It seems like ancient history this week, but Mike Leach has lost the last two meetings vs. his protégé -- and in heartbreaking fashion.
WSU led most of game in Berkeley last year, but a scoreless fourth quarter full of clumsy mistakes saw the Cougs give the game away. The year before in Pullman was even more horrific, with Wazzu surrendering a pair of kick returns for score and missing would-be winning chip shot field goal as time expired.
Will things go differently for the Cougs in 2016?
AT A GLANCE: Cougars (7-2) vs Golden Bears (4-5)
7:30 p.m. PT
Martin Stadium (32,952)
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WSU by 14 ½ (The Cougs opened as 16-point favorite)
Washington State lost 34-28 in Berkley in 2015.
Cal leads 46-26-5.
MATT MOORE’s PREDICTION:
Cougs 49, Golden Bears 40
THE GOLDEN BEARS ON OFFENSE:
QB Davis Webb: The Texas Tech transfer has lived up to the billing, throwing for 3,176 yards and 30 touchdowns. He commands the offense well, but has not shown the same level of precision as Falk.
RB Khalfani Muhammad: An elite runner who averages 6.4 yards per carry and leads the team with 653 rushing yards.
WR Chad Hanson: The walk on is Cal's answer to Gabe Marks. He’s come out of nowhere to lead the conference in receiving (64 catches) despite missing nearly two games due to injury. Hanson has fantastic hands and great body control. He is Webb's primary target at the “Y” outside receiver position.
Coug fans are obviously going be familiar with this particular style of offense, though Cal runs the ball more than WSU. The biggest differences I note between the Air Raid and the Bear Raid, in the passing game, is that Dykes' scheme tends to be more vertical. The runs tend to be up the gut, and there are a lot more fly routes in the passing game. Overall I would rank Cal's personnel a half grade lower than WSU, but this is undoubtedly a powerful offense.
Webb loses accuracy out of the pocket – and he if hit, he will make major adjustments to avoid continuing contact (and to Cal’s detriment). So this just in: pressuring him is key. Beyond that, the name of the game is turnovers. Whoever wins the turnover battle probably wins the game.
39.7 points per game: There is no reason to believe Cal can't compete in a shootout.
THE GOLDEN BEARS ON DEFENSE:
LB Devante Downs: The native of Montlake Terrace is second on the team in tackles and is one of the bigger MIKE linebackers in the conference at 250 pounds.
DE Cameron Saffle: Another native Washingtonian, Saffle was teammates with Peyton Pelluer at Skyline High. He leads the Bears with 3.5 sacks this season.
Cal runs the kind of 4-3 defense Luke Falk has always thrived against. The assignments are generally clear, and the passing lanes are more open. On the injury front, Cal has lost seven different safeties at different points this year. They tend to have a lot of big holes and missed tackles in the secondary. No aspect of this defense holds any particular strength. The Bear defense ranks dead last nationally at No. 128 against the run, and is No. 103 is pass efficiency defense.
If you run the ball on Cal, they are in trouble. The Bears have to overextend themselves to generate stops -- and balanced offenses have eaten them alive. WSU's inability (or unwillingness) to run the ball last year crippled their ability to hold onto a lead (11 carries by RBs, 43 yards). On Saturday Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks will thrive if let loose often against Cal. Once the running game gets Cal out of sync, Luke Falk should annihilate the patchwork secondary and Gabe Marks (pictured above) should feast.
44.4 points per game: The Bears have the worst scoring defense in the nation, and they have been remarkably consistent about it. Only Utah and Hawaii have been held under 43 points by Cal.
THE GOLDEN BEARS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams were the difference in the last two meetings between Cal and WSU. Should it come down to a field goal, Matt Anderson is nearly automatic inside of 50 yards.
-Cal's defense was expected to be bad this year, but things have gotten completely out of control. The Bear defense's 44.4 points allowed average is actually threatening to break Paul Wulff's conference record of 43.8.
-Dykes and Cal need to win two of the final three games (WSU, Stanford, UCLA) or the Bears will miss a bowl game for the third time in his four year tenure.
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