The No. 10 ranked Golden Bears look to extend their winning streak to six games when they visit the Cougars at Clarence Martin Stadium on Saturday.
California, entering the top 10 for the first time since its opening week loss to Tennessee, brings the one of the nation's hottest offenses--and hottest quarterbacks--into this contest against Washington State. California (5-1, 3-0 Pac-10) has scored 40 or more points in its last five games (a first for the Golden Bears program) and it has outscored those five opponents 219-91.
The Golden Bears are going to need all of their offense and more as they return to place that has been a house of horrors for them. California has lost 10 straight meetings in Pullman, including a 51-20 loss the last time it visited in 2001. The Golden Bears last won in Pullman in 1979, a 45-13 victory. Since that game the Cougars have outscored the Golden Bears 354-165 at home.
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California enters the game off a convincing 45-24 victory over previously unbeaten and then-No. 11 Oregon last Saturday. California was once again led by sophomore quarterback Nate Longshore, who continued his outstanding play by completing 14 of 26 passes for 189 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The sophomore quarterback added a rushing touchdown for good measure.
Longshore continues to put huge numbers over the Golden Bears' five-game winning streak. The sophomore has completed 91-of-137 passes (66.4%) for 1,325 yards with 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He leads the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and is ranked ninth nationally. His favorite target continues to be sophomore receiver DeSean Jackson, who had two catches for 77 yards and a touchdown on Saturday.
Jackson, who also returned a punt for a touchdown on Saturday, continues to put up incredible numbers. On the season he has 29 receptions for 522 yards (18.0 average) and a Pac-10 best 10 touchdowns (eight receiving and two on punt returns). Jackson has a touchdown reception in his last eight games and is tied with Rice's Jarett Dillard for the longest streak in the nation. In his career, the sophomore has scored 18 touchdowns (15 receiving, three on punt returns) in 17 college games.
California's victory over Oregon is even more impressive because it was without the Pac-10's leading rusher Marshawn Lynch, who left Saturday's game early in the second quarter with a sprained ankle and did not return. The Golden Bears didn't miss a beat as junior running back Justin Forsett filled in more than adequately, rushing for 163 yards and a touchdown as California rushed for a season-high 235 yards. He was named the Pac-10's offensive player of week en route to his fifth career 100-yard game.
The news on Lynch was not as dire as originally feared. X-rays revealed no significant damage, and California coach Jeff Tedford expects Lynch, who has been hampered by the troublesome ankle all season, to play on Saturday.
"He re-irritated it during the game," Tedford told reporters on Tuesday. "But he's moving around fine. He's just a little bit sore. I wouldn't say he's questionable. I would say he'll play for sure."
That is good news for the Golden Bears, as they are facing one of the better run defenses in the country in the Cougars. Washington State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-10) is ranked third in the conference and 24th nationally against the run, allowing just 98.83 yards per game. The Cougars have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Auburn's Kenny Irons carved them up for 157 in the opening game of the season. Since then, Washington State defense has allowed an average of 60 yards rushing per game.
The Cougars enter the game off an impressive defensive performance in a 13-6 victory over Oregon State last Saturday. Washington State recorded six sacks, forced four fumbles (recovered three) and had an interception. The defense also held the Beavers rushing attack in check yielding just 64 net-rushing yards.
The Cougars were led by redshirt senior linebacker Scott Davis, who had six solo tackles, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and two pass breakups. Davis' performance did not go unnoticed as he was named the Pac-10's defensive player of the week. He received some help from defensive end Mkristo Bruce, who tallied two sacks and leads the nation with 10 sacks.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cougars are led by redshirt junior quarterback Alex Brink, who completed 19 of 32 passes for 270 yards, with one touchdown and an interception. On the season, Brink has completed 60% of his passes for 1334 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
Brink's two favorite targets are junior receiver Michael Bumpus, who leads the team with 40 catches, and senior wide out Jason Hill. On Saturday Hill led the Cougars with five catches for 121 yards and one touchdown. With those 121 yards Hill became the school's all-time leader in receiving yards with 2,504, passing Hugh Campbell. On the season Hill has 28 catches for 400 yards (14.3 average) and a team best five touchdowns.
The Cougars use a three-headed attack at running back. Redshirt freshman Dwight Tardy leads the team with 286 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Sophomore DeMaundray Woolridge is second on the team with 276 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per rush. Junior Darrell Hutsona comprises the final piece of the three headed attack, rushing for 256 yards and averaging a healthy 5.8 yards per carry.
Running room may be tough to come by for Washington State as California's run defense has been stifling the last two weeks, holding two of the conference's best backs in check. Two weeks ago, the Golden Bears held Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard to 74 yards, and last week Oregon's Jonathan Stewart was held to 25 yards on 18 carries (1.4 average.) As a team Oregon finished with just 70 yards rushing last Saturday.
The Golden Bears pass defense continues to excel, but Brink, Hill and Bumpus should present a formidable challenge for them on Saturday. A key match up will be Bumpus and Hill challenging senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes. Hughes already has five interceptions, two of which he has returned for touchdowns, and is one of the leading candidates for the Thorpe Award. On Saturday he covered Oregon's Jaison Williams, one of the top receivers in the nation, and held him to five catches for just 66 yards (well below his 16 yard per catch average) and a late third quarter touchdown.
Look for Washington State to try and run the ball and control the clock and keep the Golden Bears explosive offense off the field.
When the Golden Bears have the ball, look for them to pound the ball with either Lynch or Forsett to set up play-action with Longshore. If the Golden Bears are able to protect Longshore and open some holes for the running backs, they could erase the ghosts of Martin Stadium and Pullman on Saturday.
Notes: California leads the all-time series: 37-25-5. California won 42-38 last year at Memorial Stadium, but Washington State has won four of the last five meetings overall. The Cougars own a 14-8-1 advantage in Pullman.