Zero Dark Thirty
So it can be done. Cal’s defense held Washington to under 30 points for the first time all season. Of course that required some cooperation on Washington’s end. The Huskies didn’t commit any turnovers and yet still managed to score just 28 points while punting only 3 times. The easiest way to guarantee that the Huskies had hit that 30 point threshold would’ve been for Peyton Henry to simply hit a 34-yard FG that he missed which would’ve put Washington up 9-0 to start the game (that also would’ve allowed me to exactly predict the final score).
As you might have heard though on the broadcast if you were listening carefully (or if you heard any of it since it’s the only talking point the announcers had when UW had the ball), Cal did everything in their power to take away Washington’s deep passing game. And it worked. Per Pro Football Focus, Penix was 0/7 on passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield. The touchdown to Newton seemed awfully close to that but Penix instead thrived in the intermediate range. He finished 8/9 for 146 yards and 2 TDs and of course had what should’ve been the game-winning completion to Odunze on 3rd and long taken out of there by a holding call (more on that later).
While credit is due to Cal’s defense it’s still largely the case that Washington’s offense is the only thing capable of truly containing Washington’s offense. Here was the defining moment of each UW drive that failed to score a TD:
-3rd and 6 Penix fakes handoff then sits down for 2 yard loss and afterwards was clearly upset at someone for a miscommunication. End result: 40-yard FG.
-3rd and 5 false start on Jack Westover moves it back to 3rd and 10. End result: 35-yard FG.
-2nd and goal touchdown to Jalen McMillan called back for offensive pass interference on a pick by Ja’Lynn Polk moving it back to 2nd and goal at the 23. End result: Missed FG.
-3rd and 4 pass dropped by Wayne Taulapapa (not a super easy catch but definitely catchable). End result: Punt.
-Hail mary on last play of half hits Odunze’s hands in a crowd but he can’t haul it in. End result: Halftime.
-Dropped pass by Devin Culp on 1st and 10 forces 2nd and 10 and stops the clock when UW was trying to score plus kill clock in the 4th quarter. End result: Punt.
-19 yard completion to Rome Odunze on 3rd and 9 wiped away by a holding penalty on Troy Fautanu (even if it was bogus). End result: Punt.
Back But Not Back Back
Washington’s secondary came the closest to fully healthy they’ve been since the beginning of the Kent State game at the start of the season. Jordan Perryman, Asa Turner, and Alex Cook all played every single snap on defense. Dominique Hampton returned from injury to play 91% of the defensive snaps. Finally, Mishael Powell didn’t start the game but split time with Davon Banks at the other outside corner spot by a 38 to 30 snap count margin.
In the first half it seemed like maybe having a nearly fully intact secondary had caused a massive defensive turnaround. California had been shut out at halftime and finished with just 83 total yards, most of which came on their last drive of the half. That is indisputably good even against a team with as anemic an offense as the Golden Bears.
Right from the jump in the second half though things were different as Cal started to move the ball at will through the air. Plummer was 6/8 for 98 yards in the 3rd quarter with 2 TDs. He also managed 61 yards and a TD on a 4th quarter drive as well. Unfortunately for the Huskies the reason for such success was that Cal just kept picking on Jordan Perryman. Per PFF Cal was 6/11 for 133 yards and a TD when going after Jordan. That includes in the 3rd quarter when Cal ran a simple go route and Perryman couldn’t keep up despite having no safety help over the top and it was an easy pitch and catch for a TD.
Husky fans certainly have to hope that Perryman still isn’t 100%. Last week I noticed several times he came up limping and sat out for a few plays. The Huskies have a bye week now and hopefully the 12 days rest will let Powell and Perryman get back all the way and also allow Julius Irvin to return. If that does happen though it’s unlikely this unit all of a sudden is going to be good. Washington will still need to rely on its pass rush to control opposing passing games.
Late in the game the Huskies also had Alphonzo Tuputala get hurt who has been UW’s most reliable linebacker. We’ll hopefully find out his status later today but if he is out longer term there’s a chance that Washington will get back Edefuan Ulofoshio to take his place. After suffering a knee injury in the offseason the coaching staff has said that he was targeting November for a potential return. I’m not optimistic that coming off a major knee injury he’ll look awesome the second he comes back but it wouldn’t take much to improve UW’s linebacker play with Cam Bright definitely not living up to my expectations so far.
In The Land of the Blind
And finally we have to talk about the officiating. I’ve gotten questions in the mailbag about Washington’s struggles on the road and whether it’s about a lack of mental fortitude. Sometimes it’s as simple as you get a much friendlier whistle at home than on the road. There were no shortage of issues with penalties, particularly in the last 3 minutes.
Gameonpaper.com shows Washington as accumulating -7.34 EPA by virtue of penalties compared to -1.74 for Cal. If anything that undersells it because of the missed no calls as well. Let’s run through a quick summary of key moments.
-Washington had a touchdown taken off the board for offensive pass interference that by the letter of the law deserved to be called but also almost never does and it certainly wasn’t the most egregious case ever seen. It resulted in no points after a missed field goal.
-Rome Odunze caught a 1st down late that would’ve allowed UW to burn all but about 20 seconds off the clock but Troy Fautanu was called for holding. On review the Cal pass rusher tripped and grabbed Fautanu’s jersey around the neck pulling Troy down on top of him. This gave Cal back 80 seconds of clock and at least 30 yards in field position.
-Cal threw an interception on the first play of their next drive which was waved off due to holding on Dom Hampton. There was definitely contact on the intended receiver but it might’ve been picked regardless.
-Bralen Trice is initially called for targeting despite leading with his shoulder/side of the helmet into the chest and not launching at all. Fortunately at least they realized within 30 seconds of review that it wasn’t close to targeting and they didn’t call roughing the passer with it which can’t be taken away. Yes, I am praising them for not f***ing up there.
-Then we have the no calls downfield. On two occasions in the red zone Washington had receivers get nearly tackled but it was determined not to be PI because the pass was ruled uncatchable. Maybe that would’ve been the case but if the defender completely stops all momentum for the wide receiver 2 seconds before the ball arrives, how do you know? UW’s receivers are pretty tall and fast with good leaping skills. There were also at least 2 occasions (1 caught, 1 not) where the Cal receiver fully extended his arms to push off at the top of a route and create separation when it wasn’t called. In all cases the only consistency was that the Cal player didn’t do anything wrong in the refs’ eyes.
-And just to show that I’m not a homer, UW got away with one when Cam Bright held near the goal line on a 3rd down incompletion which wasn’t called. Cal though scored a touchdown on 4th down so it didn’t end up costing the Bears any points.
This is why it’s hard to win on the road. Do I think these refs were intentionally malicious in trying to cost Washington the game? No. Do I think they’re good at their job? Also no. And when you don’t actually know when a penalty is supposed to be called you’re probably more likely to call it in situations where it benefits the home team and so you’re not going to get relentlessly booed despite deserving it. The Huskies have road games remaining against rivals Oregon and Washington State. And in order to win those contests Washington will have to outplay each opponent by more than a touchdown because with Pac-12 refs you should just factor in having to overcome a touchdown worth of refereeing mistakes when on the road.