There’s two different predictions here depending on which offense JohnDon and Jimmy Lake decide to use: The Stupid Offense prediction and the Unstupid Offense prediction.
If Lake and Donovan trot out of the tunnel Saturday and decide to go with the Stupid Offense: Washington will not win.
On the flip side, Washington has a really, really positive outlook if they start the Unstupid Offense from the beginning. Cal’s defense is obviously waaaay better than Arkansas State, but three games into the season and they’re noticeably weaker than the Cal defense we’ve become accustomed to under Justin Wilcox. Furthermore, these weaknesses are not unlike the Arkansas State weaknesses, just less severe; for the first time since Sonny Dykes’ teams, the Bears have not looked great tackling — especially in space — and they’ve had issues setting the edge against the run. As for their pass defense, their secondary’s been uncharacteristically less-than-dominant and the pass rush hasn’t put opposing quarterbacks under a lot of consistent duress.
It feels odd especially to see a Cal secondary that shies away from physicality, often letting receivers run free off the release as they play an ultra-conservative zone. If Washington plays their Unstupid Offense, there’s not anything with Cal’s defense that I look at and go “Oh that could mess ‘em up.” I haven’t said that about a Cal defense since Sonny Dykes was their coach. And don’t get me wrong — they’re not a bad defense, just far worse than what we’re used to.
On the other side of the ball, I can see there being potential issues for UW’s defense just from the Cal running backs combined with Chase Garbers being more of a complementary piece with his arm and legs. I just have this image of the Bears running it on 1st and 2nd, getting to like... 3rd and 4, Garbers dropping back to pass, and either finding a shallow route or checkdown or scrambling after like five seconds. Rinse and repeat. That’s part of the reason why it’s so important UW’s offense is the Unstupid Offense, though — if Cal’s offense can play from ahead and not have a sense of urgency, they can keep approaching it like the above scenario and just wear UW’s defense out. With the Unstupid Offense forcing the Bears to match a certain level of production, that’ll allow Washington’s defense to really do what they do best.
So two predictions:
Stupid Offense Washington 13 - 28 Cal
Unstupid Offense Washington 35 - 21 Cal
I’ve told Gabey many times that you can’t make 2 predictions. That’s cheating. So she only gets to have one of these count. In an extremely scientific process I’ve decided is Heads is the Unstupid Offense and Tails is the Stupid Offense. Flipping a coin now...
It was heads.
Washington- 35, California- 21
Even after a fantastic performance against Arkansas State, it’s easy to find fault with the UW offense. Can the offensive line hold up against a real, experienced Power 5 defensive front? Can we optimize our running back rotation? Most importantly, has the coaching staff learned its lesson about its own team’s strengths and weaknesses? I would have thought that the coaches figured out that a more aggressive, pass-oriented attack was a better fit for its personnel after last year’s comeback win over Utah, but the first half against Stanford was hopelessly conservative again. Of course, we all saw what the Montana and Michigan game plans looked like. The reversion to form is troubling.
On the other hand, if the coaching staff behaves rationally and learns from its mistakes, it’s hard not to feel pretty good about Cade Otton, Terrell Bynum, and Jalen McMillan against a Bears secondary that has yielded over 300 yards per game and almost eight yards per pass attempt on the year. I can forgive Dylan Morris for getting a bit exuberant and turning the ball over when he finally had the freedom to make plays, but another multi-INT game will be a problem this week or almost any time in conference play.
I’m more concerned about the match-ups on the other side of the ball. While the defense hasn’t hit the depths of failure the offense did in the first two weeks, both Montana and Michigan showed that there are yards to be had on the ground. Cal wants to follow a similar game plan with Damien Moore and Christopher Brooks sharing the load and Chase Garbers moving just enough to extend drives when necessary. The Dawgs have given up a microscopic 123 passing yards per game, but Cal will be perfectly satisfied with that number if they run for 200+. This game will be a big test for the defensive interior- can Carson Bruener and Daniel Heimuli build on promising performances last week? Can Tuli Letuligasenoa anchor the interior defensive line? Will we finally see Eddie Ulofoshio at his 2020 best? These are the questions that will decide the game, and I’m choosing to be optimistic.
Washington- 30, California- 21
Obviously I want Washington to win every game they play. But I could reeeeally use a win on Saturday for mental health reasons to get over the Cal PTSD I’m experiencing. The last 2 Cal games have been incredible disappointments with first the complete offensive meltdown and the infamous Haener Pick-6 followed by the equally infamous lightning delay and last second collapse well after midnight. Can we just get a normal, comfortable 10-point victory?
I don’t know that that’s in the cards. We’ve seen so far that the Husky defense is going to suffocate pass-first offenses while struggling with teams that are completely content to run it 7 straight times to open a drive. Cal doesn’t exactly have a 60-40% split run vs. pass balance but they quite clearly have a very good rushing offense. Their 3 primary running backs are all averaging better than 5.5 yards per carry. Quarterback Chase Garbers is also chipping in with averages of about 35 rushing yards on a little more than 5 carries per game. The Husky defense in recent years has really struggled with big bodied pass first QBs who are also capable of scrambling for 12 yards if the gap integrity in the pocket breaks down. I’m expecting him to have multiple 3rd down scrambles to extend a drive in this one.
We would all like to think that the coaching staff looked at the success they had last week with a lot of RPO looks and a downfield-oriented passing attack and decide they should do more of that. It also wouldn’t shock me if they convinced themselves that Cal will be expecting that and so the only smart thing to do is continue jamming it into the A-gap. Regardless, this Cal defense has had some serious struggles this season. They’ve given up touchdowns on nearly 30% of opposing drives so far which is last in the conference. Nevada and TCU are solid teams but they have the 67th and 48th ranked offenses at SP+. Sacramento State is a below average FCS team. A competent Husky attack should be able to put up 24+ points quite easily.
Finally there’s the issue of the numbers. SP+ despite taking into account the loss to Montana has Washington as a more than 14 point favorite. That’s almost double the betting line. If you trust the computers over your own eyes then going heavy on the Huskies is the clear way to go. However, it can’t take into account that I think the Cal offense is designed to give Washington’s defense problems and that Justin Wilcox has consistently found ways in the recent past to counter whatever UW is throwing out there.
Up above we flipped a coin to see the result of an un-stupid UW offense. However I think there’s at least a 1 in 3 chance that we see things get rolled back. That Washington gets tricked into a contest of who can be more physical and run the ball the best and that’s not a game Washington should want to play given what we’ve seen through 3 weeks.
Washington- 17, California- 23
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 2, California- 1
Against the Spread (UW -7.5): Washington- 2, California- 1
Average Score: Washington- 27.3, California- 21.7