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Grading the Game: Washington Wins Big in Northern California

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The Huskies made a statement victory against the overmatched Golden Bears, but Washington’s poor special teams play made the game competitive for longer than was necessary.

NCAA Football: Washington at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult for outside observers to know if the Huskies felt slighted by their No. 5 position in the first College Football Playoff rankings, but they certainly played against Cal like a team with something to prove. The Dawgs overcame some early offensive hiccups to eventually secure a 39-point victory over the Golden Bears, including a 38-point run that took place between the late second and early fourth quarters. However, poor special teams play on Washington’s part kept the Bears in contention much longer than was necessary.

Rushing Offense: A-

Myles Gaskin did solid if not outstanding work on the ground against the Bears, carrying the ball 16 times for 74 yards and a touchdown. Those are hardly the sorts of numbers to make him feel ashamed, but against Cal’s worst-in-the-conference rushing defense (they yield 6.04 yards per carry), it’s not unreasonable to think that he may be kicking himself for not making more of his opportunities. Lavon Coleman, on the other hand, ticked off a pair of highlight-reel runs that went for 34 and 49 yards, with the latter resulting in a touchdown. His 9.09 yards per carry continues to lead the Pac-12 by a wide margin, and sits at No. 4 nationally.

Passing Offense: A+

Jake Browning put on a master class against the Golden Bears’ secondary last night, completing 19 of 28 passes for 378 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. Cal made the curious decision to put its cornerbacks into one-on-one coverage against John Ross, and Browning wasted few opportunities to make them pay: Ross hauled in six receptions for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including one 67-yard circus catch for a touchdown that we’ll no doubt see replayed a million times in the lead-up to the NFL Draft. Not content to be left out of the action, Dante Pettis caught eight balls for 104 yards and another three touchdowns, and even connected with Darrell Daniels for a passing touchdown on a signature Chris Petersen trick play.

Rushing Defense: A

For the most part, the Husky defensive front seven did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage. They held California to its third-lowest rushing total on the season, allowing the Bears to pick up just 100 yards on 27 attempts. Cal’s featured running back, Khalfani Muhammad, came into yesterday game’s averaging 6.6 yards per rush, and was limited to just 34 yards on eight carries. In addition, Connor O’Brien and Jaylen Johnson were each credited with a single tackle for loss.

Passing Defense: A-

Cal quarterback Davis Webb came into the Washington game as one of the prolific passers in the country, and a legitimate first-round NFL Draft prospect. The Huskies held him to 23 completions on 47 attempts (a season-low completion rate of 48.9 percent) for just 262 yards and one touchdown against three interceptions. Sidney Jones had his most prolific day of the season in corralling two picks for the Huskies, which helped make up for being burned by Chad Hansen for a 38-yard completion in the second quarter, and Kevin King was sensational in breaking up three pass attempts. Finally, Jaylen Johnson registered Washington’s only sack of the game on Webb midway through the first quarter. It remains to be seen if and when pass rushing specialist Joe Mathis will return to the Washington roster this season, but until he does, his absence will remain glaring.

Special Teams: C+

By far the weakest phase of Washington’s game Saturday, the Huskies dug themselves an early hole against Cal by way of of two Vizcaino punts deep in their own territory for 17 and 34 yards, the latter of which Vic Wharton III returned 29 yards. Cal’s two ensuing possessions began at Washington’s 35- and 16-yard lines, and it should count as a minor miracle that the Husky defense was able to stiffen up and hold the Bears to a pair of field goals. In addition, Dante Pettis breathed new life into the home crowd when he fumbled away a punt return to the Bears early in the third quarter when the Huskies led 42-20. On the positive side, Cameron Van Winkle was a perfect nine-for-nine on PAT attempts, and nailed his only field goal of the day from 36 yards out.

Coaching: B+

The Huskies looked uncharacteristically out of sorts in the early going of Saturday’s game, and after a series or two, it wasn’t unreasonable for fans to wonder if Cal might be positioned to pull a classic #Pac12AfterDark upset. After allowing opponents to score just seven first-quarter points all year, the Bears took advantage of Washington miscues to engineer three scoring drives — two field goals and a touchdown — in the game’s first 15 minutes, and the Huskies had to burn an early timeout less than five minutes into the game after John Ross wasn’t in the correct position at the start of a play. Fortunately, the team regrouped and Browning hit Ross for his first touchdown on the very next play, and it was more or less smooth sailing from that point onward. The Dawgs also earned just four penalty flags for 40 yards; however, the Huskies have earned at least one personal foul penalty in four of their last five games, and have played in just three games this year without being flagged for a single PF.