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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

First look: Washington State, trying to end 5-game skid, heads to Berkeley to take on Cal

Washington State Cougars quarterback Cameron Ward (1) slides for a first down against the California Golden Bears during the first half of a college football on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Here is a first look at Washington State’s road game against California on Saturday.

What is it?

Washington State, losers of five straight, will try to right the ship with a road matchup against Cal this weekend.

Where is it?

California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California.

When is it?

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. PST.

Where can I watch it?

ESPN2 will broadcast the game.

Who is favored?

Cal was a 1-point favorite as of Monday.

How did the Cougars fare last week?

Washington State’s 10-7 loss to Stanford didn’t just extend the Cougs’ losing streak to five games. It put the rest of their season in jeopardy. Now at 4-5, they have three chances to earn two wins and return to a bowl, which everyone in the crimson and gray laundry agrees is still important.

In this loss, though, WSU’s offense looked toothless against a Stanford defense that had given up 40-plus points in each of its previous three games. The Cougs totaled just 4 rushing yards. They could have had more if quarterback Cameron Ward hadn’t taken two straight sacks in the fourth quarter, pushing things back for kicker Dean Janikowski, who misfired on what would have been a go-ahead field goal.

Later in the fourth, after Stanford used a field goal to take a 10-7 lead, WSU got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead. The Cougs went three-and-out. They never saw the ball again.

“Good play calls – just bad execution by us,” Ward said after the game. “They were in a defense that we wanted them to (be in). I threw the ball a little bit inside for Isaiah (Hamilton), which caused him to drop it. Gave us the perfect look that we wanted to throw the slant to Kyle (Williams) – threw it a little bit low for him, so it was a drop. So really we just stopped ourselves on that final drive to go win the game.”

In short, little went right for Washington State, which has now scored in the single digits twice in the same season for the first time since 2012, former coach Mike Leach’s first year on the job. The Cougs have become an enigma, which was never more obvious than in this loss to Stanford.

All things considered, WSU’s defense turned in a solid showing, notching its first takeaway in five games and grounding a Stanford offense that had scored 33 points the week prior, in a loss to Washington. But the Cougs will lament two missed chances.

Both were dropped interceptions. The first came from defensive back Kapena Gushiken, who was in the right place to pick off a pass from quarterback Ashton Daniels. Gushiken just couldn’t hang on. If he had, he had what looked like an easy pick-six, which would have given WSU a 14-0 lead. Instead, Stanford drove down the field and tied things at 7-all.

Later, in the fourth quarter, Daniels gave the Cougars another chance to pick him off. He drifted backward to evade pressure and lobbed it toward the corner of the end zone, where WSU defensive backs Sam Lockett III and cornerback Jamorri Colson (who did secure a pick earlier in the game) got their hands on the ball. Neither could reel it in , and the Cardinal capitalized with a go-ahead field goal.

Scouting Cal …

The most meaningful development around Cal’s program the last few weeks has been the emergence of quarterback Fernando Mendoza, a redshirt freshman who has established himself as the Bears’ starter.

In his team’s loss to Oregon last week, Mendoza completed 18 of 34 passes for 177 yards and one interception – but he was even better the week before. In that game, a 50-49 loss to USC, he racked up 292 yards through the air, connecting on two touchdown passes, plus 8 carries for 48 yards and two scores.

“I think (Mendoza) completely changed their offense,” Dickert said. “Now they can really throw the RPO game like they want to. He has enough escape ability, and they have big long trees at wide receiver and they’re willing to take the ball down the field and go get it. So they’ve been extremely scary on that side of the ball.”

The “trees” Dickert referenced are receivers Jeremiah Hunter and Trond Grizzell, 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4 wideouts, respectively. Hunter has reeled in 43 catches for 488 yards and 4 touchdowns. Grizzell has 26 catches for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns. Toss in Taj Davis, a 6-foot-1 receiver, and you get a guy who has added 3 scores himself.

Cal’s offense has become something of a machine, in other words, a departure from the defensive-minded Golden Bears clubs of years past. These Bears, Dickert explained, may have lost four straight – but they are not of that mold. Their defense has been gashed in the last four losses, all to the Pac-12’s best teams.

“We gotta make sure that we’re staying ahead of them on that side of the ball,” Dickert said. “This is a different Cal team. They’re using extreme tempo. They’re going spread. This is their first year kinda doing that, from the pro style that they’ve been in the past. The tailback (Jadyn Ott) is phenomenal – one of the best in the league. I think they do a good job of utilizing him and getting him downhill.”

What happened last time?

Last season, WSU took down California in Pullman, 28-9. Ward tossed three touchdown passes, which was enough to overcome the two interceptions he threw in the end zone. The Cougs also beat the Golden Bears in their last meeting in Berkeley, 21-6 in the 2021 season.