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This game was anything but pretty. Coming into this weekend, both Cal and Washington State were 2-4. Last weekend, Cal upset UCLA and were hoping to ride that momentum into Washington. While it wasn't a commanding win, Cal earned their second straight victory within the Pac-12, 31-17.
In the first quarter, Cal quarterback Zach Maynard completed a pass to Keenan Allen putting the Bears up, 7-0. After they scored the first points of the game and were up on Wazzu, Cal never looked back.
Washington State starting quarterback Connor Halliday wouldn't make it out of the first quarter. After throwing two interceptions, Halliday would be pulled in favor of backup Jeff Tuel. Tuel threw to the right team the rest of the game and scored two touchdowns in the Cougars attempt to catch up to Cal. He might have not had any interceptions, but Tuel had four rushes for a -24 yards.
After Saturday's game, Wazzu has now lost four straight games and is 0-4 in Pac-12 play. Head coach Mike Leach and his crew have their bye-week coming up to attempt to work out the multiple issues.
Washington State is unranked and looking for their first Pac-12 victory. Standing in their way are the high-flying Cal Bears. Cal is coming off an upset victory over the UCLA Bruins. WSU is coming off their third loss in as many games, and are close to their fourth. The Cougars are down at the half, 14-3.
Wazzou starting quarterback Connor Halliday didn't last through the first quarter. After going 3-of-9 with two interceptions, he was pulled from the game. Jeff Tuel replaced Halliday. He has yet to throw a pass for a touchdown, but he managed to keep the ball out of the other team's hands.
Cal quarterback Zach Maynard threw for 75 yards. Of those 75, 69 yards belonged to a Keenan Allen reception for a touchdown. Maynard threw one interception, but Washington State failed to convert on the opportunity. In the second quarter, Maynard handed off the ball to leading rusher C.J. Anderson for a four-yard touchdown.
It wasn't a pretty first quarter for either team. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday was sacked once and intercepted twice before being pulled in favor of his backup Jeff Tuel. California quarterback Zach Maynard threw 1 interception himself, but managed to come out of the first quarter on top, 7-0.
When he was pulled, Halliday was 3-for-9 for 55 yards on top of those 2 interceptions. Tuel entered the game after the Cougars went down by 7 to Cal. At the end of the quarter Tuel had completed 2 of 4 passes for 18 yards and zero interceptions.
Maynard went 3-for-7 for 75 yards. 69 of the 75 yards are thanks to a pass to Keenan Allen for the night's only touchdown so far.
Cal and Washington State are both members of the Pac-12 North division. Cal scored its first conference victory last week with an upset victory over UCLA. WSU is still looking for its first Pac-12 win.
The Washington State Cougars head to Berkeley this Saturday to take on the Cal Golden Bears, and if they want to get their first Pac-12 win of the season, they'll need a strong game plan and flawless execution. The Cougars have lost their last seven against Cal, with the most recent win coming in 2002.
SB Nation's Washington State blog Coug Center has a detailed breakdown of Cal on both offense and defense, highlighting what WSU will need to do to pull off an upset. On defense, they see pressuring Cal quarterback Zach Maynard as the key:
As you can see, Cal is well above average in standard and passing downs. Their standard down performance is their best asset, probably because of the way they are able to pick up large chunks of yardage on the ground. WSU has been bad on both types of downs.
The success rate is interesting. The Cougars have limited opponents to a 33 percent success rate, which is in the middle of the pack nationally. Cal has been successful on just 32 percent of plays, but they've faced much tougher defenses than the Cougs.
For WSU to be successful, the front seven will need to continue their solid play. The Cougars are far too weak in the secondary, and Maynard will take advantage if given the time. Putting pressure on Maynard, who is prone to give away the ball in bunches when under siege, will be vital (as it always is).
Will the Cougs be able to sack Maynard? The stats say yes.
On offense, WSU is averaging only 21.8 points per game, ranking them No. 100 in the FBS. If they want to improve on that mark, Coug Center says third down is the thing to watch:
It's lucky that WSU has been explosive on passing downs, because they have a low success rate of 26 percent overall and their performance on standard downs is eight percent below average.
Unfortunately, Cal has defended passing downs even better than the Cougs have converted them. The Golden Bears are 24 percent better than average on passing downs.
So, the solution would be to perform better on standard downs, right? Well, that won't be easy, as Cal has been just as stout on standard downs as they are on passing.
One sign of hope may be on the 3rd-and-10-plus downs that were mentioned earlier. Cal is actually allowing 17.8 yards per attempt in those scenarios. Connor Halliday and Marquess Wilson may be able to exploit the Golden Bears for some big plays when the situation seems most dire.
The California Golden Bears look to improve to .500 in Pac-12 play with a win over the Washington State Cougars. Running back C.J. Anderson has a chance to follow up his career-high day against the Bruins with another performance against a soft run defense.
Among the many answers, some of the Cal writers tried to make sense of QB Zach Maynard's up-and-down play this season. Here's what Berkelium97 had to say on the subject:
"We've reluctantly accepted that we'll have to take our lumps along with the occasional performance like the one we saw [against UCLA]. Good Maynard is more likely to come out when the offensive game plan is tailored towards quick strikes, slants, and screens. We need to keep it simple for him and avoid relying too much on the O-line for sustained pass protection."
The Q&A session also touched on which defenders the Cougars should be most afraid of for Saturday's game. And both of the writers nominated the same individual for the recognition:
"Chris McCain. He's our starting outside linebacker opposite Brennan Scarlett (he's pretty scary too, but he's still learning the ropes). He has a team-leading 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and a team-leading 3 QB hurries. He's a long, rangy, tenacious defender with great speed and a penchant for getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc. Tedford nicknamed him "Gadget" last summer because of his ability to use his long arms to disrupt passes."
The full interview can be found here. Make sure you give it a quick read to catch up on Washington State's opponent before Saturday's game at 10:30 p.m. ET.
The Washington State Cougars have had trouble staying on the field in 2012, as their offense has only converted 36 percent of their third downs this season, according to Cougcenter's Craig Powers.
But while that number may rank 92nd in the nation, Football Outsider's Bill Connelly's adjusted third down ratings tell a far different story. By evening out a team's third down chances compared to other teams, WSU's adjusted third down rate sits at 46 percent (33rd in the nation).
If that doesn't make much sense to you, Powers has a theory to help explain it:
"...Washington State is one of the worst teams on first and second down, but better than most on third down. The Cougars are among the most impacted by their poor performance on early downs, as they are 59 spots higher in adjusted third down rate than raw third down rate. Only Maryland makes a bigger jump than that."
Powers goes on to elaborate that he think's the Cougars early down performance will get better once they start clicking on the shorter routes of the Air Raid offense. And once they do, the rest of the Pac-12 could be looking at an offense close to that of the 2008 Texas Tech Red Raiders. Scary thought, folks.
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