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Cougars could learn from UW approach against Cal

SEATTLE – Whether or not Washington State football players and coaches gathered during their Saturday off to watch California’s 30-24 win at Washington, the Cougars are certain to see the game over and over this week.

In the close contest, the Huskies revealed a method for attacking the Golden Bears, even if it wasn’t enough for a victory. With a game at Cal Saturday, the Cougars would do well to study what worked for their instate rivals.

Frustratingly for the Cougars, taking advantage of areas in which the Golden Bears appeared weakest would require WSU to step away from its own preferred approaches. Cal did a poor job of defending traditional rushing plays and it’s curious starting UW running back Dwayne Washington only rushed 10 times since five went for 12 yards or more.

But WSU has handed off the ball to its running backs on just 21 percent of its offensive snaps. The Cougars prefer to pass, and quarterback Luke Falk has dropped back to attempt one an average of 52 times per game.

The Huskies didn’t have much success through the air, albeit with a freshman quarterback making his third start, giving up sacks on three of their first five drop-backs. The passing game took so long to develop for UW that Jake Browning threw an interception before he completed a pass to one of his teammates, both occurring in the second quarter.

Realistically, WSU coach Mike Leach isn’t going to change much about how his offense prepares for next week’s game no matter what other teams have done to the Golden Bears. But defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has made some game-by-game adjustments and could try to replicate the UW approach, since the Huskies held Cal to its lowest scoring total this year, 15 points under its average.

Specifically, Cal quarterback Jared Goff may well be the best passer the Cougars face this year. But he’s not especially mobile and his wide receivers often needed extra time to get open.

The Huskies had success when they sent extra rushers at Goff, sacking the quarterback five times and pressuring him on the majority of his 16 incomplete passes (four or five drops by his receivers didn’t help, either).

Ultimately, WSU is unlikely to change much about how it plays Cal, and that makes sense.

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