Contrary to reports you may have seen, the Cal Golden Bears will be bringing a defense to Pullman on Saturday. It's surprising to me as well, but it is actually true. And here's the kicker: That defense will be trying to stop WSU from scoring!
Over Cal's last two games, the "stop the other team from scoring" part of defense hasn't went very well. Arizona and Colorado combined for more than 100 points against the Golden Bears.
Thanks in large part to those performances, Cal ranks 95th in Football Outsiders defensive S&P+, with the 98th worst success rate allowed (that's the percentage of successful plays an offense produces--basically when commentators say an offense is "staying on schedule").
But even with the lack of success, there are still Golden Bear playmakers. Unfortunately, not all of them have Twitter accounts that I could easily locate, such as Todd Barr, who leads Cal defensive linemen with 3.5 tackles for loss.
Right behind Barr, with 2.5 TFL, is D-lineman Brennan Scarlett, who apparently is also a mover and shaker in the "sock game."
U know the sock game is real when ppl start scheming to steal a pair— Brennan Scarlett (@BScarlett17) February 16, 2014
Socks are kind of gross. I'm not sure I'd jump at the opportunity to steal a pair just based on appearance, and I'm a fan of cool-looking socks.
Now, if we are talking about smartwool-type athletic socks? Then I might be more inclined to swipe a pair. I love those things. You can run in them for a week and they don't get smelly (not that I have ever tried).
Back to the football, Scarlett's sock power hasn't translated much to the rest of the team. The Golden Bears average just 5.5 TFL per game, good for just 80th nationally. That's solid news for Washington State, which has allowed it's fair share of TFL on offense (6 per game, 74th-worst).
You can't place that lack of TFL blame on Michael Barton. And we know his head is in the right place.
Pizza sound bomb rn— Michael Barton (@michaelbarton08) July 13, 2014
Honestly, you can cut and paste this tweet and use it every second of every day. Pizza always sounds good, and that was especially true when I was in college. I remember there was a point, with the various free events one could attend and the Little Ceasar's Hot-N-Ready runs, where I ate pizza for at least one meal on nine consecutive days.
And it sounded bomb on all nine of those days.
Barton's pizza-fueled play has him second on the team in tackles and tied for the team lead in TFL. He's joined in the Cal linebacking corps by the Twitter-less (at least after 30 seconds of searching) Jalen Jefferson, who leads the team in tackles and has also snagged an interception this season.
Speaking of interceptions, there's just a single Golden Bear with more than one, and you might not want to challenge him in Monopoly.
After I'm done with this intro to Econ class I'm pretty sure I'll win ever game of monopoly I play— Griffin Piatt (@GPiatt3) February 5, 2013
The intro Econ class I took in college was actually a macroeconomics class, which wasn't entirely applicable to Monopoly. Here's guessing that Griffin Piatt was taking a microeconomics course.
And while we don't exactly know the impact that Econ class had on Piatt's Monopoly skills, it appears it has paid dividends on the football field. The former wide receiver leads the Bears with three interceptions and six pass breakups.
But his secondary mates haven't done much to help. Cal sits at 87th in passing S&P, and WSU may be looking forward to picking up yards in the passing game on early downs--the Golden Bear defense is also 87th in performance on standard (read: non-passing) downs.
Cal's defense does perform relatively well on passing downs (59th in passing downs S&P), so it will be important for the Cougs to take advantage in those early-down situations where the Golden Bears have struggled.
While WSU is coming off one of its best running performances, don't expect those early-down yards to come from the running game. Overall, the Cougars have been among the worst in the country when running the ball (on a per-down basis, not just in total). WSU ranks 111th in rushing S&P. Meanwhile, stopping the run is the strength of the Cal defense. The Golden Bears rank 55th in rushing S&P.
But overall, Cal's defensive profile isn't exactly bad news. It has been bad against the pass this season, and (have you heard?!?) WSU loves to pass the ball. The Cougs have even done it reasonably well at 45th nationally in passing S&P.
Most are expecting a shootout in Pullman on Saturday, and the numbers say the Cougs have a great shot at holding up their end of the bargain.