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Grading the Game: Washington at California

Washington's defense held the prolific Cal offense to just 7 points and the Husky offense was able to bounce back and find some effectiveness vs. a porous Bear D as the Dawgs notched their 6th consecutive victory over Cal. Let's break down the position groups and examine how the Huskies earned the win.

Danny Shelton and the Husky DL controlled the line of scrimmage
Danny Shelton and the Husky DL controlled the line of scrimmage
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

On paper this looked like a potentially troublesome match-up - a high-flying offense with a prolific air attack and an effective run game that had also been able to protect the QB vs. a secondary that had been torched the last time they saw a great passing offense.  And the Bear D had been fairly effective vs. the run, while the Husky passing attack had major question marks.

On the field it was a different story.  After a 3-and-out on Washington's first drive, the defense allowed Cal to take their 2nd possession all the way down inside the UW 1-yard line, but then disaster struck the Bear offense as QB Jared Goff bobbled the center snap and never had possession of the ball as he attempted the sneak.  There to snatch the ball away and return it 100 yards for a TD was Shaq Thompson, and of course it was Shaq - younger brother of Cal alum Syd'Quan Thompson, former Cal commit, owner of 3 defensive touchdowns already on the season - because the Huskies seem to exist to torment the Bears.  That set the tone for the day, and the UW defense would not be seriously threatened again until the game was comfortably in hand.  Let's look at each of the position groups:


Things were bound to be easier for Cyler Miles as he went from facing arguably the best defense in the country to one of the worst (at least vs. the pass), and they were.  While he was far from perfect, he showed the rumors of the demise of the Husky passing game were premature.  He hit some downfield throws and attacked the middle with some crossing routes, and he showed improved judgment in the pocket of when - and where - to take off and run.  There's still work to do, and we should keep in mind that Cal ranks 108th in the country in pass efficiency defense, but it was nice to see some effectiveness here.  Grade:  B-


It's probably time to come to grips with the reality that there aren't any runners on the roster that can replicate the effectiveness of Chris Polk or Bishop Sankey.  Lavon Coleman shows nice balance, patience and some toughness, but he lacks the quickness to turn a 5-yard gain into a 15+ yard gain - there were multiple runs yesterday where the space was there for a faster back to get into the secondary, but Coleman simply doesn't show that kind of burst.  And while Dwayne Washington might be faster, he still doesn't possess high-level vision or cutting ability to exploit his speed.  Neither one is a poor RB by any means, but neither are they backs that can seem to create or make yards on their own - they will give you pretty much what the OL provides.  Cal actually has a decent run defense (3.50 yards/rush allowed), so seeing the pair of Coleman & Washington go for 119 yards on 27 carries (4.41 ypc) - including a key drive in the 2nd quarter to push the lead to 21-0 that featured 8 rushes by the RB's for 52 yards - was mildly encouraging.  Still, this doesn't seem like a group that is going to record more than a handful of explosive plays all season.  Grade:  C+


Any time the passing game can get the ball in the hands of John Ross he's going to make the receiving group look better.  His combination of speed and elusiveness makes him one of the most dangerous players in the country as seen on his 86 yard catch and run - a crossing route where his speed allowed him to outrace all the Cal defenders to the end zone.  Unfortunately he's also wispy-thin and probably can't take too many hits, so you have to pick your spots with him, but he's a weapon that needs to be utilized.  Jaydon Mickens was the main bubble screen and outlet option in this game as he had a game-high 10 catches, but for just 69 yards.  There were a couple of plays where he appeared to lose some steam, so it will be interesting to if he admits to any injury.  DiAndre Campbell had a great catch for a TD and Josh Perkins showed his speed advantage at TE on the first Husky offensive TD, and there were nice flashes from Dante Pettis and Kendyl Taylor.  Unfortunately Kasen Williams and Darrell Daniels remain missing men in the passing game, and given the physical mismatches they offer, it's extremely puzzling.  Grade:  B


I've been pretty critical of the OL so far this year, so it's only fair to acknowledge when they play well, or at least better.  Cal's pass rush only averages 1.7 sacks/game, and that's against an average of 54.3 pass attempts per game, so the Husky OL allowing 2 sacks against 29 pass attempts wasn't a major breakthrough.  But they generally gave Miles enough time to go through his reads which was a far cry from the Stanford game.  And while the run game didn't bust any big plays or dominate the game, the OL provided enough room against a halfway decent run defense for the Huskies to be effective on the ground.  Holes were there, and it was more on the RB's in my opinion that more yards were not gained.  Colin Tanigawa had a couple of poor shotgun snaps - those will need to be cleaned-up before they really cost the Huskies in a close game.  Grade:  B-


