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A Q&A preview of WSU vs. Cal with California Golden Blogs

Our SB Nation compatriots don’t feel great about their chances.

NCAA Football: California at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Kickoff is only a few hours away at this point as the No. 8 Washington State Cougars will try to win their seventh consecutive game to start the season, so let’s get one last look at the California Golden Bears — this time courtesy of our friends over at the inimitable California Golden Blogs. These answers come courtesy of boomtho. Enjoy!

CougCenter: What are your general impressions of the Justin Wilcox era so far, particularly as it compares or contrasts with Sonny Dykes?

CGB: The results may look similar so far (midlding team, inconsistent performance) — but Wilcox does have the team, and program, looking different in a couple ways:

  • The defense is significantly improved, with largely the same personnel, though injuries and depth are starting to cause some problems. While on the surface UW scoring 38 points looks like a bad defensive performance, it's important to note the offense was horrible that game. UW had great field position and a lot of possessions to put up those points.
  • The offense, sadly, is a lot less explosive or dangerous. Some of that could have been easily predicted (after losing 2 QB's to the NFL and most of the OL), and some unfortunately has been a result of key injuries at the skill positions (RB Tre Watson, WR's Demetris Robertson, Melquise Stovall, and Kanawai Noa)
  • The philosophy is not to play super fast and rack up possessions on offense, but rather, to slow the game down and give the defense time to rest

It's early yet, but there are a lot of encouraging signs under Wilcox so far.

Beau Baldwin had a reputation up in these parts for being an offensive mastermind, but the offense hasn't yet taken off. What's holding the Bears back? And should we be afraid that he might be able to recapture a little bit of that EWU magic against WSU?

NCAA Football: California at Washington
Ross Bowers has been ... not great.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

I alluded to this above, but a number of factors are holding the offense back:

  • QB Ross Bowers had no meaningful snaps before this year, so he's basically played half a season of high level college ball.
  • It's the first season for everyone in Baldwin's offense after coming from a vastly different Bear Raid offense under Sonny Dykes.
  • The OL nearly turned over completely.
  • 4 key skill position players are out (3 definitely for the year; Noa is TBD); they're probably 4 of the 5 most dangerous offensive players we have.

I'll zoom in on Bowers a bit more. Bowers has shown some good things, namely a decent instinct to extend plays and some good chemistry with WR Vic Wharton. However, there are probably more negatives than positives at this point of the season. He's not very accurate, lacks great arm strength to stretch the field, and has taken a few bad sacks (and thrown some dangerous balls) while extending plays. The factors mentioned earlier haven't helped him, but Bowers has been a key reason the offense has struggled.

Who's the guy on offense who could really leave us shaking our heads?

Honestly? It's hard for me to even guess at this one. Cal had less than 100 yards of offense against UW, and our OL was routinely beaten by 3 or 4 rushers on passing plays. The most explosive players we have are RB Patrick Laird and WR Vic Wharton. But I think there's a much better chance than not they are stifled and relatively quiet, given the problems elsewhere.

Same question, but for the defense.

NCAA Football: California at San Diego State
Devante Downs is excellent.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Thankfully, there are a few more playmakers that have been making a name for themselves on defense. LB Devante Downs was getting a ton of national hype after an extremely strong start to the season. Downs leads the team in tackles, forced fumbles, and interceptions. Interior DL James Looney is an experienced senior and has a knack for disrupting plays (see: last year's game-winning stand against Utah) despite being undersized. And a number of guys have been making some plays in the secondary, such as Cameron Bynum and Darius Allensworth.

If Cal wins this game, it will happen like this:

It's really, really hard for me to see Cal winning this game — I think we're outmatched in all phases of the game. With that caveat, a few things would have to happen for Cal to win, in my opinion. First, Cal would have to be extremely disciplined on defense and tackle better than we've seen thus far (although, to be fair, the team is significantly improved in this dimension). Second, Bowers will have to extend plays and connect with receivers who have broken open downfield. Last, Cal making a play or two in special teams would be a huge bonus.

If you’d like to read my answers to their questions, you can find that here.