After making the dreaded roundtrip to Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Cougs (1-3, 0-2) will hop on the next dreadful flight to Berkeley to play the always tough California Golden Bears (1-3, 0-1). Both teams are coming off tough losses as California fumbled away their chance of upsetting Washington at the one yard line in overtime, losing 31-24.
Cal and WSU have been playing each other since 1914 and have played in baseball stadiums and even 5,000 miles away in Tokyo in 1987.
Since 2005, Cal has dominated the series against WSU as the Cougs have managed just three wins in 15 tries. Before winning 44-22 in 2013, WSU hadn’t beaten Cal since 2002 (Did not play in 2003 and 2004.)
Cal has had a history of playing the Cougs really tough. In 2017, ranked number eight in the nation at 6-1, the Cougs got trounced by the 4-3 Golden Bears 37-3 in a game that saw the Cougs turn the ball over seven times and Ross Bowers front flip over the WSU defense into the endzone.
In 2018, the Cougs were again highly ranked at number 10 in the nation when they welcomed the Bears to Pullman. Cal, as per usual, made it unnecessarily close as the Cougs were able to escape 19-13 after Gardner Minshew found Easop Winston in the endzone with 32 seconds to go. Cal was able to pull away late in 2019 after scoring two touchdowns with under six minutes to go to win 33-20.
Hours before kickoff in 2020, we got the most 2020 game ever. Cancelled. Just as players were getting ready to take the field on a cold December afternoon in Pullman, it was revealed that there was COVID issues and the game wouldn’t be able to be played.
The 2021 California Golden Bears
California has played in some real close games to start 2021. Three of their four games have been decided by seven or less points. Like WSU, they started the year with a loss to a Mountain West foe in Nevada 22-17, then followed it up with a two point loss at TCU before finally getting into the win column with a 42-20 win over Sacramento State.
The Bears opened up conference play last week with a trip up to Seattle. After tying the game at 24 with just under three minutes to go, the defense was able to get a quick stop and give their offense a chance to win the game. California’s kicker Dario Longhetto’s 55 yard try would fall just short to send the game to overtime. After allowing a touchdown on UW’s opening chance, Cal would get down to the 1 before fumbling just before the goal line. UW would recover and seal the 31-24 win.
Meet the Bears
Chase Garbers is still the starting quarterback for the Golden Bears. The senior hails from Newport Beach, California and will be making only his second appearance against Washington State after missing the 2019 game in Berkeley. Garbers has thrown for an average of about 273 yards per game on a 66.4% completion percentage. Garbers has nine total touchdowns on the year, seven passing, two rushing, but also has four interceptions, half of which being thrown to Washington’s Kyler Gordon last week. Garbers is also a threat to move with 16 total rushing attempts just last week.
The 16 attempts last week, combined with the other 17 from the three other games, puts Garbers at second on the team in rushing attempts behind sophomore running back Damien Moore. Moore has been the workhorse for the Cal backfield with 59 carries for 304 yards (fourth in the Pac-12) and five touchdowns. The other three running backs that have seen action for Cal have combined for just 25 carries and 183 yards.
While the running game has been very one-sided, the receiving core has been sharing targets across the board. Five different Cal receivers have double-digit catches with two players having 15 receptions. Four of those five receivers are seniors who’ve developed great chemistry with Garbers over the years. The underclassman is sophomore Jeremiah Hunter who’s just 4 games into his collegiate career.
The Cal offense has been carrying the weight so far. They rank second in the conference in total yards, third in passing yards and fifth in rushing yards. The defense has been the liability. The Bears rank 11th in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed and passing yards per game. The run defense for the Golden Bears has been stout so far however as they rank 3rd in the conference with just 120.8 rushing yards per game allowed.
ESPN’s Power Football Index gives the Cougs a 25.9% chance of winning in Berkeley for the first time since 2013. Cal is favored by -7.5 points.
Keys to Success
The health of Jayden de Laura and Max Borghi are the main focus going into this weekend. Nick Rolovich did say there was a “good chance” that both QB1 and RB1 will be playing in Berkeley on Saturday. But we won’t know for sure until warmups that day.
If de Laura is able to go, the offense is going to have to take advantage of a weak Cal pass defense. WSU has the talent at wide receiver that matchup issues shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Last week, WSU allowed a season high nine total sacks as although Jarrett Guarantano was able to move on occasion, they were missing de Laura’s escape artist techniques to bail them out of getting beat at the line by Utah. Even if de Laura is back, the offensive line has to be much better in keeping the quarterbacks jersey clean to allow them to find time to dot up a weaker Cal secondary.
The defense once again played well in the first half than started to break in the second half. There were very opportunistic last Saturday when they were able to force Utah to cough up the football three times but likely won’t see Cal put the ball on the turf as much as the Utes did. They will have their hands full with a veteran offense that can move the ball effectively in their first four games.
The offense arguably is desperate for de Laura and Borghi to be healthy if they want to move the ball. Guarantano, while at times looked sharp, could not get much going, especially when he was missing Borghi in the backfield. This Cal defense hasn’t been intimidating to start the season and WSU needs to take advantage of this. They need to have a breakout game. There is too much talent on the offensive side of the ball to let the Cal defense bully them all game.
The defense will be challenged early and often with a veteran offense that knows how to move the ball down the field. If the defense can get some early stops and the offense can hold on to the ball long enough to avoid fatiguing the defense in the second half again, they should be able to hang tough.
Cal has played WSU very tough over the years and Saturday should be no different. Both teams are starving for a good Pac-12 win to try and avoid a 1-4 start that would really derail hopes of a bowl game at the end of the season.
The pigskin is scheduled for a 2:30PM PST kickoff under the forecasted 84 degree California sun at California Memorial Stadium and will be broadcasted on the Pac-12 Network.