Washington State (3-2) at California (1-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 5, 4 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (63,186) -- Berkeley, California. Television: FS1, ESPN3.com. Home Record: WSU 2-0, California 1-2. Away Record: WSU 1-1, California 0-1. Neutral Record: WSU 0-1, California 0-0. Conference Record: WSU 0-1, California 0-1. Series Record: California leads, 44-25-5.
GAME NOTES: Two teams coming off of tough losses in their conference openers will be matched up on Saturday when the Washington State Cougars go up against the California Golden Bears at Memorial Stadium.
Though technically a neutral site game, the Cougars battled Stanford in Seattle in what was a home game for the league opener. The advantage of playing so close to Pullman didn't do much though as the Cougars were routed, 55-17 to drop to 3-2 on the campaign and 0-1 in Pac-12 action. The good news is the Cougars have already matched their win total from a year ago.
California faced a similar fate in its conference debut, as the Golden Bears were handled by Oregon, 55-16. The loss was the second straight for the Golden Bears, who are just 1-3 on the year with the lone win coming against FCS foe Portland State. If there is any consolation to be taken from the 1-3 start, it is that all three of the setbacks have come against nationally-ranked opponents.
Keenan Allen hauled in 11 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown to lead California to a 31-17 road victory over Washington State last year. The Golden Bears have generally had an easy time with the Cougars as they hold a 44-25-5 edge in the all-time series.
In comparison to the rest of the Pac-12, Washington State is a middle of the road team in terms of passing offense. However, that is more a symptom of how good the passing in the Pac-12 is than anything else. By totaling 327.4 yards per game through the air, the Cougars rank 14th nationally in that category.
Connor Halliday missed a portion of Saturday's loss with a leg injury but is listed as probable for this contest. That is a good thing for head coach Mike Leach and company as the offense runs through the quarterback. Halliday has thrown for 1,472 yards and 10 touchdowns, completing 66.4 percent of his passes. However, Halliday still struggles with limiting his mistakes as he has nine interceptions.
Of the nine players on the roster to have already recorded 10 or more receptions, Gabe Marks is clearly the go-to target. Marks has brought in 37 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns, all-team-highs. Kristoff Williams (19 receptions, 195 yards) has been the second best receiver in terms of receptions, while Dominique Williams (13 receptions, 268 yards, three TDs) is second in yards and touchdowns, while providing a big-play threat down the field.
Running the ball is an afterthought for the Cougars, who have just 303 rushing yards as a team. Teondray Caldwell (123 yards) has accounted for the majority of those yards.
What has been surprising, and also a large reason why Washington State has already matched its win total from a year ago, is how well the Cougars have been on defense. They are holding opponents to just 20.6 points and 324.2 yards per game. Each of those marks is within the top half of the Pac-12. Deone Bucannon (44 tackles three INTs) and Damante Horton (15 tackles, three INTs) are ball hawks in the secondary.
There seems to be a bit of a quarterback controversy for California's new head coach Sonny Dykes. After freshman Jared Goff played so well in the first few games, it was redshirt freshman Zach Kline that played the majority of the game against Oregon. Goff has thrown for more than 1,300 yards in the first three games but was taken out after a number of fumbles. Kline wasn't exactly stellar in his collegiate debut, as he completed just 18-of-37 pass attempts for 165 yards to go with a touchdown and an interception. It is still unclear who will get the start on Saturday.
Getting that situation figured out will be key for the Golden Bears as they are averaging 498.2 yards per game, with 373 of those yards coming through the air.
The primary pass-catchers will still be the same for whoever is under center. Bryce Treggs (30 receptions, 348 yards, TD) has been an extremely reliable target, while Chris Harper (24 receptions, 339 yards, three TDs) has been adept at finding his way into the end zone. Richard Rodgers (11 receptions, 181 yards, TD) is a decent third option.
Brendan Bigelow (236 yards) and Daniel Lasco (154 yards, TD) are the backfield tandem that account for the bulk of the team's limited rushing output.
The rapid pace at which Sykes likes to push his offense has done no favors for his defense. The Golden Bears are getting lit up for 45.2 points and 512.5 yards per game. California is last in the Pac-12 in each category and is actually the only team in the league letting up more than 32 points and 410 yards of offense each week. Khairi Fortt (32 tackles) is the leader in tackles but has not been much of a pass rusher for a team that has just four sacks.
These teams have similar offensive philosophies so expect both to throw early and often. If Halliday can go the Cougars have a bit more consistency at quarterback which should prove helpful. Either way, Bucannon and Horton will make life difficult for whoever is throwing the ball for California.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Washington State 38, California 35
10/02 10:39:22 ET