PULLMAN – The past two years, the University of California’s football team has treated the Washington State run defense like a traffic cone on U.S. 195.
The Cougars have been ignored, knocked around and run over.
In the last two games between the two schools, the Bears have run for 700 yards.
OK, so 359 of those yards were collected by Jahvid Best, who is now doing his sprinting in Detroit. But still, the Bears’ running game seems to have WSU’s number, which just may be 8.9. That’s the average gain Cal has each time it has run the ball in the two easy wins.
“They run a lot of different plays, a lot of different formations, a lot of different looks,” said WSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball.
But all those different plays and looks had one thing in common against the Cougars. Since Best opened the 2008 game with an 80-yard touchdown run, they’ve pretty much all been successful.
So what do the Cougars (1-8 overall, 0-6 in the Pac-10) do today at Martin Stadium to slow down this year’s Cal running attack? Led by 5-foot-10, 204-pound junior Shane Vereen and his 774 yards, the Bears are averaging 158.8 yards per game.
“We’ve got to be sure we’re aligned right, in the right spot,” Ball said. “That’s probably the most important thing, that we get lined up right.”
The alignment will probably include strong safety Deone Bucannon closer to the line of scrimmage.
Bucannon has collected 39 tackles in the past three weeks and leads Pac-10 freshmen with 44 solo tackles in conference games,
“We’re probably going to be in the box a lot more than usual,” he said this week.
The goal, he said, is to force first-time starting quarterback Brock Mansion, a redshirt junior, to convert third-and-longs.
“We feel if we stop the run, the rest of the game is going to be a lot easier,” Bucannon said.
Mansion, who replaced injured starter Kevin Riley last week when Riley blew out his left knee at Oregon State, had thrown 39 passes in his California career, 14 of them coming after Riley went down.
Mansion’s inexperience running the Cal offense also has a flip-side for WSU.
“It’s harder to know what he’s going to do, seeing we don’t have any film on him,” Bucannon said.
So the Cougars are watching formations and receivers, trying to gain clues on where he and the Bears (4-4, 2-3) will throw the ball. They know where Cal has run it against them in the past. Just about anywhere.
And that includes the 6-5, 232-pound Mansion. He’s scored one rushing touchdown in his three college seasons. It came in 2008. In Pullman. With the score 59-3, he bowled through the Cougars like so many orange cones for 1-yard touchdown.