California’s improved defense gets the ultimate test Saturday night when the Golden Bears visit national passing leader Gardner Minshew and the host eighth-ranked Washington State Cougars in a Pacific-12 Conference game.
Washington State (7-1, 4-1) enters the weekend as the highest rated Pac-12 team in the new College Football Playoff rankings and atop the conference’s North division.
The Cougars were in a similar situation last season when, also as the No. 8 team in the nation, they were thumped 37-3 on the road at Cal.
Minshew wasn’t with Washington State in that game. The senior transfer from East Carolina has thrown for 3,183 yards and 26 touchdowns this season, numbers that place him first and fifth in the nation, respectively.
He is coming off his most impressive outing of the season, going 40 of 50 for 438 and three TD’s against a traditionally strong Stanford defense in a 41-38 road win.
That victory put the Cougars in a position to control their own destiny in the race for the Pac-12 championship game.
A Nov. 23 showdown with rival Washington (6-3, 4-2) could ultimately determine if the Cougars earn a spot in the Nov. 30 game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., but Washington State coach Mike Leach has warned his team that potential destination is a long way away.
“All I’m worried about is playing the best we can against Cal, and if we win one game a week often enough, that’s all we can control,” he told reporters this week. “Because if we worry about other stuff, then it’s just clutter. It’s like John Wooden said, basically, ‘Don’t let criticism or praise affect you negatively.’ So we have to just focus on stuff like that.”
Bears seeking to spoil the party … again
Saturday, Minshew & Co. will be up against a Cal defense that saved its best last season for Washington State’s visit, intercepting Luke Falk five times and holding him without a touchdown pass.
The Bears lead the Pac-12 in pass defense this season, having allowed an average of just 162.4 yards in five games.
They surprised Washington 12-10 last week by limiting the Huskies to 159 passing yards with two interceptions.
The win was Cal’s second in a row after a three-game losing streak that had some questioning the Bears’ bowl prospects. Cal coach Justin Wilcox said he knew his guys weren’t done.
“The difference between winning football and not is just a couple plays here and there,” he insisted. “Over time, you develop habits and find a way to make those plays.”
Cal has its winning streak thanks in large part to the rushing of Patrick Laird, who has totaled 276 yards and two TDs on the ground in those two games. That improved his rushing average to 103.2 in Pac-12 play, sixth-best in the conference.
–Field Level Media