Hello again, fellow bitter and disillusioned Cal fans. I'd like to apologize for my UCLA preview last week. Couldn't have been more off base. Obviously I made the mistake of trusting this team and staff to, you know, beat a shitty team. So that's my fault. I turned on the game feeling brightly optimistic (read: completely vulnerable), and was rewarded with one of the more epic stinkbombs I can recall during the Tedford era. Funny how a complete and utter lack of execution, a faulty defensive gameplan, and Zach Maynard confusing Tevin McDonald for Keenan Allen THREE TIMES can turn the tables. I got confident, and was bitchslapped by reality. The lesson as always to Cal fans: Never let yourself become confident in this team. EVER. Some of you have this down pretty well already (tip of the cap to KikiRevenge, you were spot on), and I have seen the light. Lesson learned. Unfortunately the realization that I'm a supporter of a team currently hovering somewhere between mediocrity and irrelevance has knocked down my smugness quite a bit. Thus, I warn you this is probably a pretty crappy post. You have been warned.
The team will be back at the overpriced and home-field-advantage-negating confines of AT&T Park this Saturday to host the Washington State Cougars. Normally I'd be relieved by this scheduling boon. It's the Coogs! Chalk up a needed win right now! But this team ain't the Wazzu the PAC has known and destroyed over the last several years. They actually compete now. And in a twist that a Cal fan can hardly fathom, they've managed to thrive offensively with a backup QB seamlessly making a transition as a starter. Marshall (Lobby) Lobbestael...he's better than our QB. Let that marinate a bit.
Wazzu started the year off with a bang, jumping out to a 2-0 record by annihilating two lousy teams at home...despite losing starting QB Jeff Tuel to a broken collarbone in week 1(enter the Lobbster!). They were brought back down to reality in a hard-fought loss at San Diego State in week 3, then escaped Boulder with a tight win over CU before dropping their last 4 games. They put up a bigger fight last week in Eugene that we did, and were a few untimely red zone turnovers and special teams blunders away from making things really interesting. This phenomenon is referred to UW folks as "Cougin it". I'm sure everyone is familiar with the classic and timeless American film "Kingpin". Well, consider "Cougin it" the Pac-12 version of "pulling a Munson". Hey, at least they have a name for it. Should we get on that too?
Sitting at a 3-5 record, Wazzu folks have this weekend circled as a big step towards achieving bowl eligibility for the first time in 8 years. We've been inconsistent enough to give them reason to be optimistic. But we need this game badly as well. The Cougs bring in a passing attack ranked 10th in the country, so you know they can put up points. Which team will prove to be more disappointing this weekend? Will Cal pull a
Maynard Munson? Will the Cougs keep Cougin it? An offensive preview that ranges from pessimistic to indifferent after the jump.
2011 record: 3-5
Week 1: WIN vs Idaho State (64-21)
Week 2: WIN vs UNLV (59-7)
Week 3: LOSS @ San Diego State (24-42)
Week 4: WIN @ Colorado (31-27)
Week 5: LOSS @ UCLA (25-28)
Week 6: LOSS vs Stanford (14-44)
Week 7: LOSS vs Oregon State (21-44)
Week 8: LOSS @ Oregon (28-43)
Last Season: 2-10 (LOSS vs Cal 13-20)
2011 Offensive Stats:
Passing: 316.1 yards/game (10th)
Rushing: 121.0 yards/game (95th)
Scoring: 33.3 points/game (33rd)
STARTER- Marshall Lobbestael, Senior (RS) - 6'3, 215 lbs
The Lobbster has performed admirably in place of the injured Jeff Tuel, and the stats don't tell the whole story...even though they're pretty impressive (2076 yards, 16 TDs, 7 INTs on 62.9% passing). Consider the lack of support he has on this offense: little to no running game (95th nationally), a WR corps that suffers from bouts of inconsistency and drops, and an O-Line that imitates matadors more than blockers (3.18 sacks allowed per game). The guy is running for is life most of the time. And yet he still chucks the ball all over the field and racks up yardage. Considering many folks thought the WSU season was essentially over when Tuel broke his collarbone in week 1, this guy has been quite the surprise. Its also interesting that the Coogs two biggest margins of defeat (a 14-44 loss to Stanford and a 21-44 loss @ Oregon State) came in games that Tuel started during a short-lived comeback from his collarbone injury (he then suffered a serious calf injury that may see him miss the rest of the season). Lobbestael has surpassed expectations, and his ability to not only endure, but thrive, is the main reason that this passing offense is ranked #10 in the country and second in the PAC-12.
Upside: Better than Maynard
Downside: Doesn't run the Pistol, red zone turnovers...Cougin it.
