Game Ball Goes To: Elijah Qualls
The Dawgs didn’t come away from Saturday’s game with their seventh consecutive win over the Golden Bears, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort or production on the part of Washington’s starting nose tackle. The third-year sophomore turned in perhaps the best game of his young career against Cal by including two sacks of Jared Goff among his four tackles, and making himself a general nuisance to the opposing offense by getting consistent push and collapsing the pocket. Goff was able to work around those challenges more often than not and still hurt the Huskies through the air, but that’s because he is one of the best QBs in the conference, and perhaps the nation. If Qualls and his fellow linemen are consistently able to create the sort of havoc they did Saturday—and everything we’ve seen from them leads me to believe they can—then at least a couple of opposing quarterbacks this year are going to fail to negotiate the buzz saw that Goff was largely able to avoid.
Who Stepped Up: Sidney Jones
Jones’ play Saturday was the latest exhibit in why some observers believe he could join Desmond Trufant and Marcus Peters as Washington’s third cornerback in recent years to turn himself into a first-round draft pick. In addition to his key forced fumble and recovery for a 70-yard touchdown in the third quarter that swung the game’s momentum and cut Cal’s lead to six points, Jones tallied five tackles (including one TFL) and broke up two passes. Jones has now caused fumbles in three of UW’s four games after forcing just one last year; it’ll be fascinating to see if he can maintain that production against the murderer’s row of Washington’s next six opponents.
Most important play: The incomplete pass on Dwayne Washington’s wheel route
Near the beginning of the fourth quarter, it seemed that the tide was beginning to shift back in favor of the home team. After Cal drove 38 yards on a 10-play drive, the Huskies took over at their own 10-yard line down 21–27 and immediately began to create some momentum with a 22-yard Dwayne Washington run, followed shortly by a 14-yard completion to Joshua Perkins that was good for a third-down conversion. After driving to the Cal 38, the Dawgs got the coverage they were looking for and sprung Dwayne open on a wheel route up the left sideline. Despite having beaten his defender by two or three steps, Browning either wasn’t able to put the ball where DW needed it, or the running back lost it in the sun—without hearing their explanations, it’s hard to know why the play failed. The end result, however, was the same: After failing to seize the chance to score a go-ahead touchdown, Washington fumbled a handoff on the very next play, which Cal recovered along with any semblance of momentum the Huskies might have had. The ensuing drive ended with a Bears field goal and a two-possession lead that proved too much to overcome.
Most Important Statistic: 5-2 (The game’s turnover battle, in favor of Cal)
It’s no surprise that the Huskies lost a game in which they coughed the ball over five times, twice via interception and thrice by way of fumbles. Washington’s chances of winning this game rested on playing sound defense and not giving Cal extra chances by shooting themselves in the foot. On the first count, excluding some ugly missed tackles, they largely succeeded; on the second count, the Huskies failed as miserably as we’ve seen since Chris Petersen arrived in Seattle. Part of that can surely be attributed to youth, as four of the turnovers were committed by freshmen, including three by true freshman Jake Browning. Petersen is nothing if not a detail-oriented coach, so it seems a good bet that he will focus going forward on limiting such negative plays. In that regard, the timing of this week’s bye seems especially fortuitous.
Most Encouraging Takeaway: The team’s refusal to quit, down 7–27 in the third quarter
Too often during Steve Sarkisian’s time at the helm of the Washington program, we saw the team fall into a first-half hole, and then play the game with nothing greater than a lackadaisical effort until the final whistle sounded. Through 18 games at UW, it seems safe to say that such outcomes are not something that Chris Petersen will abide. Nothing would be easier for a team of primarily freshmen and sophomores to see a 20-point deficit with under 30 minutes to play and decide to mail it in, assuming the game’s final outcome is decided, but it’s an absolute credit to Coach Pete and his staff that no one in the program at any point looked to be hanging their heads or resigned to a loss. That mentality is an invaluable part of building a program "the right way," as Pete is so often fond of saying, and it’s difficult to overstate its importance to a team whose foundation is still a work in progress.
Biggest Source of Frustration: The offense’s continued inability to sustain drives
Many observers predicted that Washington’s youth on the offensive side of the ball, especially on the offensive line, was going to translate into tough sledding in 2015. Though fans may have hoped for something better, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Dawg offense is exactly what we expected. Right now, the UW’s offensive depth chart is headlined by many players who have the potential to play at an all-conference level at some point in their careers, but for whom starting in 2015 is simply too tall of an order. On Saturday, eight of Washington’s 12 meaningful series (meaning those that did not end in a kneel-down) ended in five plays or fewer, and only two of those 12 series chewed up more than 2:15 of game clock. If Washington is going to rely on its defense to win games this year, outcomes like Saturday’s ridiculous time of possession differential (20:11 for UW, 39:49 for Cal) can’t be allowed to happen. That means finding ways to convert third downs, chew up clock, and provide the defense with time to catch its breath.