CAL (1-3) VS. WASHINGTON STATE (2-2), 1 p.m., Saturday, October 5
TV: Fox Sports 1
Cal (1-3) showed obvious deficiencies in its first three games, but at least it seemed to have solved its quarterback concerns with true freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
However, after Goff got pulled in the first quarter of the blowout loss to Oregon, even the quarterback situation is a concern again.
Goff probably will retain his starting job for the Bears' Oct. 5 home game against Washington State (2-2), but he and Zach Kline shared the first-team snaps during practice in the days leading up to the game.
"We'll see this week," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "(But) I'd be surprised if anything happened other than Jared starting."
Now, with the Cal schedule finally becoming manageable, the quarterback position and Goff's confidence are issues. He fumbled twice and was just 3-for-6 passing for 11 yards before being replaced by Kline in the first quarter. The Bears already trailed 27-0 when Goff was benched, and Cal eventually lost 55-16.
Assuming he starts, Goff will be back in front of friendly fans and probably won't have to deal with the gusty, wet conditions that caused him so many problems in Eugene, Ore. But will he be able to regain the composure he showed in the first three games after such a deflating effort at Oregon?
Cal's quarterback will need to put up big numbers against Washington State (3-2), because the Bears' defense is unlikely to slow the Cougars' spread offense.
The dismissal this week of defensive end Chris McCain from the squad for conduct detrimental to the team will not help a porous Cal defense that already has a number players out. The Bears rank 119th of 123 FBS teams in total defense and 121st in scoring defense, yielding 45.3 points a game.
The Bears' task would be made a bit easier if Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday cannot play. He left the Sept. 28 game against Stanford in the third quarter after taking a hit to his side. However, Washington State coach Mike Leach said after the game he expected Halliday to play against Cal.
Even if backup Washington State quarterback Austin Apodaca plays, Cal's secondary will be challenged. Cornerback Kam Jackson has a leg injury, but he probably will play against the Cougars, which is good news for a Cal secondary that has been beset with injuries.
Despite all the concerns, Cal should begin to get a better gauge of its status under first-year coach Dykes. The Bears were overmatched in blowout losses to No. 4 Ohio State and No. 2 Oregon in their past two games. They played pretty well in a 44-30 loss in the opener against Northwestern, which is ranked No. 16 as of Oct. 1. But Cal played poorly in a 37-30 victory over Portland State, an FCS school.
Washington State has talent comparable to Cal's, and it's a game Cal needs to win to avoid downward spiral with games against UCLA, Oregon State and Washington to follow in the next three games.
The Washington State game should tell us just how good Cal is and how solid Cal's quarterback situation is.
It could also tell us which team has the better spread offense. Dykes was an assistant coach under Leach for seven years at Texas Tech, and their offensive philosophies are similar.
CAL PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Jared Goff, a true freshman, led the nation in total offense and passing yards after three games, but he was pulled in the first quarter against Oregon after fumbling twice. He probably will start against Washington State. How he reacts to that disappointing performance will have a major impact on Cal's success the rest of the season. Goff practiced wearing a glove in the days leading up to the Washington State game, presumably to give him a firmer grip on the ball. If he struggles again, Zach Kline could take over the quarterbacking chores.
--WRs Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs - The two sophomores combined for 54 receptions in four games, but they had just five between them against Oregon. After three games, Cal was one of three FBS teams with two receivers averaging better than 100 receiving yards per game. But after four games, both are averaging less than 90 yards a game. They need to have big games against Washington State.
--RB Brendan Bigelow - Bigelow has not been the running threat he was expected to be. He's is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry despite his big-play capabilities. The Bears need him to break some long gains against the Washington State defense to complement the Bears' passing game in Sonny Dykes' spread offense.
SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads the series with Washington State 45-25-5. Cal has won eight straight against the Cougars, including last year's 31-17 victory in Pullman, Wash. Cal's most recent loss to Washington State came in 2002, when the Cougars were ranked No. 16.
QUOTE: "I think it was a one-time occurrence." -- Cal coach Sonny Dykes, on Cal's four first-quarter fumbles, including two by QB Jared Goff, in the wet weather at Oregon.
ASSESSING THE CAL RUNNING GAME: Cal figured to rely on its passing game in Sonny Dykes' spread offense, but it expected to get considerably more out of its running game than it has so far. The Bears are averaging just 3.0 yards per rushing attempt in an offense that typically enhances a runner's yards-per-attempt average. Starter Brendan Bigelow is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Freshman RB Khalfani Muhammad has shown potential as a break-away back.
ASSESSING THE CAL PASSING GAME: Cal's passing game in Sonny Dykes' spread offense had been very productive until the Sept. 28 game against Oregon. The Bears slipped from second in the nation in passing yards per game to fourth as a result of that game. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff led the nation in passing yards per game before the Oregon game, but is now seventh after passing for just 11 yards against the Ducks. WRs Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have been productive and have helped keep the Bears in games. The biggest shortcoming has been pass protection. The Bears have yielded 15 sacks in four games, and only four teams in the country have allowed more than 3.75 sacks per game Cal has yielded. Even with the frequency with which Cal passes the ball, that's too many sacks.
ASSESSING THE CAL RUN DEFENSE: Every Cal opponent has rushed for at least 220 yards and averaged at least 5.2 yards per carry. The switch from a 3-4 defense used last year under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to the 4-3 used this year by Andy Buh has been unable to stop the run. Washington State is one of the worst running teams in the country, averaging just 60.6 yards per game on the ground. But even the Cougars will probably try to run the ball against Cal.
ASSESSING THE CAL PASS DEFENSE: The Bears' young and injury-plagued secondary has been burned for 250.0 passing yards a game. That ranks 110th of 123 FBS schools. Because the Cal offense plays so fast and gets off so many plays, the Bears' defense must be on the field for a lot of plays as well. A bigger problem than the secondary is the lack of a pass rush. Cal has just four sacks through four games and seldom hurries the opposing quarterback. The Bears will have trouble getting to the Washington State quarterbacks, who get rid of the ball quickly. The Cougars rank 14th in the country in passing offense, averaging 374.2 yards a game, so Cal's cornerbacks will have their work cut out for them.
ASSESSING THE CAL SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Vincenzo D'Amato -- who made 12 of his last 14 field-goal attempts last year, including one from 52 yards -- has hit 9 of 10 field goal attempts this season. His longest was a 46-yarder and his only miss was from 46 yards out. Redshirt freshman P Cole Leininger is averaging 42.0 yards per kick with five of his 22 punts going inside the 20-yard line and eight of them being fair caught. Khalfani Muhammad has been a decent kick-returner, and Bryce Treggs has been adequate as a punt returner.
-- DE Chris McCain was dismissed from the team the day after the Sept. 28 game against Oregon. Coach Sonny Dykes cites conduct detrimental to team as the reason. McCain had started two of the three games he played this season.
--DE Brennan Scarlett has not played this season because of a hand injury, and he is questionable for the Oct. 5 game against Washington State.
--MLB Nick Forbes has missed the first four games with a back injury. He is getting closer to returning, but it's unclear whether he will play against Washington State.
-DT Mustafa Jalil has missed the first three games with a knee injury and is questionable for the Washington State game.
--CB Kam Jackson suffered a lower-leg injury against Oregon that makes his status for the Washington State game uncertain, but he seems likely to play.
--RB Khalfani Muhammad probably will play against Washington State after suffering a head injury against Oregon.