What to expect:
Stop the passing game and the Cougs are toast. Easier said than done though. Despite a weak running game and opposing defenses using sacks as currency, Lobby gets his yards. In games that he's started, he's only failed to surpass 300 yards passing once (230 yards on 70% passing in the week 5 loss @ UCLA). That stat may also speak to the fact that Wazzu has been playing from behind a fair amount though...their defense sucks. He hasn't gotten much help, but he's mobile enough to extend plays and make throws if his receivers can get open...and catch the ball. I also have some concerns about how our defense handles the Wazzu no-huddle offense. Will we be prepared? Will we be able to effectively sub out or front 7 to keep them fresh? I'm not sure. Lobbestael runs this offense well, and he has one stud receiver in Marquess Wilson along with a decent enough supporting cast. So how can we avoid a replay of Tyler Hansen in week 2? Maybe we won't. But while the Coog offense moves the chains, they struggled in the red zone against the Ducks last week. Lobby threw a couple big picks down there that could have changed the course of the game...possibly. He'll get his yards, unless we hurt him. That's probably the best way to stop this whole offense, actually. Just hurt their quarterback. Ok, cool. That was easy.
STARTER- Rickey Galvin, Freshman (RS) - 5'8, 171 lbs
Carl Winston, Junior - 5'8, 200 lbs
The Cougars have a couple of little guys spearheading their rushing "attack", redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin (67 rushes for 406 yards, 4 TDs) and junior Carl Winston (83 rushes for 334 yards, 3 TDs). Galvin is the sizzle...bringing more speed and wiggle into the game, while Winston is the steak...used more for the inside run game. That's kind of just me making assumptions, because the Cougars just don't run the ball a whole lot. Surprisingly, they don't use either guy much in the passing game either. There is a bruiser back on the roster in the form of senior Logwone Mitz (6'1, 223 lbs). He's only carried the ball 35 times for 132 yards and 1 TD...but I felt like typing the name "Logwone Mitz". It's a neat name. Galvin is the guy to watch for though. He's athletic and can make a few things happen in space.
Downside: Size, pass blocking...Cougin it.
What to expect:
If I say "don't expect much, this running game is garbage", does that pretty much guarantee they gash us on Saturday? I'm thinking so. Rather, I'd say we should expect the Cougs to try to get these scrappy little fellers into space. I also think they will be utilized some in the passing game, likely on screens or in the flats if we overpursue Lobbestael and create some coverage voids. While this running attack is not the kind designed to milk the clock or control a game, it can keep a defense honest. They found some success against Oregon and UCLA. Mostly because they don't run a read option or the Pistol, I feel pretty comfortable saying that Wazzu won't beat us on the ground. OMGJINXDOOMWTF!!!
Marquess Wilson, Sophomore - 6'4, 183 lbs
Isiah Barton, Senior - 6'1, 187 lbs
Jared Karstetter, Senior - 6'4, 210 lbs
Bobby Ratliff, Freshman (RS) - 6'2, 194 lbs
Wilson is the stud of this group, hauling in 52 catches for 889 yards and 6 TDs on the season. He's just a sophomore too, which sucks for the rest of the PAC. He was a First Team Freshman All-American last year after notching 55 catches for 1006 yards and 6 TDs. Wilson is by far the best Cougar receiver, and also their main deep threat. He's a big body who can really stretch the field with nice speed. He's the guy to worry about. Barton is the slot receiver, and he's been up and down. He's tallied an impressive 41 receptions for 467 yards and 4 TDs, but he's also suffered from a bout of inconsistency and drops. Karstetter is another big body guy, who has seemed to benefit the most when teams focus too much on Wilson (37 catches for 418 yards, 4 TDs). He's been inconsistent as well. Redshirt frosh Bobby Ratliff (20 catches for207 yards) is another guy to keep an eye on. Despite the up and down performances of this group from week to week, they are talented and will pose a big challenge due to their length.
Downside: Consistency, drops...Cougin it.
What to expect:
This isn't the most talented group of receivers we've seen this year, but they still pose a significant threat. Wazzu wouldn't have the #10 passing offense in the country if their receivers sucked. Wilson, in particular, is the guy we need to slow down. Consider him the Paul Richardson/Robert Woods of this bunch. I like our odds of winning much better if he becomes a non-factor in the passing game. Wazzu's 3 and 4 WR sets should provide an opportunity for us to play a lot of Nickel and possibly Dime packages, especially with an anemic rushing attack that shouldn't require us to stack the box (famous last words). Cattouse and Campbell will need to play some Gold Glove-level center field; we can't let these guys get behind us if Lobbestael gets flushed out of the pocket and buys time like Tyler Hansen was able to do. Like I said in the QB section, I don't anticipate us completely shutting down this passing attack. We're not as good as our lofty pass defense ranking, I think that's obvious. But we have talented pieces. If we can shut them down in the red zone and not allow Wilson to beat coverage deep, we should be able to minimize the damage...at least as far as giving up points.
