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.