The Washington State football program is not a traditional power. In fact, the last ten years have seen the Cougars kept from playing in the post season. However, last season, when the Cougars hired former Big-12 coach of the year and offensive guru Mike Leach to be head coach, I thought it was a great move. In fact, before being ousted (unjustifiably) from Texas Tech, he had pulled the program up to being a consistent top-25 team.
Leach, who had been tied to UCLA, Maryland, Miami, Arizona and Minnesota in the past few years, found himself as the head man in Pullman.
One thing you know about a Mike Leach-run football team is that the offense is going to be amazing. Keep in mind, this coach is taught the likes of Tim Couch, Kliff Kingsbury, Graham Harrell, and Michael Crabtree during his time. He’s no joke. And after taking their lumps last season, going 3-9, the Cougars look a lot better this season. One reason is that the offense has been able to perform admirably at points so far this season, to the point that they, in one year, have gone from being a boring team to watch to a team that at times looks as good as the Texas Tech team looked towards the end of Leach’s tenure in Lubbock.
That’s not to say that the offense is a perfectly run machine. In fact, the Cougars’ offense is very flawed. Some would say it’s a bit one-dimensional, which is hard to argue against. Nevertheless, the offense is dangerous, and considering the already depleted Cal defense, and the loss of star pass-rushing linebacker Chris McCain, they could be in for a field day. They score 28.2 points per game, and throw for 327.4 yards per game, good enough for 14th in the nation.
The offense starts and ends with junior quarterback Connor Halliday. Halliday threw for over 1,800 yards last season with 15 touchdowns, through five games this season he’s on pace to surpass those numbers, and by a lot. He has thrown for 1,472 yards and ten touchdowns. The problem is, Connor has thrown for nearly as many interceptions (9) as touchdowns (10). He has been inconsistent, having two games without a touchdown, and three games with multiple interceptions. That said, when Halliday is on, he’s on. His best outing had to be during a 48-10 victory over Southern Utah, where he went 32-of-41 with 383 yards and five touchdowns.
His receiving corps is solid. It includes 14 different pass catchers this season. The biggest of whom is Gabe Marks, a 6’0 sophomore who has caught 37 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns. Marks is a blend of speed and fineness, making him the ultimate tough out in the Pac-12. He will probably be matched up against multiple guys throughout the game on Saturday, but he has shown the ability to beat any man, at any time. To top it off, he also can hit a game-changing big play when the Cougars need it. He had the biggest highlight of the night this past Saturday, when he caught a 47 yard touchdown pass to score the first touchdown of the night for Washington State. But, where Marks is so dangerous isn’t with his break away speed or his hands. It’s his route running abilities that separates him from other receivers in the Pac-12. He is doesn’t make many mistakes, which makes him somebody who I would rank amongst the scariest opposing players we are likely to see play Cal this season.
Opposite him is Dom Williams. Williams, also a sophomore, is taller (6’2) and bigger. He has pure power, very much in the vein of a Randy Moss. That isn’t to say that he’s Randy Moss. But, Williams is a player who plays big, plays with power, and really goes and gets it. He is the type of player who can run a straight shot downfield, jump up and catch the ball. He eats big chunks of yards, averaging 20.6 yards per catch. He also has some promise in the play-making ability, as he already has a 55-yard touchdown catch this season. However, for all his positives and his amazing stats (13 receptions, 268 yards and three touchdowns), he has been prone to disappearing in games. He was not much of a factor against Stanford or Auburn, and that does not bode well for him going forward. We’ll see which Dom Williams we’ll see this Saturday.
Where Washington State falls a little flat is in the run game. To be fair, the run game has been pitted up agains some of the best defensive lines they’ll see all season long in these first five games. USC, Stanford and Auburn are all very talented in the front seven, and it has shown in the team’s rushing totals. The team, as a whole has rushed for 303 yards on 90 carries with only four scores. All four scores, mind you, have come from sophomore Jeremiah Laufasa, who has been used sparingly this season (though he shows signs of being a real threat for this team in the near future).
Teondray Caldwell is a shorter back who falls forward very well, and always seems to get those extra bits of yards after getting hit. But even his 123 yards on 22 carries are pedestrian. That said, this could be the game where this running game finally shows up and plays up to par with the other rushing attacks in the Pac-12.
When it comes to Cal matching up with this team, the key – as has been with the last two games – is to beat Washington State in the turnover department. Sadly, Washington State has shown an inability to have a clean, turnover-free game. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think this was a good candidate for just that game. Also, Washington State cannot find a suddenly stout run game against Cal. The Golden Bears must not let them rush up and down all game long. If Washington State does this, they will win. Why? Because they have too many weapons for Cal’s defense to even deal with right now.
Topics: Auburn Tigers, Cal Golden Bears, Chris McCain, Connor Halliday, Don Williams, Gabe Marks, Graham Harrell, Jeremiah Laufasa, Kliff Kingsbury, Michael Crabtree, Mike Leach, Randy Moss, Stanford Cardinals, Teondray Caldwell, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Tim Couch, USC Trojans