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Washington State Cougars 2015 preview: Can the Cal Bear Raid outrace the Air Raid?

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Cal's homecoming game (October 3rd) will be against the Washington State Cougars. What should we expect from WSU this season? What's Mike Leach been up to lately? How is Cal going to fare with Jared Goff leading the charge against that horrid Cougar defense?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State has had a football team since 1893.  They have an all-time record of 500-526-45 (49% winning percentage), won the conference four times (1917, 1930, 1997 & 2002), and a postseason record of 6-5.

Our Golden Bears have to play them in Berkeley on Saturday, October 3rd.  Here's the scoop on the Cougars' upcoming season:

2014 Season Overview

Washington State achieved two pretty amazing feats last season.  First and foremost, they won three games (2-7 in the Pac-12)!  Second, they can really, really throw the rock - they were the #1 passing team in the country in 2014 (5,732 total season passing yards and averaging 477.7 passing yards per game).  As a reference point, our Cal team had the 10th most passing yards last season (4,152 total season passing yards) and 6th most passing yards per game (346.0 yards).  Here's how WSU's team statistics compared with all FBS teams last season:

  • Passing Yards:  1st overall (477.7 passing yards per game)
  • Rushing Yards:  128th overall (39.8 rushing yards per game)
  • Points Scoring:  48th overall (31.8 points per game)
  • Points Against:  117th overall (38.6 points per game)

The Cougars started off 2014 with two losses (vs. Rutgers in Marshawn's House, and at Nevada), then got its most decisive win of the season (59-21 vs. Portland State).  Their only two remaining wins barely came against the Utes (28-27) and Beavers (39-32).

WSU's passing attack was led by stud senior Connor Halliday (threw for 3,873 yards last season and 11,308 yards over his four-year tenure), who unfortunately played only nine games after sustaining an injury against U$C.  Back-up redshirt freshman QB Luke Falk did a great job filling-in, amassing 1,859 passing yards on 243 attempts and a 64.2% completion percentage - in only five games.  Expect good things from Falk as he gets a full offseason under his belt practicing in the #1 spot.

In the offensive backfield, sophomores RB Jamal Morrow and RB Gerald Wicks got most of the team's carries (149 combined carries, 62% of all rushes) in 2014. Both are coming back in 2015, which bodes well for WSU's rushing attack. Former WR Keith Harrington will be joining the rushing corps, adding more depth to the mix.  Throw in the fact that WSU's entire offensive line will be back (which is always key to predicting a productive and cohesive offensive unit), and we should expect the Cougs to rush a lot next season.

Key Personnel Losses

Connor Halliday (QB):  Halliday will go down as of the best to come from WSU - for his production, not pro potential.  His first season (2011) was under head coach Paul Wulff, but he then got to play for the original offensive (football- & personality-wise), pass-happy madman himself - Mike Leach - for three seasons.  At WSU, Halliday's total passing yards (11,308 yards), completion attempts (1,634 passes), completions (1,014 catches), and completion percentage (62.1%) all rank #1 in school history - behind guys like Jeff Tuel, Ryan Leaf, and Drew Bledsoe.  Given the sheer volume of passes he chucked, Halliday naturally had many interceptions too (50 INTs over four years, second-most behind WSU's Ty Paine's 54 INTs from 1970-72).

Although not recruited by Leach, Halliday was charged with leading his offensive vision for three years and should be thoroughly commended for adapting and excelling while doing so.  Halliday was a consummate professional, a team-first not me-first leader that let his actions do all the talking.  If any one moment was indicative of Halliday's WSU career, it would be last season's October matchup against our Bears - Halliday threw for a FBS passing record 734 yards but WSU still lost to us 59-60.  With a little more help on the outsides and more rushing support, Halliday could've easily built a greater WSU legacy.

Wide Receivers:  The Cougs lose two of their most productive wide-outs this season.  WR Isiah Myers had 78 receptions for 972 yards and 12 TDs last season.  Even better, Biletnikoff Award semifinalist WR Vince Mayle had 106 receptions for 1,483 yards and 9 TDs last season.  Losing that kind of receiving production is going to be hard to make-up.  Coupled with starting a redshirt sophomore with only five games under his belt next season, WSU may have a hard time passing the rock, hence the potential huge aforementioned run game (a dimension that we haven't seen much from Leach).

