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Cal 101: While Bears heavily favored Saturday, an analysis of their offense, defense and special teams doesn't suggest juggernaut

CONFERENCE PLAY opens for the Cougs on Saturday, which means it’s time to separate the pretenders from the contenders. Cal is a huge favorite, but with so much offensive firepower on both sides, the call here is that another shootout shouldn't be a surprise.

The Bears are ranked No. 24 in the nation and being hailed as the second-greatest story west of the Mississippi, just behind Utah. But Cal's  4-0 record hasn't exactly been built on granite. Texas and Washington aren't even shadows of their former selves and both of those games went to the wire, while the Bears' other two wins, over undermanned Grambling State and ho-hum San Diego State, are far from impressive.

Of course, the Cougars lost to Portland State so there's no room for any comparative gloating. But the point is this: Cal hasn't shown itself to be a juggernaut and the Cougars have glimpsed good work in each of the three facets of the game, just not consistently or simultaneously.

That's why Saturday's matchup looks to be highly intriguing.


Players to Know

QB Jared Goff:  Easily one of the most accurate passers in the country.  He has always anticipated well, but he is longer now winging the ball into space and letting the receiver make a play.  Goff can throw strikes when he has to, and has increased his accuracy significantly on throws beyond 20 yards.

RB Vic Enwere: Has come on strong in last two weeks, rushing for 73 yards against Texas and 84 against Washington. A big load who is averaging 4.3 hashes per carry.

WR Kenny Lawler: All of Cal's receivers are dangerous, but Lawler is emerging as the best of the bunch.  He has NFL-level size and speed, to consistently present mismatches no matter who is defending him. 


This offense is about as familiar as they come. Dykes is a former Leach disciple who refers to his variant of this offense as the Bear Raid.  Cal shows far more commitment to traditional runs, creating a much more balanced attack.  Outside play calling, however, the offense is essentially the same. One major difference between the two so far this season is points scored -- the Bear offense is averaging nearly 46 per game (albeit a number artificially inflated by the 73 they hung on Grambling) and the Cougar offense is averaging 28.


One would suspect the defenses to perform better given the number of reps they get against this offense, but the opposite seems to hold true. These teams have scored an average of 93 points in their last two two meetings. To win, WSU needs to pressure the quarterback and win the turnover battle, which is extremely difficult to do. Goff clocks the shortest time from snap to throw of any quarterback in the conference. 

Key Stat

Zero turnovers.  Neither team committed a turnover in last year’s meeting.  The year before, however, Cal committed five turnovers and WSU won handily 44-22.


Players to Know

LB Michael Barton: Frankly, Cal doesn’t have much star power on D, but they are playing well as a unit.  Seven different Bears have interceptions this season, and seven different players have registered sacks.  Barton is generally a focal point in the action. Also of note is that Cal defensive tackle David Davis began his career at WSU.


Cal's defense looks significantly improved from last year when it ranked last in the nation. Nonetheless, occasional offensive explosions reveal flaws beneath the surface.  In a 280-yard fourth quarter, Texas showed Cal to be a poor tackling team which cannot handle mobile quarterbacks.  They live and die by turnovers.


This may be a battle of the quarterbacks, but the Bears have not faced a group of receivers this strong all season.  The Cal secondary has generated an impressive number of interceptions, but Falk needs to roll the dice and believe his receivers will beat them. When the coverage is extra tight, he should look to pick up cheap first downs with his legs.

Key Stat

3.4 points: WSU averages just 3.4 points in the first quarter of play coming off a bye week during the Mike Leach Era.  For whatever reason, the offense seems to have trouble getting into gear after a bye.  They cannot afford to start a lap behind in this race. 


Cal special teams have been mediocre all season — so much so that Sonny Dykes went out of his way following last Saturday’s win at %%MATCH_9%% to talk about the significant work the Bears need on special teams.  Kicker Matt Anderson has shown little accuracy beyond 35 yards.


Every game since Portland State has been called a must win, but if the Cougs want to go to a bowl game, an upset at Cal is likely a necessity.  Overall, WSU matches up well, and if playing on the road is somehow an advantage, which it seems to be under Mike Leach, this might be a great opportunity for an upset.  The Cougs have won two Pac-12 road games each of the last two seasons.

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Pacific

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Where: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley

The Line: Cal by 19

Last Year: Cal 60-59

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