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Washington State vs Cal: is this game too close to call?

Washington State and Cal will face each other in Pullman on Saturday night. The teams are evenly matched, with explosive offenses and defenses that leave something to be desired. What will decide this game will be the intangibles.

Crowd noise could be the deciding factor for the Cougars this week.
Crowd noise could be the deciding factor for the Cougars this week.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

I'm a stats guy. the first thing I do every week is check out Washington State's next opponent and evaluate their stats. I use that to write something about the upcoming game.

I had a problem this week. WSU and Cal are virtually the same team. Every stat I looked at was inconclusive. These two teams are almost twins, especially on offense. There is practically no statistical difference in these offenses. Sure, Cal runs more, but the net result is the same.

Where I did find the slightest of differences is the defenses. Washington State's defense is slightly better, but they also haven't exactly faced offensive juggernauts (except Oregon). But, in essence, they are pretty close to each other. Both are poor against the pass, and while Cal might be statistically worse, they have faced more opponents with offensive firepower than WSU. Cal has played both Arizona and Colorado, while WSU has only played one team with a potent offense, Oregon.

So I was left wondering, what will be the difference in this game?

The easy thing to say is turnovers. Obviously, turnovers can decide a game, but isn't that true in every football game? So let's just say turnovers will play a role in the outcome, just like in all games.

Penalties

One area of concern for Cal is in the penalty department. Cal has shown a love for the yellow hankies this year. They are one of the worst in the nation at racking up penalties, with over nine a game for a loss of 94 yards. Although coach Sonny Dykes claims the penalties don't bother him, it should. Losing almost a hundred yards a game is a big deal.

Just look at Oregon's loss to Arizona this week. One costly penalty at the wrong time can lose the game.

Pass Rush

Cal's pass rush also has the ability to influence this game. While they haven't been great at getting pressure on the opponents quarterbacks, they aren't horrible at it either, averaging two sacks a game. WSU quarterback Connor Halliday isn't known for being great when pressured, so Cal will have to find a way to get in the Cougar backfield. If they don't get some pressure on Halliday, he will pick them apart.

On the flip side, the Cougar defensive line has been very good of late, pressuring Utah quarterback Travis Wilson all game and before that sacking Oregon's Marcus Mariota seven times. The Cougars should be in Cal quarterback Jared Goff's face a lot in this matchup.

Special Teams

While the offense and defense of the teams are virtually even, the biggest question mark for WSU right now has to be their special teams. The Cougars have been terrible on special teams this season. Coach Mike Leach has given up trying for field goals over 25 yards. Fielding punts has been a huge problem, both with fumbles and overall decision making. To top it all off, WSU gave up an early punt return for a touchdown against Utah last week. That mistake almost cost them the game.

Cal can, and should, take advantage of the special teams weakness for the Cougars. In a tight game, this could be the difference.

Home Field Advantage

The newly-renovated Martin Stadium in Pullman was quite a bit louder against Oregon than in the past. The new construction has enclosed the stadium more, and the difference was noticeable.

It is expected that this will be a sell-out crowd, and with the late start of the game the tailgating should be prolific. Crowd noise definitely helped the Cougars against Oregon, and it could factor into this game as well.

The Rundown

This should be an incredibly close game. These two teams are too close to call. The smallest of things, such as special teams play or a rowdy stadium could be the difference in this one.

Don't miss this one, it could be the best game of the year.