES
  • Similar to Leach’s results at Texas Tech, the Cougars haven't exactly torn it up coming off a bye week under their fourth-year head coach. WSU is 1-4 after a bye week since 2012. Maybe it's an Arizona thing, as the opponent in four of the five games following a bye week were either Arizona or Arizona State. Last year, the Cougars lost both games after a bye, 59-37 to Arizona and 52-31 to Arizona State. Washington State's lone win following a bye came in 2013, a 24-17 win at Arizona.

  • Washington State seeks its first three-game winning streak since rattling off three straight in 2013 (USC, Southern Utah, Idaho).

  • The Cougars have 12 Northern California players on their roster, including two starters on defense, cornerback Marcellus Pippins and lineman Darryl Paulo.

  • Leach is two wins away from cracking the century mark for his career. Leach's career mark is 98-69.

  • Dykes gave California players Sunday and Monday off after winning back-to-back road games. It's not only a promise Dykes made to the team if they won at Washington, he told reporters he likes keeping the team fresh so they play fast.

    Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel


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