Four Downs: Washington State

Keenan Allen (Timothy Lutes)

Two of the conference's elite receivers, Cal's Keenan Allen and Marquess Wilson of Washington State, will show their skills at Martin Stadium on Saturday night.

Every week Cal Sports Digest offers up its four keys to a win for the Golden Bears:

-Think Like An Underdog, Play Like An Underdog
It wasn't a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but California's intensity and execution against UCLA were good enough to result in a dominant win over a quality opponent. The Golden Bears need to find a way to come to the Palouse with that same formula, especially against a Washington State team as desperate for a victory this week as Cal was last Saturday night.

Factor in the uncertain weather and crowd noise, Jeff Tedford needs to do everything possible to make sure his players again deliver impact plays in all three phases of the game. When it staggered to that 1-4 start, every game was characterized by a breakdown or two offsetting a strong performance elsewhere, such as the big plays allowed by the defense and three missed field goals at Ohio State.

If quarterback Zach Maynard continues the efficient decision-making he showed against the Bruins and the defense continues its steady progress, Cal should have no issues putting away the Cougars.

-Keep Long From Playing Big
If WSU defensive end Travis Long was putting up the numbers he is at Oregon, Stanford, or USC, he'd be getting the kind of dark-horse Heisman Trophy consideration currently being afforded to Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. But because he plays for a team without a conference win, the senior barely gets mentioned outside of Pac-12 country.

Long leads the Cougars with 7.5 sacks, most in the conference. His 26 solo tackles are second most on the team, trailing safety Deone Bucannon by only three. Cal coaches cannot stop raving about Long's relentless motor or how he will line up all over the front seven to try and create mismatches.

He can take over the game in much the same way Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and USC defensive end Morgan Breslin did by harassing and taking down Maynard. The Bears' offensive line must be at their best to minimize Long's presence in the backfield.

-Control Third Down
When did Cal's most glaring mistake against UCLA happen? Maynard's interception to set-up an easy touchdown for the Bruins came on third-and-14 on The Opening possession. Outside of that, the Bears didn't face a third down longer than seven yards, converting 6-of-10 opportunities.

When Cal can manufacture easy yards early and keep the offense on schedule, the sheer talent on offense can be utilized to its fullest, posting season-highs in points (43) and yards (480) against an FBS team.

-Have Allen Outperform Wilson
It's not a head-to-head showdown between junior wide receivers Keenan Allen and Marquess Wilson per se, but Cal needs their standout offensive weapon to best the lanky Cougar.

Wilson has the ability to take over a game by getting deep, though most of his chances for big plays this season have been negated by penalties or just out of his reach, while Allen shockingly doesn't have a 100-yard receiving game yet this season, but has made up for it returning punts.

Each could still end the season as legitimate candidates for All-America honors and national awards, possessing that kind of elite athletic ability, but are still looking for that breakout game. Allen came close with a pair of touchdowns last week, but is dealing with constantly being double or triple-teamed. Wilson might have an easier time finding creases in those four-receiver sets with corner Marc Anthony a game-time decision.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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