BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Keenan Allen #21 of the California Golden Bears catches a touchdown pass while defended by Deveron Carr #1 of the Arizona State Sun Devils at California Memorial Stadium on September 29, 2012 in Berkeley, California. - Ezra Shaw
Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we look at the offense of the California Golden Bears.
In week 10 of the college football season, both Washington and Cal find themselves at a crossroads. The Huskies, at 4-4, have struggled to play to their potential on the road, suffering blowout defeats in their three road trips by an average of more than 31 points. Meanwhile, in Berkeley, Jeff Tedford has presided over another disappointing season that finds the Bears sitting at 3-6, needing wins against Washington, No. 4 Oregon and No. 11 Oregon State just to meet bowl eligibility. A Washington win on Friday night could propel the Huskies toward an 8-4 finish, while a Cal win is a virtual necessity to keep the already-loud calls for Tedford's job from becoming deafening. Whatever else can be said about this game, know this: Neither team will be lacking in motivation come kickoff time, as this is a winnable game for both squads, and a must-win game for at least one of them.
The Bears run a pro-style offense that is built around distributing the ball as often as possible to All-American receiver Keenan Allen, pictured above, who became Cal's all-time reception leader last week (his 205 catches ranks just ahead of Geoff McArthur's 202). Opposing defense are kept from keying in on the pass thanks to a trio of talented running backs in seniors Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson and sophomore Brendan Bigelow, but the squad has been badly wounded (perhaps fatally for Tedford's tenure) by an under-performing offensive line that has struggled to give quarterback Zach Maynard any semblance of time to sit in the pocket while his receivers' routes develop downfield. Despite its struggles, though, Cal is a much better team than its record indicates, and Washington will have to finally turn in a quality performance on the road to keep the angst of a fanbase sick of .500 records at arm's length for another week.
Quarterback: Second-year starter Zach Maynard continues to be arguably the conference's most polarizing signal caller, capable of showing flashes of brilliance as well as a maddening inability to string together a full 60-minute performance. He's coming off of a particularly shaky performance at Utah in which his stats were padded a good deal by the Utes' soft play as a consequence of their 13-49 early fourth quarter lead; up until that point, Maynard was 10-18 through the air (55.6 percent) for just 152 yards and one interception. Look for Washington to bring pressure on him early, and make Cal's linemen prove that they can give him the opportunity to make plays downfield.
Running Back: The Golden Bears are blessed with a pair of experienced senior tailbacks in Sofele and Anderson, who have shared a roughly 55/45 workload in favor of the former. Despite that deficit, Anderson has done more with his touches, averaging 6.3 yards per carry to Sofele's 4.4. They are spelled by true sophomore and one-time Washington commit Brendan Bigelow, who has taken three of his 27 carries to the house and averages an obscene 12.7 yards per attempt.
Offensive Line: Despite the presence of three senior starters, Cal's offensive line has been an utter disappointment, ranking last in the FBS in sacks allowed (34.0) and second-to-last in tackles for loss allowed (72.0). The unit took an even further hit when it was announced last week that senior guard Dominic Galas will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a bout of appendicitis. Galas had played in just one game this year after starting every game in 2011 at center, but it was hoped that his eventual return could provide a spark of leadership to the struggling line. He's the second OL starter that the Bears find themselves without, after Mike Brazinski suffered an ACL injury in preseason camp. All year long, the Dawgs have wondered what their talented roster of defensive backs could accomplish if only the defensive line could establish a pass rush; Friday's game looks to be as good an opportunity as they'll get to find out. Keep an eye on Washington pass rush specialists Cory Littleton and Josh Shirley, as they should see no shortage of snaps this week, particularly if UW jumps out to an early lead and forces Maynard to beat the Huskies with his arm.
Tight End: Sitting atop the depth chart is 6'4", 265 lb. sophomore Richard Rodgers, whose 15 catches ranks fourth on the squad in 2012. Rodgers will likely spend more time on Friday blocking than not, though, as Cal will be primarily concerned with establishing a running attack that will open up opportunities for Allen in the play-action game.
Wide Receivers: If you've read this far, you've likely gotten the impression that the Bear's offense lives and dies by the performance of first-round talent Keenan Allen. Washington fans in particular should remember him, as his 90-yard touchdown against the Dawgs in 2011 was both the longest reception in school history and the perfect distillation of Washington's defensive struggles that year. Allen's 61 receptions are more than twice that of Cal's second-leading receiver (Chris Harper, with 29), and he has accounted for six of Maynard's 12 touchdown receptions. Maynard's No. 2 and 3 options in Harper and Bryce Treggs are certainly worthy of respect, but Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will gladly trade a few receptions to those players if it means shutting down Allen, who will likely be shadowed by cornerback Desmond Trufant in one of the game's most intriguing matchups.