California 101: Gold Rushers

While Southern Cal remains the default favorite for the conference title in many people's minds, it is California who is playing the best football in the Pac-10 right now. After an opening letdown at Tennessee, the Golden Bears have been on an absolute tear, winning five straight by an average score of 44-18.

The offense is hitting on all cylinders as none of those teams were able to hold the Bears under 40 points. Combined with a defense boasting the multiple All-America candidates, the Bears can no longer be considered a gimmick team led by a wunderkind head coach. They have become a legitimate conference menace that continues to gain strength.

About 2,000 tickets remain for Saturday, including some sideline seating. To purchase tickets online, click here or call 1-800-GO-COUGS.

Cougars (4-2) vs. Bears (5-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
2:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (37,600)

TELEVISION:
None

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

THE LINE:
Cal by 7.5

LAST MEETING:
Last year WSU blew a 10 point fourth quarter lead in the final six minutes of play to lose 42-38.

THE SERIES:
Cal leads the series 37-24-5

CF.C PREDICTION:
WSU 35, Bears 34

THE BEARS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Nate Longshore, QB: Over Cal's five game win streak Longshore has been outstanding, completing 67 percent of his passes for 1325 yards and 17 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Although just a sophomore, he has an excellent grip on coach Jeff Tedford's system. He passes most of the time from three-step drops, but if he uses a five step, look out, he's going deep.

Marshawn Lynch, RB: Lynch has 605 rushing yards in the first six games and averages a devastating 7.0 yards per rush attempt. He is very fast and has fantastic vision. Also a capable receiver when called upon. He further re-aggravated an ankle injury against Oregon but will play this weekend.

DeSean Jackson, WR: One of the fastest receivers in the country. He has 18 touchdowns in 17 career starts and is a very challenging match up for opposing cornerbacks. He will burn coverage deep when played up on the line, or can kill secondaries with slants and stops if given space. He has 29 catches for 522 yards this year.

Overview
Cal runs most of their plays from standard spread formations but will mix in some I-formation, too. Cal's offensive plays are fast developing, the air attack relies heavily on quick passes to keep defenses on their heels and they take full advantage of their team speed. Tedford's play calling has been almost dead even between the run and pass. The Bears have been phenomenal in the red zone where they've scored touchdowns 74 percent of the time.

Strategy
Get physical with the receivers and disrupt their timing as much as possible. Contain the run while keeping Jackson from beating you deep — easier said than done. The linebackers will have their hands full with Lynch but also have to defend the quick slants and protect the middle as well, something they didn't do against USC. In the red zone, Tedford focuses on deception, often passing from jumbo formations. Zone blitzes may be effective if you can surprise Longshore and get pressure on him early.

THE BEARS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Brandon Mebane, DT: A first team All Pac-10 selection last year and one of the front runners for the Outland Trophy. He has a brutal mix of size and power. The Cougs would be wise to throw some double teams at him.

Desmond Bishop, MLB: Another Bear in line for some post season hardware, Bishop came in as a JC transfer last season and made an immediate impact, leading the team in tackles. He's doing it again this year, with 42 stops and five tackles for loss.

Daymeion Hughes, CB: One of the nation's best cover corners. A three year starter and returning first team All Pac-10 selection. Rarely thrown against, especially since counterpart Tim Mixon was lost for the year to a knee injury. Nonetheless, he still has five interceptions this year, returning two for TDs.

Overview
Cal runs a base 4-3 but they move the linebackers and safeties around a lot so it appears to give them different looks. As a whole, the group has no real weak point, and arguably has as much star power as the offense. The d-line is very stingy against the run and the corners play very physical against the receivers. Cal's linebackers are the heart and soul of the group, fast, experienced, and deep. Tedford's general philosophy is to take away whatever his opponents like to do best and force them to beat them another way. Expect significant defensive focus on Hill, if he plays, and Bumpus. Like the offense, they use a lot of deception to try and confuse the quarterback into making costly interceptions.

Strategy
Jed Collins is a capable tight end, but the Cougs might be better served to run a lot of four and five wide receiver sets and stretch the width of the field — something Cal appears to let themselves get very stretched out defensively against. Cal will give plenty of room to the receivers and usually switch to zone coverage schemes to try and generate interceptions. This may open up the Cougars' running game. In general, WSU might just take what they give them and keep possession of the football as much as humanly possible. Cal is content to give up yards, but not points. As teams approach the red zone, the defense tightens it up considerably. Don't expect to get many rushing yards here. The Cougs could have success throwing over the top and it's paramount for Alex Brink to have an accurate afternoon, and make the smart decision to throw it away when needed. Cal has shown they can blow a game wide open when winning the turnover battle.

THE BEARS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Bears try to get the ball into DeSean Jackson's hands as much as possible, which includes punt returns. He's already returned two for scores this year. Given how much trouble WSU had with OSU's Sammie Stroughter, punting the ball out of bounds might be advisable. Cal's proficiency in the red zone has meant little action for kicker Tom Schneider, but he is capable inside of 50 yards. Punter Andrew Larson averages 43.5 yards per punt.

INJURY REPORT
WASHINGTON STATE
Out – Fevaea'i Ahmu (9/30 stress fracture, foot), Cody Boyd (10/7 high ankle sprain), Chris Jordan (9/22 knee surgery), Jason Stripling (shoulder surgery recovery), Ben Woodard (10/7 MCL sprain).
Questionable – Jason Hill (10/7 shoulder AC sprain), Michael Willis (9/30 shoulder sprain), ), Jesse Taylor (9/16 knee MCL sprain)
ProbableMarkus Dawes (9/2 high ankle sprain)

CALIFORNIA
Out – Tim Mixon (CB, knee)
Doubtful –Thomas DeCloud (DB, knee)
Probable –Scott Smith (OL, knee)

FINAL THOUGHTS
Coming off five straight blowout wins, particularly a big one last week against Oregon, Cal could be due for a let down, and the Cougs' defense has shown signs of being on the verge. And for whatever reason, Martin Stadium has been Kryptonite for the Bears. They have not won in Pullman since 1979. The Cougs will again be an underdog at home, but make no mistake, if they withstand Cal's early punch, take the game into the late stages and pull off the upset, they are right back in the Rose Bowl race.

Jeff Tedford is oft-mentioned as the best play caller in the nation. Coach Robb Akey has to disguise his defense as much as possible to avoid getting picked apart. After the success in Corvallis, he could be tempted to blitz a lot more. Blitzing can work against Cal, but not if telegraphed. Longshore will check to the long bomb to DeSean Jackson if he smells single coverage.

Offensively, Cougs need to find a solution to their red zone problems if they want to win this one. Cal often gives up plenty of yards, but not touchdowns. If they want to keep up in a track meet, field goals almost certainly won't get it done. Cal's defensive coordinator Bob Gregory, a WSU alum, is arguably one of the most underrated assistant coaches in the country.


Cougfan Top Stories