Grading the Game: California Edition

WR Jaydon Mickens rocks the old-school bare-midriff look on his way to a huge game - Otto Greule Jr

Washington won easily as expected over an injury-riddled and youthful Cal team. We take a look back at the game and assess how each of the position groups played - who did well? Which areas still need improvement?

After a rough three game stretch, the Huskies faced a depleted and inexperienced Cal squad, and it was just what the doctor ordered to get the offense rolling again and the defense to get some stops.  The grades reflect the quality of the opponent, so while it was blowout that allowed Sark to play reserves in the 4th quarter, it wasn't without some flaws.

QB: I was skeptical that Keith Price would be healthy after his thumb so clearly bothered him last week, but he looked a lot better.  Give credit to his teammates, as he had a lot more time in the pocket this week to let downfield routes come free, and his receivers were frequently able to beat their man.  He wasn't perfect by any means - he had a few underthrows, including the one on which Kasen Williams was injured - but he also dropped in some picture-perfect passes, including his bombs to Jaydon Mickens and a terrific crossing route later in the game that was perfectly placed in between Cal defenders.  He was 20-32 on the game, and that includes big drops by Marvin Hall.  He did a nice job of leading his receivers on the rocket plays, and (mostly) did a good job moving in the pocket to buy time.  Grade:  B+

RB: After a 1-game aberration, Bishop Sankey returned with a vengeance, ripping off big gains left and right.  While he had a few carries that were stuffed, when he got a crease he made the most of it, ripping off gains of 42, 32, 22, 59 (TD) and 23.  In a way, the big gains may have reduced his number of carries on the night, as Sark generally avoided going right back to Sankey after a long run (presumably because he was winded) and didn't have confidence subbing in Jesse Callier or Dwayne Washington for meaningful carries.  Which is too bad, because once Washington finally got in there in the 4th quarter he continued to show a powerful running style combined with good speed.  If Sark can trust him again, he looks like a guy that can produce.  Callier appears to be a forgotten man now - he was in for some 2 RB sets but got no carries.  Deontae Cooper got some garbage time carries, but he clearly hasn't recovered his explosiveness.  Maybe another off-season will let some of that return.  Grade:  A

WR/TE: While Sark made a point early of getting the ball to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams, it was Jaydon Mickens that fueled a big passing day for the Dawgs.  Perhaps as penance for his big drop last year at Cal, he got loose twice behind the Cal defense and hauled in perfect Price passes for long touchdowns.  It's been a while since we've seen a Husky QB hit an open receiver downfield in stride for a TD, and we got two of them last night.  After Williams went out with his foot injury, Marvin Hall saw a lot of playing time, and he resembled the Mickens of last year - a fast receiver that dropped too many passes.  Let's hope he got the jitters out of his system and can become a weapon like his H.S. teammate Mickens.  John Ross showcased his ability on a nice 25 yard gain, and it's just a matter of time before one of those rocket swing passes goes the distance.  With Kasen now out for the rest of the season, someone among DiAndre Campbell, Damore'ea Stringfellow and Antavius Sims will need to step up and provide the blocking on the edge to spring those bubbles and rockets.  Grade:  B+

OL: While it wasn't total redemption for these guys, this was a much better performance than they had last week.  They still allowed too much pressure - Cal's 3 sacks were double what they've been averaging this year - but the run blocking was much better.  It wasn't perfect, as there were a few too many plays that got stuffed for a loss or little gain, but give credit where it's due:  they also opened enough holes to let Sankey rip off all those big runs, and Price had more time in the pocket than he's had since the Arizona game at least which allowed him to find those open receivers downfield.  They'll need to get even better to win tough road games ahead - UCLA's front 7 will carve them up if they don't step up their game - but this was a corrective step in the right direction.  Grade:  B

