Get ready for some explosive offensive fireworks! A year after one of the more exhilarating games of the college football season, Cal and Washington State are set to do it all over again. Cal is looking to prove its Top-25 ranking is no fluke while also attempting to keep the Pac-12 North’s only undefeated record going in the first weekend of October. To do so the Bears will have to hold off a Washington State team that loves to live and die by the pass. Here’s a look at Cal’s next opponent.
Series History: Cal leads 45-26-5
California and Washington State have been playing as conference opponents as far back as 1919 in the old Pacific Coast Conference. The two carried over their series through a transition from the dissolved PCC into the Pac-8 and it has carried on through two conference expansions to this day. Cal has won nine of the last 10 meetings with the Cougars, but lost the last time the game was played in Berkley (44-22).
Cal won last season’s wild shootout, 60-59, at Washington State. Last year was the third time Cal had scored at least 60 points in a game against Washington State. Cal also scored a series-high 66 points in 2008 and 61 points in a decisive 61-0 thrashing of Washington State way back in 1922.
Washington State Head Coach: Mike Leach (4th season, 14-26; 14th season overall, 98-69)
Now in his fourth season at Washington State, the pressure may be rising on head coach Mike Leach. Leach was a splashy hire by a Washington State football program on its death bed back in 2012, but the Cougars have not shown much in terms of progress as a football program. Leach’s pass-happy offensive system is capable of putting up some big numbers on a somewhat regular basis, but the defensive shortcomings do not allow for Washington State to take many steps forward on the field. If Leach cannot turn things around and show progress this fall, he could very well be on his out of Pullman as Washington State starts looking for a new head coach for the fourth time since 2002.
Washington State at a Glance
The 2015 season got off on the wrong foot for Washington State. The Cougars were upset at home by FCS program Portland State. The 24-17 setback was an embarrassing one for the program, but Leach and the Cougars rebounded with two straight wins with wins at Rutgers and at home against Wyoming. The Rutgers victory was a bit of a confidence booster after such a humbling experience the previous week. For three quarters in Piscataway, New Jersey, it looked like a dull contest; but then the fourth quarter saw both Washington State and Rutgers go full force and trading scores. Washington State ended up with the last laugh, averaging a similarly thrilling end against Rutgers from the previous season.
Anytime a team takes on Washington State, it should prepare to be tested through the air with short, medium and long-range pass options coming the majority of the time. This is a signature of a team coached by Leach, just as it was at Texas Tech. Unlike in Lubbock though, Leach does not have quite the same level of talent to work with in Pullman. He does have Luke Falk though, and Falk will be expected to have his arm put to the test again this week.
Through three games, Falk has thrown for 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception. The Cougars will have Falk spread the ball around, but three receivers have already put together 200-yard seasons. Gabe Marks, River Cracraft and Dom Williams have been on the receiving end of a fair distribution of passes and have combined for six touchdowns. Washington State currently owns the Pac-12’s top passing offense in terms of passing yards per game (362.7 ypg; Cal has 350.5 ypg and is third in the conference). Between the passing offenses of Cal and Washington State, there should easily be over 700 passing yards in this year’s contest.
Get ready for a long game as Cal and Washington State once again make for a busy day for the official scorer. Washington State rolled up 812 yards of offense against Cal last season, including 734 passing yards. The Golden Bears seem to be playing better defensively this season, but Washington State still looks equipped to do some damage in the box score. Amazingly, last season’s game was turnover free. Turnovers could be key in this one too, and that may bode well for Cal. Cal has a +6 turnover margin this season with 14 takeaways. Washington State has only lost the ball three times so far, the second fewest turnovers in the Pac-12 (in just three games).
This one could be the most fun game of the weekend.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.