Last week, Jacob Eason, frankly, looked unreal. Taking into account the FCS opponent, I went from crossing my fingers before the game that he wouldn’t be a bust, to cautious optimism that he’s going to be great. But Cal’s defense, their secondary in particular, provide a sterner test.
The Huskies need to run the ball to win this one - I don’t like Washington being forced to throw to their smaller receivers against one of the best secondaries in the country, without any threat of a run game. For some reason the Huskies never run that well against their early season or FCS opponents but I think we’ll see closer to what the Huskies are capable of on the ground this Saturday. The key will be avoiding the relentless Evan Weaver in the middle of the defense, who moves decently well for 6-3, 235 pounds. Or perhaps the Huskies will scheme to use his aggressiveness against him, and force other Bear defenders to make plays. If you recall, we played this game last year without Chico McClatcher and Hunter Bryant, and with a banged up Salvon Ahmed. Not to mention no Trey Adams. Having three of the best play makers on offense healthy for this one should give UW what it needs to move the ball.
QB Chase Garbers (brother of 2020 UW QB commit Ethan) will lead a Cal offense into Husky Stadium that has so far appeared to start where it left off last season, which is not good. RB Chris Brown and WR Kekoa Crawford may provide some juice and play making this unit has lacked, but against UC Davis they did not look particularly dangerous or dynamic. Brown is a real bruiser so if the UW offense is sputtering, they could use him to drain the clock and shorten the game. UW’s defensive line will need to get into the backfield and put the Cal offense off schedule and behind the sticks, because I don’t think they have the talent to overcome that. Benning Potoa’e and Levi Onwuzurike should be living in the backfield.
Keep the positive Special Teams momentum going forward, and the Huskies should come out on top. I think the game is close at halftime, but the Huskies pull away in the 3rd quarter with some big plays from Salvon Ahmed and Hunter Bryant.
Washington- 24, California- 9
Chris Petersen isn’t a coach who talks much about revenge games or atoning for past mistakes, but you know that the Huskies who were on the field for last year’s loss to Cal will want retribution. What does UW have to do to ensure a different result? It starts on the offensive side of the ball. Washington had an uncharacteristic turnover differential of -2 in that game. Given Cal’s inconsistent QB play, forcing zero TOs is surprising in itself. The Huskies also need to run the ball better than 3.3 Y/C. Keep in mind that Myles Gaskin missed that game with a shoulder ailment. Salvon Ahmed was healthy, though, and totaled two yards on eight carries. He will need to be magnitudes better on Saturday, even if the rest of the RB stable looks solid. Cal’s defense was and is legitimately good, but the Huskies also played one of their worst offensive games in recent memory last fall.
The Huskies can do more defensively, too. While holding an opponent to 12 points should be sufficient most of the time, they allowed Chase Garbers to complete an abnormally high 70% of his passes. The graduation of Patrick Laird takes away another ball-control variable. In short, these are two excellent defensive teams. One has an offense that is somewhere between pretty good and very good. The other has an offense that is decidedly below average.
Washington- 27, California- 10
Despite a much tougher defensive opponent, I expect that Washington should comfortably win this one at home. The receiving corps is a year more experienced and Eason’s arm strength should help to complete passes under tight coverage. I don’t think the Huskies will be dominant on offense, but they should put up points in all four quarters. Meanwhile, after watching their performance against UC Davis, I’m not convinced that Cal has much hope of scoring against the Huskies on the road. Finally, whether or not they’re talking about it in the locker room, I’m inclined to believe that the revenge factor will be in play for Washington’s players and coaches.
Washington- 27, California- 6
Pretty, uh... pretty low-scoring. If Washington scores more than 24 I’ll be pleasantly surprised. If they score more than 28, this season’s gonna be super fun.
Simply put, Cal’s defense is better than they were last year somehow. Their offense also exists, technically. Pretty much, while I’m all but capping UW’s possible score at 28 max, I find it really difficult to see how Cal’s offense can hang. Even though nobody plays their best in week one, their showing against UC Davis last week didn’t give me a lot of confidence that their offense has taken a step other than the emergence of Kekoa Crawford. If you had asked me three weeks ago which game I was most nervous about (or sleeper most nervous about, maybe), this would probably be it. Now, I feel more confident in the outcome -- but that’s not to say I don’t think it’ll be super stressful along the way.
For reference on Cal’s offense, they scored 27 points last week. In two games against UC Davis last year, Eastern Washington -- remember them, from last Saturday? -- scored 59 and 34 points. Despite being an FCS team, Eastern’s a far more dynamic offense than the one Cal runs -- ironically, given who Cal’s OC is. This same offense scored 17 points on UW with one touchdown being a freshman mistake from Cam Williams and the other being against mostly true and redshirt freshman in the fourth quarter. I don’t anticipate Cal being able to replicate these things.
Especially given the offensive mediocrity that should keep the Bears’ defense on the field longer than is helpful, this game feels like it should be a wear-them-down, field position-based battle. If big plays happen, it’s not gonna be a lot for either team. With this in mind, I’m expecting even more multiple tight end sets than usual, a lot of Richard Newton, Ahmed and Chico to spread them out, and a crapload of stress for Dawg fans.
In the end this feels like a Washington victory, but one where none of us enjoy ourselves until the clock hits 0:00.
Washington- 24, California- 13
Let’s start with this. The last time the Washington Huskies lost a game played in Husky Stadium it was on November 12th, 2016 against a surging and more talented USC team. This game against Cal does not rank as the most difficult home game the Huskies have had since that time. It is not particularly close, either. If Washington loses tomorrow it will be an even greater upset than the game last season.
California has a legitimately good defense. They should be a top-25 S&P+ type of unit at the end of the year and are probably the best the Huskies will face outside of perhaps Utah until bowl season. Washington just could not move the ball a season ago. It certainly didn’t help that Myles Gaskin, Chico McClatcher, and Hunter Bryant were all out and that Salvon Ahmed was banged up. The skill position players that Washington will put forth this week are almost certainly better than they were a year ago even with the injury to Ty Jones. The offensive line though will likely be worse unless Nick Harris makes a miraculous recovery.
Even against a vaunted Cal defense I can’t see the Huskies being held to fewer than 17 points this time around. Which is particularly troublesome for the Golden Bears because I don’t see how they score 17 points. This Husky defense held up well in their first test against Eastern Washington but the difference in play at the linebacker level was troubling. Nevertheless, this Cal offense is still a bottom half of the conference unit and those kind of offenses have had real trouble getting a 3rd touchdown against Washington in year’s past and I see that coming to fruition again.
Washington- 20, California- 10
Washington- 5, California- 0
Against the Spread (-13.5)
Washington- 3, California- 2
Washington- 24.4, California- 9.6