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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU taking on a much different Cal team than last year’s

PULLMAN – The California team that travels to Pullman on Saturday will look nothing like the one that Washington State beat 44-22 last season, and not just because many of the team’s best defenders are no longer wearing street clothes on the sidelines. The Golden Bears were ravaged by injuries last season and only three players started all 12 games. The defense was hit especially hard, losing 11 different players at various times that were either starters or were projected to be starters at the beginning of the season. “It’s very difficult as far as going through an injury. Just to see your team struggling and know that it doesn’t only affect them during the game but also on practice and special teams,” cornerback Stefan McClure said at Pac-12 media day. “Because now guys have to take more reps and they’re tired, guys have to take on more responsibility on special teams and it hurt the team a lot.” When the Cougars faced the Golden Bears last season Cal was 1-3, beaten up by three ranked opponents with just a seven-point win over Portland State to show for Sonny Dykes’ first four games as coach. That team was teetering on the edge of terrible and would dive over the edge after the WSU loss, not staying within single digits of an opponent the rest of the season. The situation is starkly different this season. The Golden Bears are just a Hail Mary on the last play at Arizona away from being undefeated. “It’s a different personality, it’s a team that’s much tougher, much more invested,” Dykes said. “They care about each other, much more unselfish and when you have that kind of team it’s fun to coach and creates a good atmosphere and environment.” It would be simple to look at Cal’s last two games in which it gave up 45 points to Arizona and 56 to Colorado, and assume that the defense isn’t any better than it was a year ago, despite the return of some injured starters. Cal only managed five interceptions as a team last season. This year the Golden Bears have six in four games. Opponents averaged 7.08 yards per play, one of the worst marks nationally. This year the Golden Bears are allowing a better, if not entirely respectable, 5.3 yards per play. Offensively, the Golden Bears have been dangerous in both the running and passing games, and quarterback Jared Goff, who started as a true freshman last season, is playing like a highly-regarded senior. He’s thrown 17 touchdowns already this season and just three interceptions, completing 62.5 percent of his passes and averaging 337 passing yards per game. “They’ll do some quick game, a screen on this side a quick game on the other side, but you know, they’ve got really good receivers and a good quarterback so they do a good job,” said Washington State coach Mike Leach. Goff has a productive corps of receivers to throw to – five of them have scored a touchdown on a reception of 60 or more yards. But it’s the emergence of a ground game that has made Goff so effective. Because the Golden Bears were so often playing from behind last season they passed far more than Dykes prefers and averaged just 122.2 rushing yards per game. This year they run it more than they throw thanks to improved in-game situations and better personnel, and that average has bumped up to 172.3. “I’ve just always felt that it’s important to be able to run the football effectively,” Dykes said. “It takes a lot of heat off your quarterback … If you can run it then all of a sudden your play-action passes are a little bit better and it helps your passing game.”
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