BERKELEY, Calif. – As the most remote outpost in the Pac-12, Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. isn’t exactly the favorite destination for opposing fans and teams. Unless you can snag a flight on a puddle jumper, it requires a two-hour drive from Spokane, avoiding the notorious speed trap in Coulfax along the way, and hoping the weather cooperates.
“You never know what you are going to get weather-wise,” California head coach Jeff Tedford said Thursday. “I’ve been there on a day when it has been sunny and on the way over there it snowed. You can get anything, fog, rain, snow. You never know.”
“I’ve been in Pullman when it has been 80 degrees and sunny and 30 degrees and snowing in the same game,” offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik added.
The forecast for Saturday night’s game calls for a low of 45 degrees with 30 percent chance of showers, but guarantees plenty of passing. Washington State is averaging 48 throws per game, while running the ball only 124 times total this season.
The Cougars are rushing for a paltry 41.3 yards per game, while every other team in the Pac-12 in averaging at least 105 yards on the ground. But that doesn’t mean the Cal defense can completely disregard the run.
“Yes, it is 70-30 (pass-to-run ratio), but it only takes one to go for a touchdown, so you can’t overlook anything,” Tedford said.
Instead, Washington State head coach Mike Leach uses the passing game as a substitute for the run, featuring a variety of swing passes and screens. The middle or tunnel screen, where the outside receivers cuts back towards the quarterback to catch a pass behind the line of scrimmage while four offensive line and another receiver come out to block and create lanes, was a staple play for Leach at Texas Tech and is still in his arsenal.
Cornerback Kameron Jackson said it forces the secondary to be aware at any time, or else they run the risk of getting walloped by a 300-pound offensive lineman.
“They are trying to come get you, the O-linemen,” Jackson said. “They’ll try to hit you without looking, so you get to keep your head on a swivel at all times.”
Jackson started the season opener against Nevada as the starting slot corner in nickel personnel, where Cal uses five defensive backs. However, he struggled in that role and was replaced by starting safety Josh Hill, with redshirt sophomore Michael Lowe coming in.
“That’s a unique position that requires a lot of experience to be able to play in there, and obviously his experience is more at corner,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “It’s a little more natural out there for him.
“You look at Josh Hill, he’s a third-year starter at that particular position and he has gotten better and better, and it’s a pretty well oiled machine in there.”
Even after intercepting three passes against UCLA, it seems likely that Jackson will play on the outside against the Washington State spread passing offense, even if redshirt senior Marc Anthony (bruised knee) is able to play.
Anthony is a game-time decision, Tedford said.
Defensive ends Aaron Tipoti (knee) and Todd Barr (calf) “will be available to play,” Tedford said.
Asked if he had seen Leach’s comments referring to some of the seniors he inherited as “zombie-like” and “empty corpses,” Tedford said, “Mike typically pretty much tells it as it is most of the time, so it really doesn’t surprise me."
Washington State will hand out Leach bobbleheads to the first 10,000 fans attending the game against California.
In 2003, the Bears gave away bobbleheads with Tedford’s likeness before their home game against Colorado State.
“It’s always shaking its head yes,” Tedford jokes. “That’s why the one at home, my wife (asks for) whatever she wants, it always shakes its head yes.”
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.