Everything starts up front in football, and credit for the Huskies holding Cal to just 7 points begins with a terrific job by the Husky DL.  The pressure they were able to generate with front 4 was critical to the defense's ability to keep the Bears from busting any big plays and forcing Goff into rushing some throws.  A Cal OL that allows just 2.0 sacks/game on the year surrendered 4 to the Huskies, and Goff frequently had defenders bearing down on him when he did get the pass away.  And while they didn't stonewall the Cal run-game, they were effective enough much of the time to keep that aspect of the Bear's offense from extending drives.  Hau'oli Kikaha continues to show he is one of the premier pass-rushers in the country as he notched another 3 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss, and Danny Shelton is arguably the best interior lineman and making a case for a Lombardi Trophy after picking up a couple of fumbles and consistently collapsing the pocket from the middle.  Andrew Hudson got in the fun too with a sack and forced fumble.  When the backups got some run late in the game it was encouraging to see some flashes of potential from JoJo Mathis, Will Dissly and Elijiah Qualls.  Grade:  A


Shaq Thompson enjoyed his homecoming and continues to show why he's likely to be a high draft pick in the NFL.  His 100-yard fumble return for a TD kick-started the Huskies and created a 14-point swing early in the game, and he finished with a game-high 11 tackles and a pass break-up as he was a key part of Washington's efforts to limit the Cal passing game to short gains.  John Timu was his steady self adding 9 tackles and Travis Feeney notched another 7 tackles plus a forced fumble and a pass break-up.  Keishawn Bierria and Cory Littleton saw significant time as well and looked good.  Littleton will likely get a long look next year at filling Kikaha's BUCK role - he shows nice speed off the edge and is better in coverage.  Grade:  A


While much credit must be given to the Husky front four, the secondary also deserves credit for doing their part in executing Washington's defensive gameplan.  They usually employed a Cover-2 look and the Huskies never gave Goff a clean look at anything deep.  While Goff passed for 304 yards, it came on 35 completions as he frequently had to settle on underneath routes, and Washington did a great job of swarming to the ball, tackling well and limiting the Bear receivers from picking up yards after the catch.  With 51 attempts, it meant the Huskies limited Cal to less than 6 yards per pass, particularly impressive considering they entered the game with arguably the most explosive offense in the country.  Budda Baker had a really nice game as he flew to the ball and wrapped up and notched 9 tackles, including a great job of blowing up a bubble screen for a loss.  Marcus Peters had another strong game marred only by a highly questionable PI call against him.  Sidney Jones got picked on underneath, but generally held his own, and I though Kevin King had one of his best games.  This game was a huge, huge leap up from the Eastern Washington game and gives some hope the Husky defense can play with any of the high-flying spread attacks remaining on the schedule.  Grade:  A

Special Teams:

While overall this was just an OK game for this unit, they succeeded with their most important job which was to keep Trevor Davis from busting any big kickoff returns.  Mission accomplished on that front.  P Korey Durkee  struggled with consistency in this one, averaging just 39.8 yards on his 5 punts.  And the edge blocking on the FG unit was burned as Cameron Van Winkle saw his first FG attempt blocked, but he nailed a key 42-yard attempt early in the 4th quarter to put the final nail in the coffin, making it effectively a 4-score advantage for Washington.  Cal steadfastly avoided kicking off to Ross, and there were a couple nervous moments when the up backs on the return team had a hard time covering the squib kicks, but they avoided disaster.  Pettis found himself with little running room as he gained just 9 yards on his 3 punt returns.  Grade:  C


While it's impossible to know just how much the bye week helped, there's no question that getting an extra week to recover - both physically and mentally - from a tough loss to Stanford was a benefit to the Huskies.  With the win, Chris Petersen improved to 14-0 after bye-weeks, and there were signs in how the team played and what they showed with their play calls that the time off was well-spent.

The defensive gameplan was clear: rely on the front four to generate pressure, don't get beat deep and give Goff a variety of looks in coverage to keep him off-balance.  And they succeeded in a big way, limiting an offense that had averaged 50+ coming into the game to just 7 points.  Where the Bears have averaged 6.8 yards per play on the season, yesterday they managed just 4.4.  It was a great plan and great execution, and it should help wipe away any lingering concern left behind from the Eastern Washington game.

Offensively the Huskies were efficient enough to take advantage of a shaky Cal pass defense and good enough on the ground to both extend their lead and to eat up clock in the 2nd half.  While the passing game again leaned quite a bit on the short throws to Mickens, there was more attacking the middle of the field and a couple of deep shots to try to loosen up the Cal safeties and open some space underneath.  It's still not as creative an offense as I'd prefer to see, but they were able to find a groove in the 1st half before switching into a bit more conservative mindset in the 2nd half, and had the score been closer I suspect the offense was capable of putting up 40+ if needed (and if some questionable officiating hadn't worked against the Huskies).  Grade:  A-