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WSU vs. Cal: Golden Bears blow up the defensive game plan

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Coming into the game against California, Golden Bears fans were nervous about the prospect of their sack-happy offense facing a WSU defense that had shown surprising ability to get to the quarterback.

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Unfortunately, the Cougs never really got a chance to get their pass rush off the ground:

Once the Golden Bears were able to consistently rip off five to 10 yards at a time on the ground, the defensive formula for WSU was pretty much out the window. Heading into the game, I was sure the contest would hinge on the Cougars’ ability to disrupt Zach Maynard throwing the ball. Cal had given up more sacks than anyone in the conference, and Maynard isn’t exactly known for his ability to make good decisions in the face of a strong rush. If the Cougars could do what they had been doing – playing well against the run – and put Cal into obvious passing situations, they’d have a chance to severely limit the Bears’ offense.

But that becomes a lot harder to do when a team is running the ball so successfully that it only has to throw it on 32 percent of its plays. Even so, Maynard made two critical mistakes that ended in turnovers; unfortunately, the Cougars just couldn’t force him to throw it enough to put him in position to make even more of what would be inevitable errors. The running game also took away one of WSU’s most powerful weapons. It’s awfully hard to pin your ears back and rush the passer when your opponent is consistently putting itself in manageable downs and distances on which a run or pass is equally plausible.

That Cal was able to keep the Cougars at arms’ length the entire evening with this strategy shows just how far WSU still has to go to be a quality Pac-12 outfit.

There's more in the latest edition of Cougar Sports Weekly, including a look at (what else?) Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, as well as the first of my basketball player previews (on Royce Woolridge). You can find subscription info here.