The two teams are coming off drastically different results last weekend. Washington State (1-2) was blitzed from the get-go by the QB/WR tandem of Kedon Slovis and Amon-Ra St. Brown for USC as the Cougars were blown out 38-13 — a score that looks much closer than the game actually was.
California (1-3), on the other hand, is hoping to keep the momentum going after a massive 21-17 upset over preseason conference favorites Oregon in Berkley last weekend. Despite the 1-3 record, Cal has looked better of late since their disastrous 24-point defeat to UCLA in their opener, losing by a combined four points to both Oregon State and Stanford before last weekend's upset victory.
California at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: California -2.5
When California Has the Ball
New offensive coordinator, same struggles for a Cal offense that has yet to find its footing this season and is dead last in the conference with just 319.5 yards per game. There's really no one specific area you can point to as the culprit — nothing has worked as the Bears are 10th in the Pac-12 in passing, averaging just 192.8 passing yards per game, and second to last in rushing at 126.8 yards per game.
Junior quarterback Chase Garbers, thought to be a potential NFL prospect coming into the year, has been better of late, completing 65.0 percent of his passes in the last three games with six touchdowns, but the Bears aren't challenging defenses down the field. Garbers is averaging a conference-low 5.7 yards per attempt. The Bears have also failed to get any traction going on the ground, with their rotation of backs averaging just 3.43 yards per carry.
Washington State's defense could be just what is needed, though, as the Cougars rank last in the conference in scoring, allowing 36.6 points per game, and were without five players in the secondary last week.
When Washington State Has the Ball
There should be a huge boost potentially forthcoming with the season debut of star running back Max Borghi, who returned to practice early last week but wound up not traveling with the team to Los Angeles in their matchup with USC. Former Notre Dame transfer Deon McIntosh has filled in admirably with Borghi sitting out, averaging 6.91 yards per carry with two touchdowns in the first three weeks, but the junior running back brings a different dynamic to the offense with his rushing and pass-catching abilities out of the backfield.
Better play will be needed from freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura, who struggled against the Trojans last week with a pair of first-quarter interceptions and was effectively benched in the second half. California has been up-and-down against the pass this season, holding opponents to just 196.8 yards per game through the air but allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 61.9 percent of their passes with a 141.2 passing efficiency rating, which is 10th in the Pac-12.
With the run-and-shoot offense that head coach Nick Rolovich employs, the passing game runs through the slot receivers, and the Cougars have two goods ones in Travell Harris and Renard Bell, who've accounted for 50 of the team's 69 total receptions on the year.
Expect a better showing from Washington State this week after the embarrassing loss to USC, but this is a California team that is improving with every passing game in 2020. Justin Wilcox and this Cal defense have found success against this pass-heavy Washington State offense, holding the Cougars to just 36 total points in the last three meetings. Different principles with Rolovich's run-and-shoot compared to the Air Raid with Mike Leach, but the schemes aren't enormously dissimilar. The Golden Bears continue their upward momentum in a narrow victory.
Prediction: California 27, Washington State 24
Podcast: CFB Rankings, Coaching Changes and Week 15 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.