By Brent Stecker
Bouncing back from a 55-17 loss is not the easiest thing to do, but facing a 1-3 team next sounds like a good way to get back on track. The California Golden Bears are not a normal 1-3 team, though.
The Washington State Cougars (3-2, 1-1) are licking their wounds from Saturday’s disappointing performance against No. 5 Stanford, but to avoid a second straight loss this week they’ll have to shut down a Cal team in Berkeley that has already faced three top 25 opponents this season. And while the Bears are coming off a 55-16 loss to No. 2 Oregon themselves, they hung with No. 4 Ohio State and No. 22 Northwestern earlier in the season.
Connor Halliday is fifth among FBS quarterbacks in passing yards this season, and on Saturday his Cougars will face a Cal team that also likes to air it out. (AP)
“They are athletic. They are like they always are – they are always athletic, and they are athletic now,” WSU coach Mike Leach said Monday. “(They) bounce around, have some quick guys. (They’re a) good, solid Pac-12 team. They are getting a lot better, and they have played really tough opponents, too. They are a team that definitely has been tested by some tough opponents, like we have.”
The Bears will present an offense very similar to the Cougars’. Like WSU, Cal likes to air it out, as it’s ranked fourth in the NCAA with 373 passing yards per game. Washington State is 14th with 327.4.
It makes sense that Leach and first-year California coach Sonny Dykes employ similar offenses, as Dykes was on Leach’s coaching staff at Texas Tech from 2000-06.
“(There are) definitely some similar influences, but they’re a little different,” Leach said. “They are more of a play-action quick game, I guess. They do some good things. There are some similarities.”
Moving past Stanford
Before the Cougars look ahead to Cal, they have some demons to exorcise from the Stanford loss.
“They were a very overpowering team at times, and we would try to do too much and then got ourselves in trouble,” Leach said of the Cardinal. “We gave up big plays and stopped ourselves and gave them the ball back. … I thought we played segmented last week, which was unfortunate because it didn’t allow us to put our best foot forward.”
Even though Stanford torched the Cougars for 560 total yards of offense, Leach said effort wasn’t a problem for his team.
“I thought they all had pretty good effort. I thought they all played hard. I thought they played well. It wasn’t a lack of effort; it was trying too hard,” he said. “I think that we are a highly motivated team, but sometimes we make a bad play and we are quick on the ground. … We get a little dramatic. We need to get rid of that.”
• QB Connor Halliday, who was knocked out of the game early in the second half against Stanford after a big hit by OLB Trent Murphy, was a full participant in Monday’s practice and is ready to go against Cal.
“I think he is tough to begin with. I expected him to be at practice,” Leach said of Halliday.
• Drops were a problem against the Cardinal, and Leach said it will be a point of emphasis this week.
“I was disappointed. It is one of those things where we are tight, we are trying to catch the ball, trying to go straight up the field too fast,” he said. “We just need to relax and play. (We’re) trying to make too much stuff happen.”
• P Mike Bowlin has struggled with consistency, and after just one of his seven punts made it inside the 20 against Stanford, the punting situation has been opened up by Leach.
“That is kind of a $64,000 question around here. Really the most important thing for him to do is to see the ball,” Leach said. “He is a big, strong guy and he can kick it. See the ball and that’s about all there is to it. He is competing with several others this week.”