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The pick: Why Washington State will beat Cal

PULLMAN – Last weekend, Washington State outplayed a Pac-12 heavyweight for all but 5 minutes. The Cougars crumbled in crunch time and Oregon rallied, pulling off a two-score comeback in the waning moments of the game.

WSU fell just short of capturing national recognition. No doubt, that loss stung. But the defeat doesn’t signal a downward trajectory for the Cougars. We believe the 44-41 shortfall at Gesa Field will fuel WSU with motivation.

“There’s a reason why we lost, and I think that’s going to give us the edge, give us that hunger we need early in the season to finish those types of games,” receiver Lincoln Victor said.

The Cougars (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) will take lessons from their early-season wake-up call. They learned more about their flaws while proving to themselves and a wider audience that WSU is capable of making noise in the Pac-12.

If the Cougars shored up those shortcomings this week – even marginally – they should have the upper hand against a Cal team that won’t present as many matchup issues as the 13th-ranked Ducks did.

Saturday’s game at Gesa Field might allow for a bounce-back performance from WSU’s stout defensive front, which couldn’t provide much push against Oregon’s fast-paced offense and elite O-line. The Golden Bears (3-1, 1-0) are paced by true freshman running back Jaydn Ott, but their offensive line has shown cracks early this season.

“Those offensive linemen are kinda mending together and starting to find their stride,” WSU edge rusher Brennan Jackson said. “So, it’s gonna be a really big game for us to kinda get our stride back.”

Oregon picked apart WSU’s deep passing coverage, exploiting inexperience in the secondary. Cal’s aerial attack is much less explosive. And the Cougars might be returning veteran strong safety Jordan Lee, who missed the past two games with an injury.

The Cougars’ passing game seems to be finding its rhythm. Quarterback Cameron Ward played well for three quarters last weekend. We’re giving the edge to WSU’s improving Air Raid against a Cal secondary that surrendered 400 passing yards last week in a win over Arizona.

Energized by a homecoming crowd at Gesa Field, WSU’s offense shoots out to an early advantage and the defense rebounds, protecting the lead throughout a back-and-forth second half. The Bears, who are off to a solid start this year, won’t go down without a fight. Expect several odd moments, typical of a WSU/Cal matchup.

The pick: Washington State 31, Cal 23