The California Golden Bears (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12) and Sonny Dykes have not gotten off to a great start thus far. The schedule hasn't been easy, as they've had to play four ranked teams (Northwestern, Ohio State and Oregon) in three of their four games. Now the Bears have a chance to get their second win of the season, and their first in the Pac-12, as the Washington State Cougars come to town.
Last week, Cal lost to Oregon 55-16 in a wet and sloppy affair that saw seven total turnovers. Washington State was blown out in a similar manner, losing to Stanford 55-17. The Bears are desperately looking for a win, and the road doesn't get any easier. UCLA, Oregon State and Washington await them after they face off against the Cougars.
Cal has the chance to gain some momentum with a win before its tough stretch of upcoming games. Here's what the Bears need to focus on to beat Wazzu.
In its four games so far, Cal has only scored first against Northwestern. The Bears went on to lose that game 44-30. Even against Portland State, Cal allowed the Vikings to score first.
Cal and Washington State have very similar styles when it comes to offense. Both are extremely pass-heavy. The Golden Bears are first in the Pac-12 with 53.3 pass attempts per game, while the Cougars are second with 51.8.
Whichever team comes out and scores first can put pressure on the other team to play some defense. If Cal can get on the board before Washington State does, it'll be interesting to see how the Bears play with the lead, since they've rarely had that luxury this season. Perhaps, the leaky Cal defense will perform better with a cushion.
There's no doubt that Cal can put points on the board. All season long, defense has been the issue plaguing the Golden Bears.
Cal is ranked 123rd (third worst in the nation) in scoring defense, averaging 45.3 points allowed per game. Furthermore, stopping the run has been problematic, as the Bears average 262.5 rushing yards allowed per game (120th in the nation). Although the passing defense (250 passing yards allowed per game, 85th in the nation) is slightly better, it doesn't help much when the team is allowing 512.5 total yards per game (121st in the nation).
As icing on the cake, Cal is dead last in all of the categories mentioned above in the Pac-12, except for passing defense (ninth).
Why is defense so important against Washington State? The two teams' similar offensive styles will be the highlight of the game, so whoever emerges as the better defensive team will likely win the game. Unfortunately for Cal and its pass-heavy offense, the Cougars are second in the Pac-12 in passing defense (159 passing yards allowed per game).
The turnover numbers aren't pretty for Cal. The Golden Bears have a turnover margin of minus-3 (98th in the nation), which is third worst in the Pac-12. Luckily for the Bears, Washington State is one of the two teams that has a worse turnover margin at minus-4.
Since all signs point to this game being tightly-contested, every possession counts. Cal can't afford to commit five turnovers, as it did in a sloppy game against Oregon last week. Sure, the rain was a factor, but with the porous Cal defense, a single turnover can decide the game.
Quarterback Jared Goff must make smart decisions and protect the football. With four interceptions and three lost fumbles, Goff accounts for seven of Cal's 11 total turnovers.