GABEY LUCAS (4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS)
Kay here’s the thing: This series. Is. Cursed. It’s practically too stupid to function. Cal fans don’t want this. Washington fans don’t want this. In my opinion we should just have both teams stand at midfield for 60 minutes and call it a day.
As it is, my brain in almost every way says Washington. I mean, they just lost to Colorado for Christ’s sake. And Cal’s offense is almost always... not great... Jaydn Ott notwithstanding because he’s a boss. What scares me though is the single time they won due to their offense, against Arizona — against whom they scored 49 points? For context, the closest they’ve come to doing that otherwise was hitting 34 in week one, and that was against FCS UC Davis. Other than those two instances, they’ve failed to cross the 21 point threshold every other time. So that 49er is just sitting there on their schedule, staring into my soul and scaring the shit out of me despite the fact that all logic otherwise says Washington — even with their secondary’s massive struggles — should be safe.
But this is Cal we’re talking about, so we’re never safe. Especially because, despite Ott’s general awesomeness, Justin Wilcox seems to be air game-inspired like he hasn’t been in the past; Jack Plummer has actually thrown 40 more pass attempts than Bo Nix and a handful more than Cam Rising. And for what it’s worth, if you just watch a bunch of plays individually, it doesn’t seem like they should be terrible. Not inspired, perhaps, in the passing game, but out of context if you just watched a handful of offensive snaps you’d probably think this team was offensively fine if not great.
Defensively, it’s kind of the opposite. Watching them, they’re still the Cal that we know that’s clearly defensive focused, but they look less scary than in the past — then you look at what they’ve done, where by far the most points they’ve surrendered was 31 to Arizona, and that’s without an offense that’s helping them out. I’ve seen instances of their linebackers taking too tight of angles against runs outside the tackle and getting burned from that, but otherwise, at first glance there’s no one part of their game that strikes fear into my heart, but no big weakness to exploit either.
My heart wants me to predict a Washington loss so I can reverse jinx it like how I purposefully reverse jinxed the Dawgs last week with my Arizona prediction. Ugh, I hate this. I hate Cal. I mean I don’t actually hate Cal, I just hate ~playing~ Cal.
So I guess I’ll go with...
Washington- 34, California- 28
ANDREW BERG (4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS)
“That’s like a 40-degree day. Ain’t nobody got nothing to say about a 40-day day.” That’s how The Wire’s Stringer Bell described the sort of bland mediocrity that doesn’t even warrant complaint. Cal football has settled dangerously close to 40-degree day territory in 2022. Never too high, never too low, and hardly worth a second look.
At one point, it appeared that Cal might be on track for something greater. After beating Arizona 49-31 in week four, they stood at 3-1 with the only loss on the road to a Notre Dame team that still looked quite formidable. They have since dropped consecutive games to Washington State (28-9) and Colorado (20-13 in OT) and look like they’ll have to nail the second half of the season to qualify for a bowl.
Offensively, Jaydn Ott is the bellwether for the squad. Cal is 31st in EPA/rush, which is a sound foundation for an offense. Unfortunately, most of the goodness clustered in a 354 rushing day against Arizona. Since then, the team has run the ball 47 times for 67 yards (1.42 yards per carry) and the points have disappeared. It’s not that the Bears are unwilling to throw the ball. Jack Plummer is averaging over 37 attempts per game, topping out at 52 last week. It’s just that the results have been very pedestrian- 60.5% completions and 6.6 yards per attempt. Plummer also lacks mobility and has negative total rushing yards on the year. In a matchup with UW, the main thing you want is a QB who can move around in the pocket and buy enough time for the receivers to separate from sub-par DBs (see: DTR, Jayden de Laura). When the defensive line can hunt a statuesque passer, like Tanner McKee, the back-end does not struggle nearly as much. The run defense has leaked yardage at times, but not to the degree that cost Arizona their game in Berkeley.
On the surface, Cal’s defensive numbers look sturdy, but that has a lot to do with an unimpressive slate of offensive opponents. The two solid passing offenses the Bears have faced- Arizona and WSU- have hammered them for 401 and 343 passing yards (on an even more impressive 8.9 and 8.6 y/a). Michael Penix has been even better than those passing offenses and there’s no reason to expect his strong play to get side-tracked at Cal.
Add it all up and there aren’t the sort of blaring alarm bells that would scream “upset alert.” Yes, it’s a road game, and yes, Justin Wilcox defenses have given other UW offenses problems. But if we’re looking at what the teams have put on tape this year and the quality of opposition, UW has the better resume and the better players.
Washington- 35, California- 26
MAX VROOMAN (6-1 SU, 3-4 ATS)
Exactly one week ago it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Colorado Buffaloes were going to be the first Pac-12 team to finish 0-12 since 2008. (Can’t remember who it was back in ‘08). But then they played Cal. The Golden Bears averaged 4.6 yards per dropback when throwing the ball, star freshman RB Jadyn Ott averaged less than 3 yards per carry, and Cal went an astounding 1/10 on 3rd and long. Not that 10% was astounding but getting into 10 3rd and longs in one game is frighteningly impressive.
All of that has to be great news for a Husky defense that hasn’t been able to contain anyone for 3 straight weeks and who has one of the worst 3rd and long defenses in the country. When Washington has done all right on defense it has been against a quarterback with Jack Plummer’s profile. He isn’t a complete statue but has just 9 scramble attempts in 6 games. Unlike with DTR or Jayden de Laura, Plummer isn’t much of a threat to break out of the pocket on 3rd and 9 and pick it up with his legs. Washington’s pass rush should be in a position to pin its ears back and not have to worry about creating a lane in clear passing situations.
The problem is that UW’s pass rush all but disappeared in its last 2 road games and were unable to get any pressure whatsoever against Arizona State. If they also can’t do it against Cal’s offensive line which has been quite bad per Pro Football Focus in true passing sets then we can officially say it’s a home/road issue. Perhaps Washington’s greatest concern is simply that this game is on the road where the Dawgs are 2-6 over their last 8 games. Plus the lasting trauma of several quite close and stressful games against Cal over the last half decade.
While Cal’s defense is still above average it isn’t quite the strength it has been in year’s past. Don’t expect Michael Penix Jr. to throw for 500 yards again this week but Cal hasn’t really contained the few teams they’ve faced with an above average passing attack. The only two legitimate FBS offenses that Cal has played both scored at least 28 points, a total that Cal has failed to reach over their past 8 quarters (plus an OT).
I like to think I’m a reasonably intelligent human being. And yet here I am picking Washington to cover...against Cal...on the road...on Pac-12 After Dark. That doesn’t sound like a thing a smart person would do. And yet here I am ready to get hurt again.
Washington- 31, California- 21