3 game-day predictions: Washington State vs. California

PULLMAN -- The last time the Cougars beat a ranked team, at USC in 2013, the Trojans were so dysfunctional that even Steven Spielberg was publicly weighing in on the horror and Lane Kiffin wound up out of a job. The No.-24-ranked Cal Bears the Cougars face at 1 p.m. today in Berkeley (Pac-12 Networks) aren't a sticky mess like the men of Troy in 2013. Not by a long shot.

As ESPN.com's Ted Miller noted Friday, the Bears lead the nation in turnovers forced (14) and sport the 11th-most efficient offense.

With arguably the best quarterback in the nation in Jared Goff, the 4-0 Bears indeed look formidable. Maybe not the 17-point-favorite-worth of formidable that Las Vegas oddsmakers listed them at Friday afternoon, but certainly a test for the 2-1 Cougars.

So what to expect when the whistle sounds? Here are three predictions.

1. The Cougars will hold Cal under 500 yards of total offense.

Cal is averaging 542.5 yards of total offense, but if you throw out their 73-14 blowout of undermanned Grambling State, the average is 504.6 yards a game and in two of those games -- against Texas and UW -- the outcome wasn't determimned until the waning moments. Cal uses a good balance of run and pass in its version of the Air Raid, so the call here is that the Cougs will focus early on stopping the run. Goff is going to rack up yardage, but if the Cougs can make the Bear offense one-dimensional, that could be enough disruption to throw Goff & Co. out of sync and allow the Cougs to turn loose Destiny Vaeao and Darrly Paulo. Cal's regular left tackle isn't expected to start so perhaps there's an opening here to exploit. And don’t forget that Cougar RUSH linebackers Ivan McLennan (pictured above) and Kache Palacio are tied for the Pac-12 lead in sacks with three apiece.

2. The Cougar defense will continue its turnovers parade.

In the last two games, the Cougars have picked up an unprecedented (for them) five turnovers. “It’s no secret if you win the turnover battle, you usually win games,"defensive coordinator Alex Grinch told CF.C this week .He has made turnover creation an emphasis since spring and if you were anywhere near practices this week there's one word you heard repeatedly from coaches: STRIP.

3. Special teams will not give up a touchdown.

That's probably a fairly safe statement to make for most teams in most games. But the Cougars' kickoff coverage woes in last year's Cal game are likely to linger in the collective conscience of Cougar Nation for decades, making it a natural topic of conversation this week. In special teams drills this week, the Cougars looked poised and disciplined. That's not to say the Bears won't collect some yardage on special teams, but based on the intensive and efficient way the Cougar special teams worked this week I would be truly surprised if the Bears hit paydirt. The Cougars put in a ton of work both blocking for their returner and getting through blockers to tackle the opposing return man.

PREDICTION

I haven’t predicted a Cougar loss yet this season, and I’m not going to start with this game. Cal is undefeated, yes, but they were an extra point away from overtime with Texas, and they let an iffy-Husky team rally to make it a one-TD game last week. If Cal’s mistakes finally catch up with them, I think it’s against the hungry, motivated Cougs. The season-opening loss to Portland State still chafs at the Cougars and appears to be fueling them every week. They also like to play on the road. The over-under on this one is, compared with last season's outcome, a paltry 71. I'm not forecasting another 119 but am envisioning a shootout. Final score: Cougs 44-38.


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