Nov. 11—One team has lost five straight games and the other has lost four consecutive contests, albeit all to ranked foes.
Today's contest between Washington State (4-5, 1-5 Pac-12) and California (3-6, 1-5) won't exactly be the most high-profile matchup ever to be presented on ESPN2 when the teams kick off at 1 p.m. in Berkeley, Calif. But it's a must-win game for both teams if either one wants to hang on to waning hopes of qualifying for a bowl game.
"I want to be frank, a bowl game and WSU should be celebrated greatly," WSU coach Jake Dickert said. "That is absolutely a successful season. I mean that regardless of the record. When you get out there and make a bowl game at our place, I think that's really big time."
Here are some keys for two teams hoping to keep those hopes alive:
You Ott to try to slow him down
The Pac-12's leading rusher is Cal sophomore Jaydn Ott at 105.9 yards per game on a 5.8 per carry average. He owns 847 total rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
"The tailback is phenomenal; one of the best in the league, so I think they do a good job of utilizing him and getting him downhill," Dickert said.
The Golden Bears are using a spread defense this season instead of their traditional pro style and have found success in the run-pass-option game.
Cal has settled on quarterback Fernando Mendoza (60.2%, six TDs, four interceptions) as its primary passer, but has used three quarterbacks in every game this season.
Down year for Cal defense
Cal coach Justin Wilcox is known as a defensive mind, but it's been a down year for the team's usually stout defense.
The Golden Bears are allowing a league-worst 36.8 points per game. Their 281.7 yards are third-worst in the conference, which could bode well for the Cougars' passing attack that ranks No. 2 in the league (335.7).
In all fairness, the Bears have faced four straight ranked opponents, including their most-recent 63-19 loss to No. 6 Oregon.
"The odd thing is when you think of Cal, normally you've thought of a lot of really strong defensive performances," Dickert said. "They've went against really the three best offenses in the country the last three weeks to mixed results, so we need to make sure we're staying ahead of them on that side of the ball."
Keys for the Cougs
One word — consistency.
WSU has been wildly inconsistent during its five-game losing streak, struggling on offense at home in losses to Arizona and Stanford and struggling on defense on the road in losses to Oregon and Arizona State.
The Cougars should be able to move the ball against the Bears through the air, and the contest will likely come down to slowing down Ott and Cal's run game.
WSU quarterback Cam Ward had one of his worst games this season in last week's loss to Stanford, with just 241 passing yards, an interception and only one touchdown, but he's still No. 5 in the nation in passing (308.1 yards per game) and hasn't often had two bad games in a row.
Another key is getting points in the red zone. The Cougs got the ball to the Stanford 11-yard line and came away with zero points last week. Converting red zone trips to TDs has been a problem.
Odds and ends
Cal is a two-point favorite according to draftkings.com. ... WSU has won the last two meetings, including a 28-9 victory in Pullman last season, but Cal owns a 48-30-5 all-time lead in the series. ... Power Five teams have outscored the Cougars 119-41 in the second half this season.
Quote of note
"Really at the end of the day, we're all blessed to be here. We're still living somebody's dream. There's so many people that so badly want to be in the position we're in regardless of the circumstances we're dealing with right now," — WSU edge Ron Stone Jr. on keeping spirits up amid adversity.
Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @StephanSports.