DL: Hau'oli Kikaha has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.  After two consecutive seasons with knee injuries, it was fair to wonder if he'd play again; not only is he playing, he's better than ever.  He provided consistent pressure against Cal (2 sacks, numerous pressures), allowing DC Justin Wilcox to rush just 3 or 4 most of the night.  Evan Hudson also got some heat at times, and Danny Shelton did his part occupying the middle of the line.  Cal's OL is obviously not great, allowing 3.25 sacks per game, but the Huskies still bettered that as they came up with 5.  They missed a few - Cory Littleton in particular got caught over thinking things when he had a shot at Jared Goff in his end zone and instead let him complete a 49 yard pass - but even the backups got in on the act as Marcus Farria was credited with 1.5 sacks on the game.  The run defense was strong until late in the game when the #2 unit was on the field, allowing Khalfani Muhammad to romp for a sloppy 73 yard TD.  Grade:  B

LB: Against a pass-first offense like Cal's, this group didn't get as many chances as they normally do, but they were solid against the few running plays and were often making plays on the underneath throws to keep the Bears to shorter gains and holding them on 3rd downs.  Travis Feeney saw a lot of time, as his speed makes him an asset against the pass; he was credited with 2 pass breakups.  Shaq Thompson was frequently in coverage on the slot and was solid.  The backups showed why they are backups - Scott Lawyer was among a number of guys that whiffed on tackles on Muhammad's long run.  Grade:  B-

Secondary: Cal under Sonny Dykes is a team that is going to put constant pressure on a secondary, especially with a talented young core of guys like Goff, Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, Darius Powe, Kenny Lawler, etc.  Marcus Peters was his usual outstanding self, but running mate Greg Ducre got burned a couple of times for big gains.  Tre Watson got a lot of playing time both from nickel packages and after Will Shamburger got dinged-up, and was around the ball a lot as he racked up a team-high 11 tackles - including 2.5 tackles for loss - plus a pass breakup.  Sean Parker had his moments in run support.  The backups had a rougher go of it, as both Cleveland Wallace and Travell Dixon got picked on late in the game and showed why they aren't starting.  It's important to note that while Cal racked up 352 yards in the air, it took them 59 attempts and were held to 7 of 22 on 3rd downs and 1 of 4 on 4th downs, so the Huskies were able to step up when needed to keep the Bears out of the end zone most of the game.  Grade:  C+

Special Teams: Travis Coons is somewhat quietly having an excellent season.  His rugby-style punts aren't pretty, but they're very effective in pinning opponents deep and preventing big returns.  He's also perfect so far on field goal attempts (knock on wood), and he's been respectable on kickoffs since having to replace the injured Cameron Van Winkle.  The return games were a mixed bag - Ross showed his terrific speed, but holding penalties continued to wipe out their big gains (including a TD return where Ross was untouched and didn't need the help).  From a net standpoint, the Huskies fell slightly short of Cal in this game, reflecting a season-long trend.  On the plus side, there were no huge breakdowns that ended up costing the Huskies.  Grade:  B-

Coaching: First the good - obviously the Huskies came out and took care of business, never allowing Cal to seriously threaten and giving the backups the chance to play most of the 4th quarter.  The offense had a big day, and while Cal's defense is among the worst in the country, the Dawgs picked up 100 more yards than Cal has surrendered on average, posting their 3rd game over 600 yards this year; prior to this season, that had happened 6 times total.  And while the defense gave up a number of yards, note that through 3 quarters they had surrendered 339 yards and 10 points, and kept the Bears mostly in check until the reserves checked in.

Still, there were times it felt like Sark was forcing things.  While he didn't ignore the run game by any means, it was frustrating at times to see Sankey gash the Bears only to see Sark go back to the passing game, like a kid that keeps fixating on the shiny toys instead of the dependable ones.  The stretch in the 2nd quarter with 4 straight possessions going 4 plays or less and ending in punts was an example - Sankey would bust off a big run, but the offense couldn't build off of it.

And it seemed like Sark left Price and Sankey in at least one drive too long.  He got away with it, but I wondered at the time how critical it would have been had either of those two gone down with an injury at a point in the game where the outcome was not in any doubt.  Then again, it was a touch disappointing seeing the wide disparity between the play of the starters and that of the backups - perhaps there's a reason Sark doesn't go to them sooner.  Or perhaps they should get more meaningful reps to help along their development.  Grade:  B

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