So here we are. Our intrepid California Golden Bears are 1-3, as conventional wisdom thought they would be going into this season. But even though 1-3 is not really a surprise, the way in which we have gotten there is nothing short of disconcerting. While Cal has done good things on offense (at least before last week's 55-16 drubbing at Oregon), the defense has been...well, offensive.
So here we are. To paraphrase Dennis Green, are we who we thought we were? Today, we might find out. After a schedule that has seen the Bears play three ranked teams in the first four games (including two ranked in the top 5), Cal hosts a Washington State team today that conventional wisdom says the Bears have a good chance to beat (being a 1.5-point underdog notwithstanding). It is not a stretch to say that Washington State is not quite as good as the Bears' last two opponents, to say the very least. And if you care about series history, Cal has won the last eight meetings against the Cougars: Washington State has not beaten Cal since 2002, a season in which the Cougs won the Pac-10 and went to the Rose Bowl.
After being pulled in the first quarter last week in favor of Zach Kline, true freshman Jared Goff was named the starting quarterback for today's game. Goff will be eager to play well today and forget about last week's two-fumble performance at rainy Oregon. norcalnick previewed the Wazzu defense that Goff will go up against today:
Against Cal, I would expect Washington State to try to take away the pass. Press our receivers, flood passing lanes, disguise coverages, etc. etc. And they just might have the talent and personnel to do it, especially if Cal isn't sharp or Goff is still rattled. The question is if Cal can run the ball well enough to keep the defense honest. Brendan Bigelow won't be wearing a brace, and Daniel Lasco continues to look solid. Might the running game be ready for a breakout performance? That would go a long long way to winning a game that most view as essentially a toss up.
It is worth noting that Washington State hasn't played a team like Cal yet. USC and Stanford quite obviously run a pro-style offense, and although Gus Malzahn and Auburn run a hurry-up spread, it's much more run focused than Cal has shown this year. Cal will likely be testing the Washington State secondary in a way they haven't quite been tested this year. Can the Bears exploit some of the same deficiencies that Stanford found last week? Is their secondary ready to defend 60 passes? If their starters are struggling, can they possibly have the depth to handle four solid wideouts on every possession?
These are the relevant questions. I think if Jared Goff plays like he did the first three games of the year, Cal should move the ball and score points at least as well as they did against Northwestern and Ohio State. Unfortunately, against a solid front seven, the running game could very well struggle. It's not fair to again rest the game mostly on the right arm of Jared Goff, but such are the trials of a young team under a new regime. Bombs away!
So that's the Bear Raid vs. the Wazzu defense. But what about the other side of the coin? What about the Wazzu Air Raid against the much-maligned Bear defense? Berkelium 97 previewed that matchup:
What have we learned? The Cougars' offense will stretch the field both vertically and horizontally in an attempt to get their receivers out in space. Cal's defense needs to be disciplined and communicate well to avoid the kinds of traps set by Mike Leach's offense. If linebackers and defensive backs are running into each other, we're going to be entering a world of pain. Fortunately, [quarterback] Connor Halliday is not usually a great quarterback. In fact, he's often terrible. Except, of course, when he's on fire. Let's hope the hot Saturday forecast doesn't make him combust.
Is this one a "must" win for the Bears? Perhaps. Starting out 1-4 is certainly not what Coach Sonny Dykes had in mind for his first season.
This is your pregame open thread. Share your pregame thoughts here. Watch for the link to the first quarter thread as kickoff draws near.
To fire you up, I leave you with one of the great recent moments in Cal's history against Washington State. Yeah, I know, this was pretty much a crappy game overall. But this moment lives in Cal lore: