WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS (6-0)
at CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (3-3)
California Memorial Stadium – Berkeley, CA
Kickoff: Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: Washington State -13.5, Total: 53
Cal hopes to knock #8 Wazzu from the ranks of the unbeaten.
After taking down Pac-12 giant USC in a matchup of two undefeated teams two weeks ago, you couldn't blame Washington State for feeling a little disrespected after heading to Eugene last weekend as only one-point favorites. They certainly played like it, taking down the Ducks by a 33-10 score. The Cougars are now 6-0 on the season and have beat the spread in four straight contests after going 0-2 ATS in their first two. At # 8 in the AP Poll, they're ranked last among the major unbeaten teams (not counting 4-0 Miami), only five spots ahead of the USC team they defeated. They'll be playing their second straight road game this weekend, this time in Berkeley against the California Golden Bears. After a 3-0 start and wins that once would have seemed impressive over UNC and Ole Miss, Cal has dropped to 3-3 (3-3 ATS) after three consecutive losses to USC, Oregon and Washington. As 29-point underdogs at UW last weekend, the Bears trailed 24-0 at halftime and ultimately lost by a 38-7 score. Over the last three seasons, Washington State is 11-3 Under against the total when having gained 125 rushing yards or fewer in its two previous games. But under head coach Mike Leach, the team is 5-1 Over against the total coming off of two straight conference wins.
As is characteristic of Leach's teams, Washington State focuses on throwing the ball, and then throwing the ball some more in its Air Raid offense. Leach, formerly the coach at Texas Tech, may now have his best passer ever in QB Luke Falk (71.8 CMP%, 19 TDs, 2 INTs). Falk is third in the country in passing yards despite the fact that he's missed some time to injury—backup Tyler Hilinski has thrown over 50 passes himself. Falk isn't incredibly efficient through certain lenses—his 7.63 yards per attempt are eighth in the Pac-12—but that's not unexpected considering his volume. His near-impeccable TD-INT ratio serves as an accurate representation of just how effectively he helms this offense. Naturally, he has a number of wide receivers who see plenty of targets. Despite catching only two passes for 19 yards against Oregon, WR Tavares Martin Jr. (34 catches, 464 yards, 7 TDs) leads the team in receiving. WR Kyle Sweet (27 catches, 283 yards, TD) was his most frequent target in that game with seven catches for 86 yards, while RB Jamal Morrow (37 carries, 288 yards, 2 TDs; 23 catches, 179 yards, 5 TDs) and WRs Renard Bell (20 catches, 374 yards, TD) and Isaiah Johnson-Mack (33 catches, 316 yards, 3 TDs) each caught a touchdown apiece. While the ground game isn't the headliner in Pullman, Morrow, RB James Williams (58 carries, 230 yards, TD; 41 catches, 290 yards, 3 TDs) and RB Gerard Wicks (22 carries, 116 yards, TD; 10 catches, 51 yards) see some action both on the ground and through the air.
Gone in Berkeley are the days of QB Davis Webb and WR Chad Hansen, who helped form one of the Pac-12's most formidable passing offenses a season ago. In their place are new starting quarterback Ross Bowers (55.9 CMP%, 1,437 yards, 9 TDs, 8 INTs) and a host of the few remaining non-injured receivers vying to catch 55.9% of his passes. That completion percentage and TD-INT ratio, along with a sad 6.47 YPA, show a quarterback that has struggled to find his footing in his first season as a starter. His best game of the year—and, really, his only strong performance at all—came in the opener at North Carolina, and things have gone downhill since. He was feckless against Washington, completed 11 of 18 passes for 80 yards. Backup Chase Forrest was able to move the ball a bit in garbage time, but does not yet appear poised to overtake the starting job. All the blame for the offense can't be placed on Bowers, however, as the aforementioned receiver injuries have decimated the wideout unit. WRs Melquise Stovall and Demetris Robertson are out for the year, and WR Kanawai Noa (24 catches, 373 yards, TD) missed the UW game with an injury. He is questionable to play against Washington State. WR Vic Wharton III (27 catches, 397 yards, 3 TDs) is Bowers's most reliable option. Sadly, the running game has been similarly affected by injuries. RB Patrick Laird (65 carries, 400 yards, 4 TDs) was himself injured when he took over for starter Tre Watson (who is now out for the year) at the beginning of the season, and he exited the Washington game early with an injury. Laird, however, appears good to go against Wazzu on Friday.