PULLMAN – It’s fitting that the stars will be easily viewed during tonight’s game between California and Washington State, even if some offensive pyrotechnics over Martin Stadium might make the heavens hard to see.
Whether you prefer to gaze at the stars on or above the field, all the action this evening will take place up in the air.
This game will be decided by whichever team throws the ball best and whoever does will have a great case for being recognized as the best passing offense in the country. The Cougars have been the most productive in that regard so far this season, ranking No. 1 with an average of 480.8 passing yards per game.
California devotes more plays to the run and may seem far behind with just an average of 366 passing yards per game, but that mark is still the seventh-best nationally. Goff has been a more efficient quarterback this season, ranking No. 5 nationally in passing efficiency thanks to a 62.5 completion percentage and just three interceptions to go with 17 touchdowns.
“Their defense plays hard and is aggressive,” said WSU outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons. “So we have to match their intensity and play hard and aggressive with their skill guys to see if we can make some plays on their (defensive backs) in the back end.”
Both teams have young secondaries and explosive, experienced receivers, further adding to the temptation for each offense to let the ball fly.
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday has accounted for an FBS-leading 120 points this season; Goff is No. 3 with 104.
The Golden Bears have the No. 4 scoring offense in the country and the WSU defense can have a great game but still allow a few passing touchdowns to an offense averaging 47.5 points per game.
“‘Stop’ is a harsh word. I’d like to minimize it and contain (Cal’s offense),” said defensive coordinator Mike Breske. “We’ve got two explosive offenses here – they’re going to get their plays. We have to do a good job of minimizing those plays and getting in third-down opportunities and getting off the field.”
Washington State has had no trouble throwing the ball and the Cougars are coming off a comeback win over Utah in which Halliday completed 22 of 27 passes in the second half for 267 yards.
While Halliday’s issues with the occasional head-scratching interception haven’t completely disappeared, they’re no longer holding back the nation’s most productive passer at 463.6 yards per game.
It’s true that Cal has actually called more running plays than passing plays this season, and even the Cougars have been starting to run early to set up the pass.
But this game is going to be decided by whichever version of the Air Raid offense is best on this particular day.
So expect the Cougars to throw downfield as much as possible, and expect Goff and the Golden Bears to challenge redshirt freshman cornerback Charleston White to continue making plays in coverage like he did against Oregon and Utah, and expect them to test redshirt freshmen safeties Darius Lemora and Sulaiman Hameed.
“They feel like they’re just as good as we are so if we don’t show up ready to play we’ll be in for a long night and a rude awakening,” Simmons said.
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