STARTER - Andrei Lintz, Junior (RS) - 6'5, 252 lbs
Lintz has three catches on the year for 52 yards and 1 TD. He has a whopping four total career catches (one last year). He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and emigrated to the US when he was 6. That's about all I've got. Washington State runs primarily a single back spread formation and rarely uses the tight end. That's good I guess.
Upside: Rarely used
Downside: Rarely used
What to expect:
Nothing, except that Lintz seeing the field will likely mean we're wrecking the Cougar O-Line and they need another blocker. Three catches in eight games. No point in wasting a bunch of words on that.
LT: David Gonzales, Senior - 6'6, 286 lbs
LG: John Fullington, Sophomore - 6'5, 290 lbs
C: Matt Goetz, Sophomore (RS) - 6'4, 270 lbs
RG: BJ Guerra, Senior (RS) - 6'3, 321 lbs
RT: Dan Spitz, Junior - 6'7, 300 lbs
Now here's a group that just plain not very good, but is actually better than past years. Even though they've allowed 25 sacks on the year (108th nationally), they were giving up an average of FIFTY SACKS PER SEASON over the previous three. So...that's good. They're up and down as a group. Gonzales started the first 7 games at left tackle in 2010, his first year with the program after transferring from a JuCo, before missing the last five due to a broken arm. He's light in the ass, but he's got good length. Fullington started six games at tackle for the Cougars in 2010 as a true freshman before moving to left guard this year. He'll ultimately move back to tackle, but he's good enough in relation to the other Cougar lineman that he needs to be on the field. Young but athletic, and gaining experience. JuCo transfer Matt Goetz has done an okay job at center replacing injured senior Andrew Roxas. BJ Guerra has started 25 games at right guard for the Coogs, and is the group leader. At right tackle, Dan Spitz took over for starter Wade Jacobson, who is out for the season after a back surgery. He's been the shitz, too! Not really. I don't have many good things to say for this group, which is odd considering you'd think such a productive passing game would be related to good O-line play. Well, it's not. And they can't run-block much either.
Upside: They're getting better!
Downside: Pass-blocking, run-blocking...Cougin it!
What to expect:
Not sure, but I'd guess we try to bring some pressure knowing that Wazzu will be passing a lot. There's a good chance we can get to the Lobbster too. Expect a lot of our 2-5 front as we'll be working to stop the pass. I'll be very curious to see how our young OLBs perform and just what their assignment consists of. Unless the Cougars come out in the Pistol...McCain, Wilkerson and Whiteside should all be given carte blanche to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. They can do that, and asking them to do much more will only nullify their ability to make plays. I expect us to pressure at the edges, and hopefully make Lobbestael step up in the pocket where our big uglies can take some shots at him. Of course, I make no promises as to what kind of positive effect this yields, or if it will work. As I alluded to earlier, hurting Lobby may be our best bet to slow this offense down. Sigh.
This is a one-dimensional offense that is pretty damn good at the one thing they can do. Taking away that element will be a big challenge, and frankly I don't think our defense can do it. Our secondary will be under fire all day, whether we're ahead or behind. The key is whether we can be disciplined enough in our coverage and assignments to keep the receivers blanketed, keep the quarterback and o-line under pressure, and wait for them to start Cougin it. If we can force them into a few three and outs or turnovers, and our offense finds a little rhythm, we should be okay. Think of it as a game of chicken to see which team really shoots themselves in the foot first most often. I expect Wazzu to put some points up, plain and simple.
Worth noting though, their defense is bad. Like, really bad. We should be able to run and throw on them effectively (famous last words). Plus, the fact that we're playing back at AT&T should have some sort of a positive impact. For whatever reason, we seem to have success beating other lousy teams when we're hosting. And there is that extra bit of incentive that seemed to work so well for UCLA last week: coming off a disappointing loss, angry fan base, some coaching turmoil, yadda yadda. Funny how the tables have turned in just a week. Ironic even. And obviously we really need this game if we want a realistic shot at bowl eligibility. That all should provide plenty of motivation for the team. And I think they'll be ready . So having said that...
PREDICTION: There's no way in hell I'm venturing a prediction as to the final score. I've lost my faith!
FACT: Being a Cal fan really sucks
sometimes most of the time.