It’s a homecoming of sorts in Berkeley this week as we welcome back the air raid offense Cal fans learned to love (and loathe) into Memorial Stadium. Mike Leach, dare I say the godfather of the air raid, brings one of the best Washington State teams we have seen this decade into Berkeley Friday night. The Cougars offense starts with the all important position of quarterback and similar to recent weeks the Bears will be facing one of the best in college football. Enter Luke Falk, the Pac-12 all time leader in completions and Washington State’s all time record holder for passing touchdowns. Falk is not only an intimidating matchup for the Bears but represents yet another quarterback who most likely will play in the NFL next season.
What is more concerning for Cal is the rising presence of the running back tandem of James Williams and Jamal Morrow. Both Williams and Morrow are threats both as receivers and runners which makes the Cal defense’s assignment much more challenging come Friday. Leach’s past iterations of his air raid offense have been heavily dependent on the pass but the combination of Williams and Morrow has provided the Cougars with the necessary balance to make their passing attack even more effective.
The last four years of the Washington State matchup has made for good drama with the Master vs Apprentice storyline between Dykes and Leach. This year will be a far different narrative with Cal entering Friday with their revamped defense against a Washington State team who is excelling in nearly every facet of the game. The Bears will certainly be hoping for a bit of chaos most often found in the Pac-12 after dark.
2017 Season to Date
The Cougars participated in one of the most fun games of the early football season, topping Boise State in an exceptional comeback the second week of the year. Later they faced USC after the Bears wore down the injured Trojans and proceeded to provide the upset Cal was so close to bringing to life in September. Other than those two games, the Cougars have dominated each one of their match-ups. Without a doubt, the Cougars passing offense will be the highest ranked the Bears have seen to date.
Washington State National Offensive Ranks
Points per game: 11th
Pass yards per game: 3rd
Total yards: 11th
Pass touchdowns: 1st
Completion percentage: 3rd
Passer Rating: 22nd
What has made the Cougars so effective this year is their use of Williams and Morrow as pass catchers out of the backfield. It wasn’t long ago that Sonny Dykes celebrated the arrival of Zion Echols and Melquise Stovall as options the Bears were sorely missing out of the backfield and it appears Washington State has executed that vision to an impressive degree. Williams leads the Cougars in receptions with 41 on the year and has a whopping 290 yards receiving in the first six games of the season. The speed at the running back position in combination with the uptempo Washington State offense will be a nightmare matchup for the Bears defense if the Cal offense can’t sustain longer drives.
Finally, let’s circle back to Luke Falk who was a preferred walk on to the Cougars football team. Falk has eclipsed the 2,000 yard mark already in 2017 and is third in the nation in passing yards. The two quarterbacks in front of him? Josh Rosen and Tyler Rogers who each have either double (Rosen) or five times (Rogers) the number of interceptions as Falk. Efficiency is the name of the game with a high powered air raid offense and there have been few better at executing it than Falk.
What to Expect Come Saturday
On the bright side, Washington State’s offense has struggled immensely in one aspect of the game. Their pass protection has been abysmal almost all year long, tied for second to last in the country in sacks allowed with our Cal Bears. Keeping Falk upright has been an issue for the Cougars and this is a matchup that Tim DeRuyter can exploit. The Bears haven’t been intimidated by any opponent defensively and they have the pieces at defensive back to contain Washington State’s receivers. One of the more intriguing match-ups to watch Friday will be the blitz combinations the Bears throw at the Cougars to put pressure on Luke Falk and the passing game.
In addition to pass protection, Washington State’s rushing attack is also underwhelming with the Cougars ranking close to dead last in rushing yards per game. However most of that ineffectiveness has to do with the air raid’s dependence on the pass rather than the efficiency of the run game. The Bears cannot afford to overlook the Cougars rushing attack Friday night.
The Cal defense should be quite familiar with air raid offenses by this point having prepped against one for the last four years. As most of us are well aware, if you put an air raid offense in constant third and long situations, the system has the potential to break. On the other hand, if the Washington State offense finds itself with short down and distances then it figures to be a long night for the Cal defense.