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WSU Vs. Cal: A First Look At The Golden Bears

I always give myself a chuckle when I publish these things on Friday and they say "A First Look At The So-and-Sos."  I'm sure that all of you hold off on doing any sort of research into the team until CougCenter has their preview on Friday afternoon. What's that? You don't? Well then you just aren't dedicated to the cause then.

In doing my research for these previews I occasionally have myself way more excited about the Cougs' chances in their upcoming game than I should be. More often that not, after looking at the numbers, I find myself with little-to-no faith in a Cougar victory. I suppose that makes the rare wins all the more exciting.

This week I fall into the latter category. It seems that most of you believe that this game will be much closer than the 9.5 point spread indicates. After poking around on my usual websites, I find the spread to coincide with how I feel about this game

In their weekly F +/- predictions, Football Study Hall predicts a 15-point Cal victory. Cal is ranked #50 in Bill Connelly's S&P while the Cougs are way down at #100. After the jump, we'll dive unto the offense/defense previews.

OFFENSE: 28.8 PPG, 5.6 YPP, #77 S&P

It is safe to say that offense is not the Golden Bears' strong suit. They are below average in passing, running, standard downs, and passing downs. Basically, they are below average on every single down of the game!

Much of their subpar offensive play has beeen attributed to the struggles at quarterback.  Junior Zach Maynard has been wildly inconsistent. At times looking fully capable, at other times looking like he forgot what color of jersey to throw the ball to. He is inaccurate, completing just 53.4% of his passes and throwing ten interceptions so far this season.  He also has trouble holding onto the ball, as displayed here (Click to animate-and I don't want to here any whining, so I'll go ahead and tell you to right click and open in a new tab):



Even with his inaccuracies, Maynard has still managed to post a respectable 7.3 yards per attempt. This is in large part to the talented wide receivers he has on the outside. Sophomore Keenan Allen (yes, another ridiculously good Pac-12 sophomore) is only eleven yards away from 1,000 yards receiving on the season. He has 67 catches for a 14.76 average and five touchdowns. If Maynard isn't looking Allen's way, look for him to get the ball to Marvin Jones. Jones has caught 41 passes so far for 610 yards and three touchdowns.

While the passing game gets a lot of attention, Cal's rushing attack hasn't been the dominant force it was in years past. S&P ranks them well below average. Isi Sofele gets the majority of the carries. He has rushed for 696 yards with a 4.87 average and six touchdowns.

As was the case against Oregon State, the Washington State defense will face a mistake-prone quarterback and an offense that has struggled mightily against Pac-12 competition. Hopefully the Cougs will not make them look like a juggernaut.

DEFENSE: 26.4 PPGA, 5.3 YPPA, #33 S&P

While Jeff Tedford has been pegged as an offensive coach and a quarterback guru in the past, his defenses have been impressive over the last few years. 2011's version is not exactly the type that Coug fans would want to see. They rank 15th overall in passing S&P and 22nd on standard downs.

Cal runs a 3-4. Marshall Lobbestael only played garbage time against Stanford, the only other Pac-12 3-4 team, so it will be interesting to see how he makes the protection adjustments (of which have been his most impressive attribute this season) against a team with rushers coming from all angles.

The Golden Bears get solid play from their three down linemen. Trevor Guyton leads the team with 7.0 tackles for loss. Ernest Owusu is not far behind with 6.5.  Overall, the Cal defense has sacked the opposing quarterback 20 times and has stopped another 43 plays for loss. That doesn't bode well for WSU, who has had trouble going down the field with Lobbestael at quarterback and has relied on getting solid gains early to achieve manageable third downs.

If there is a weakness in this defense, it is in the ground game. They are allowing 4.57 yards per rushing attempt and rank 61st overall in rushing S&P.  It would be nice to see Galvin, Winston, and Mitz pick up a few more carries in this one, as opposed to taking more chances against a good Cal pass defense.

Cal is in trouble if...Maynard continues his turnover struggles and gives the Cougs some points on the defensive side of the ball. WSU picks up big gains in the ground game and Lobbestael works his protection-adjustment magic to avoid negative-yardage plays.

This is a game the Cougs probably have to win if they are going to reach bowl eligibility (tired of hearing that one?). Cal is a lot tougher than they have looked recently, and they may be wanting to prove just that. Expect a low scoring game, with the winner ending up somewhere around 24 points (yes, that is a low-scoring game in this conference).

Thanks to, Football Outsiders, and Football Study Hall for the statistics and data used in this story.