Cougars prepare for season finale

Cougars hope to improve vs. Cal defense after averaging just 14 points in last three matchups



WSU hopes to get back on track against UC Berkley after falling to USC 38-13.

CODY SCHOELER, Evergreen reporter

The WSU Cougars will once again look to get back in the win column when they play the California Golden Bears at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Martin Stadium.

WSU (1-2) is coming off a tough 38-13 loss to No. 20 USC while Cal (1-3) is coming off its first win of the season after upsetting No. 23 Oregon 21-17.

The Cougars’ offense struggled to get anything going against the Trojan defense Sunday. Freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura threw for just 134 along with two interceptions.

Head coach Nick Rolovich said de Laura got outside the system and the receivers had some issues against the USC secondary. He said those factors combined to create some hesitation on de Laura’s part and a lack of production.

“I don’t think it was his best game, I think he saw that,” Rolovich said. “I think the first thing is to admit and work on fixing it and getting better.”

The Golden Bears’ defense may be able to give de Laura and the Cougars a similar challenge. Cal is allowing 26.5 points per game this season, a number that is tied for fourth best in the conference.

Rolovich said Cal is very good at what they do on defense; they do not make a lot of mistakes and are very good tacklers. He said the game will come down to which unit executes better: the Cougars’ offense or the Golden Bears’ defense.

“We’re going to have to do what we do better than they do what they do on defense,” Rolovich said.

WSU has struggled against this defense in recent years. In the past three matchups between the two teams, the Cougars have won just one of them, scoring an average of 14 points a contest.

Cal’s defense lost Evan Weaver, 2019 leading tackler and linebacker, but it still has considerable talent. Redshirt senior linebacker Kuony Deng has taken over in the middle of the defense, leading the team with 31 total tackles.

Redshirt senior outside linebacker Cameron Goode also returned for the Golden Bear defense after leading the team with 9.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Goode is once again leading the defense in each category with three sacks and eight tackles for loss in Cal’s four games.

“Goode’s a good player,” Rolovich said. “That’s pretty funny isn’t it?”

He also said that redshirt senior cornerback Camryn Bynum and senior safety Elijah Hicks have been impressive and help make up a very talented Cal secondary.

The WSU offense has the talent to overcome Cal’s defense, especially if de Laura plays as he did in the first two games of the season. He has great weapons in the passing game, which he has used to considerable success.

Redshirt senior Renard Bell and redshirt junior Travell Harris have staked their claim as two of the best wide receivers in the Pac-12. The pair of wideouts are the top two in the Pac-12 in both receptions per game and receiving yards per game.

Bell is first in the conference with 27 receptions while Harris is fourth with 23. They are also each in the top five in yards with 294 and 275, respectively.

The Golden Bears have been stout against the pass this year; they are allowing just 197.8 yards through the air. The unit is more vulnerable on the ground, where they have allowed 169.3 yards per game.

Redshirt senior running back Deon McIntosh has been impressive for the Cougars in the rushing game. He is one of four Pac-12 running backs to average over 100 yards per game; he has a mark of 101.3 yards per contest. He also has the fourth-best yards per carry mark in the conference with a 6.9 average.

The WSU defense has struggled recently, giving up 43 and 38 points in its last two games. Fortunately for that unit, the Cal offense has also experienced its fair share of struggles.

The Golden Bears are last in the Pac-12 in offense yards per game. They are gaining 192.8 yards per game through the air, which is the second-worst in the conference and rushing for 126.8 yards per game, third-worst in the conference.

Cal will be led by redshirt junior quarterback Chase Garbers, who has thrown for 771 yards and six touchdowns this season. Despite not having the best numbers, Garbers is capable of having a big game. He threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon State earlier this year.

The Golden Bears also have a pair of running backs with over 100 rushing yards: freshman Damien Moore and redshirt senior Marcel Dancy.

Redshirt sophomore edge rusher Ron Stone Jr. said he expects Cal to run the ball a lot and use bigger personnel sets with multiple tight ends and running backs.

“We’re looking forward to a physical game and just stopping the run and seeing what we do,” Stone Jr. said.

The Cougars have done a good job at stopping their opponent’s ground game this season. They have allowed 132 rushing yards per game, the third-best in the conference.

Stone Jr. said the defense has been successful because the guys have bought into the new system. He said the players have learned how to play within the scheme and make routine plays.

“The farther we go, the more we’re learning the defense, and getting better and getting more used to it, and it’s just allowing us to play faster within it,” he said.

The WSU Cougars will play what might be their final home game of the season when they take on the California Golden Bears at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Martin Stadium. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports One.