First look: California at WSU
Time: 1 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium, Pullman
Records: WSU (1-8, 0-6 in Pac-10); California (4-4, 2-3)
Last week: Washington State lost at Arizona State, 42-0; California lost at Oregon State, 35-7
Last time: California defeated WSU, 49-17, in Berkeley in 2009
The line: Cal by 14.5
What it means for WSU: The Cougars need to bounce back and do it quickly. After playing three ranked opponents tenaciously, they gave a lackluster effort and were blown out in the desert last week. Another such performance against a team WSU should be able to compete against would leave the Cougars searching for answers going into the season’s final two games.
What it means for Cal: There is no more of an up-and-down team in the conference than the Bears. California has been lights-out at home, scoring at least 50 points three times and pounding UCLA 35-7 in its other contest. But besides an out-of-character 10-9 loss at Arizona, the Bears have been awful on the road, losing their other three games by at least 21 points. With Oregon and Stanford still ahead, if Cal wants to go bowling, it better win here.
Key matchup: Cal running back Shane Vereen vs. WSU middle linebacker C.J. Mizell.
The last two times these teams have met, the Bears have run all over WSU, gaining 391 two years ago and 309 last season. For the Cougars to have a shot, they have to at least slow Vereen. The junior has rushed for 774 yards this season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. But in last week’s loss to Oregon State, a team that was struggling against the run, Vereen had just 53 yards, though he only had 12 carries. With quarterback Kevin Riley not expected to play due to injury, Cal will probably look to run the ball.
If Mizell and the rest of the Cougars run defense can plug holes and force long yardage on third down, it should get off the field and let the offense operate.