PULLMAN – The California version of the Air Raid offense is not the same as the Washington State version, although the Cougars would like it to be.
The teams do a lot of the same stuff on offense. Fans will frequently see California run a formation with four wide receivers – two on each side of the formation –with the outside receivers practically to the sideline.
It’s what the 23rd-ranked Cougars call their “Ace” formation. It is the most common one they run, though Cal’s inside guys are often split a little wider than WSU’s. If the Cougars see it a lot, it means the defense is playing well.
That is because California also does a lot of other things. The Golden Bears will try pop passes, screens and go and handoffs.
“The thing people don’t understand about what they do down there is they run the ball really well,” WSu inside linebackers coach Ken Wilson said. “So what we’ve got to do is stop the run and get them in predictable situations, get our personnel out there that we need and make some plays on third down.”
WSU must make the Golden Bears throw it deep, because they are surprisingly bad at it. Cal only averages 6.9 yards per passing attempt, which is only better than Oregon State and Stanford among its league rivals.
The 11 times Cal passers have been picked off is third worst in the league, though not so bad when you account for that fact that the Golden Bears attempt more passes than all of those teams, including WSU.
If the Cougars can force Cal to be predictable and pass the ball, then WSU will be comfortable. The Cougars can make plays in the passing game – their 11 interceptions are more than all but three Pac-12 teams.
“I think (the Cougars) are playing so much better defensively and I think that’s the biggest difference,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said during the Pac-12 coaches teleconference. “I think the big difference is just the way they’re playing defense and the confidence they’re playing with. The effort they’re playing with is pretty substantial.”
WSU’s defense is coming off its best game of the season – a 69-7 win over an Arizona team that has some pretty explosive playmakers on offense. If the Wildcats had not managed to pull out a two-play scoring drive during a brief moment of weakness for the Cougars, WSU might have had its first shutout of the season.
WSU (7-2, 6-0 Pac-12) appears to be playing with all the momentum of a team in the stretch of a conference championship hunt. The Cougars have won their last seven games, and played their most complete game of this or perhaps any season against the Wildcats.
On the flip side, Cal (4-5, 2-4) is limping to the end of a year in which it seems unlikely to make a bowl game. The Golden Bears got a raw deal, getting less than a full week to prepare for a bye-week rested USC squad. Cal was largely uncompetitive against the Trojans, and had nothing left in the tank for No. 4 Washington last week.
The Golden Bears beat the Cougars in each of the last two matchups, though that was with No. 1 NFL draft pick Jared Goff at quarterback. Current starter Davis Webb is capable, and Cal’s offense is averaging more points per game (39.7) than it did with Goff at the helm.
Either way, the Golden Bears will be recognizable to the Cougars. If they can get Cal to mirror its own offense, then WSU should have a familiar winning feeling at the end of the game.
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