Photo Credit: John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports – California Golden Blogs
Last time No. 8 Washington State (6-0, 3-0) faced Cal (3-3, 0-3) the Golden Bears’ defense couldn’t stop a wet paper bag if it tried. This year, the Bears have been efficient at limiting explosive plays and pressure the quarterback.
In their first six games the Golden Bears are doing a significantly better job of getting into the backfield and disrupting plays; as a result their opponents aren’t able to execute too many explosive plays — last Saturday Cal held UW to 4.7 yards per play. Their success at getting into the backfield doesn’t really show up in the stat sheet as Cal is averaging a little under two sacks a game and a little over four tackles for loss per game, but it shows up in the limited yards per play that its opponents have produced this season.
That’s what makes Cal so dangerous for the Cougar offense, especially since quarterback Luke Falk has a tendency to hold onto the ball to long and take monster hits. If the redshirt senior takes too long to work through his reads again, then the Golden Bears defense could have a field day at his expense. The good news for Washington State is that Falk is growing more comfortable with his new receivers and it’s helping the offense find its grove; here’s a good look at how Renard Bell had completely change the way defenses react to the shallow cross.
Fortunately for WSU, its defense has been outstanding and is coming off of its best performance of the season. The Cougs held an explosive Oregon offense to ten points, while wracking up 11 tackles for loss and four sacks; and this week the Cougs are going up against a less explosive offense. Which means that the linebackers should be able to cause havoc in the backfield and disrupt Beau Baldwin’s offensive game plan.
Cal’s offense is led by quarterback Ross Bowers and he’s had a rough season adapting to Bladwin’s offense. Bowers has had issues with making the correct read as been picked off eight times while only tossing nine touchdown passes; the redshirt sophomore isn’t really hitting the explosive plays he needs to move the offense down field — Bowers is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt — and that’s preventing the offense from hitting its full potential.
Now, in Bowers defense, Cal has also been bitten by the injury bug, particularly on offense. The Golden Bears have two wide receivers and one running back listed as out for tonight’s game with another tailback listed as questionable. But so has Washington State, mostly on defense.
Early on Cal’s defensive front seven is aggressive enough to cause issues for WSU’s offensive line, which will cause Fall to take more of the dump of passes than he needs to. As a result the Cougs will struggle to pick up first downs and drive down field, but they’ll find a way to catch the Golden Bears off guard for a couple of big plays early on. By the second half, the offense will hit its stride and Washington State will pull away.
Defensively the Cougars will bring pressure and try to get Bowers out of his comfort zone. Hercules Mata’afa is a game changer that will dominate Cal’s offensive line and force them to double cover him, which will give the linebackers space to operate in one-on-one match-ups. It’s going to be a long night on ESPN for Bowers and the Golden Bears offense.
No. 8 Washington State 42
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