Key Returner

Mike Leach (HC):  Let's face it, Washington State football these days revolves around one guy and one guy only.  WSU had to pay this man a $2.2 million annual salary to get him to relocate to the cold and wet Pacific Northwest after vacationing for three years in Hawaii.  He was fired in 2009 from Texas Tech after Craig James' kid was shoved in a closet and his dad used his star power to get rid of Leach.

Leach has a five-year contract with WSU that makes him the fourth highest paid coach in the Pac-12.  His tough style doesn't bode well for all players - especially ones that he doesn't think will work hard for himself and his team (e.g., Marquess Wilson quitting the team in 2012).  But, there's no denying his offensively genius mind.  Leach developed the Air Raid Offense while coaching at Kentucky and progressed the strategy with stints at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops and then leading the ship for the TTU Red Raiders.  Heck - where do you think Sonny Dykes' "Bear Raid Offense" comes from?!  (Dykes coached WRs for Leach at TTU from 2000-2006.)  Until Leach wears out his welcome again, with him at the helm, this may be WSU's best chance to create some positive history.

Recruiting Overview

Mike Leach and Co. put together the 54th best recruiting class in 2015, according to ESPN, one spot behind our 53rd Cal Bears.  Of ESPN's 2015 Top 300 high school recruits, WSU nabbed one - DT Thomas Toki, a 4-star from our backyard (Saint Francis HS in Mountain View).  WSU's two other 4-star recruits include S Deion Washington from Pasco, WA and WR Tavares Martin from Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

In order to shore-up its putrid defense and make-up for offseason losses (LB Darryl Monroe transferred, CB Daquawn Brown was dismissed, and DE Xavier Cooper left to the NFL), the Cougs nabbed some top JuCo talent, including the #1 ILB Aaron Porter from La Habra, CA and the #3 S Shalom Luani from San Francisco (both are ESPN JC Top 50 talents).  WSU also got commitments from the #7 CB Treshon Broughton and #17 DE Jeremiah Mitchell from the JuCo ranks.  Leach is definitely looking to plug-up all those defensive holes from last season, and is not waiting until younger guys develop.

2015 Season Schedule

According to Athlon Sports, Washington State is predicted to finish last in the Pac-12 North division (Cal is not much better at #4). The Cougars have a pretty brutal 2015 schedule:

Date

Opponent

Location

Sat, Sep 05

Portland State

Pullman, WA

Sat, Sep 12

Rutgers

at Piscataway, NJ

Sat, Sep 19

Wyoming

Pullman, WA

Sat, Oct 03

California

at Berkeley, CA

Sat, Oct 10

Oregon

at Eugene, OR

Sat, Oct 17

Oregon State

Pullman, WA

Sat, Oct 24

Arizona

at Tucson, AZ

Sat, Oct 31

Stanford

Pullman, WA

Sat, Nov 07

Arizona State

Pullman, WA

Sat, Nov 14

UCLA

at Pasadena, CA

Sat, Nov 21

Colorado

Pullman, WA

Sat, Nov 28

Washington

Seattle, WA

Portland State will be a gimme (easy payday for an FCS school).  Wyoming shouldn't be a big obstacle either, having gone 4-8 last year. However, flying across the country to New Brunswick, NJ for a matchup against the 65th-ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights will provide a very good barometer for how WSU's 2015 campaign may turn out.  While Rutgers will be another middling team like WSU, they have the talent to really give Mike Leach's squad an early idea of how good they can (or cannot) be next season.  Within its Pac-12 schedule of games, the Cougars will most likely lose all games to the Pac-12's upper tier teams - Oregon, Arizona, Stanfurd, ASU, UCLA, and U-Dub - these games may not even be that competitive.  OSU and Colorado will be winnable for WSU - in fact, they are must-wins if they want to even dream about bowling.

Cal vs. WSU Matchup

This leaves us with Cal's matchup against the Cougars on October 3rd.  Our homecoming game is going to be just as crucial for us.  If either team is going to somehow eke out enough wins to have a postseason, they will need to win this game.  Both defenses will be atrocious to watch, so expect both offenses to have productive days.  However, the main difference will be that we have Jared Goff (Heisman contender and potential #1 QB drafted next April) and they have a redshirt sophomore with only five games of experience under his belt.  Cal also brings back a top-notch receiving corps that should help Goff pretty easily shred the WSU defense, left and right as well as up and down the field.

Expect this game to be close in the first half, Dykes makes the right adjustments at halftime, and Goff adds Heisman highlight reel clips all second half long en route to a nice blowout for our sturdy Golden Bears.