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Grading the Game: Cal

Did the defense earn a passing grade?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Washington at Cal Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Passing Offense - A-

It wasn’t the most explosive passing day with no throw longer than 19 yards, but Michael Penix and the receivers combined for another 300+ yard day and 2 touchdowns. Richard Newton can claim the longest pass play of the day with his 36 yard catch and run in the fourth quarter to extend the UW lead to two touchdowns. On that play, Penix did what he does best: hang in the pocket, move through his progressions, and find the open man, who in this case may have been the fourth option. Newton did an impressive job shaking off a tackler, stiff arming another, and staying in bounds as he ran up the sideline.

Normally, the overall lack of explosiveness and poor drops from RB Wayne Taulapapa would relegate this to a B-, but the way Penix willed the team in the second half, coming up with big plays when they needed them, pushes this to at least an A-. He did a good job taking what the defense was giving him, finishing 8/9 for 146 yards and 2 TDs on intermediate throws. Devin Culp and Jack Westover were also valuable targets, combining for 8 catches. The stat sheet says Cal had two sacks, but other than a weird broken play where Penix just fell down in the backfield, I can’t remember a sack. The offensive line continues to do a great job keeping their QB upright.

NCAA Football: Washington at California Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing Offense - B-

Like much of the season, the run game was a more-or-less effective compliment to the pass game, but wasn’t really generating much on its own. Wayne Taulapapa’s three drops in the first half sent him to the bench for the remainder of the game, giving Cam Davis, Sam Adams, Richard Newton, and Will Nixon opportunities. Davis had the most carries, but only managed a long gain of 6 yards, for a touchdown. That touchdown did come after Cal briefly took a 7-6 lead in the third quarter, when it was important that Washington strike back after red zone miscues in the first half.

Ultimately, running backs combined for 28 carries for 117 yards, a hair over 4 yards per carry. The story in this game - and the entire season, really - is that Washington’s raw run game numbers are not impressive, but on a situational basis does a solid job of complimenting a scary pass game. The fact that Giles Jackson was getting carries late in the game should tell you all need to know about how the coaches feel about the running backs on the roster.

Passing Defense - D+

Cal is a poor offensive team with a quarterback who is not one of the better UW will face this season. Their best receiver - Jeremiah Hunter - didn’t play against Washington. Despite this, Jack Plummer was 21/34 for 245 yards and 3 touchdowns - stats which speak for themselves. CB Mishael Powell’s return certainly gave the group a boost, but I’m not sure I fully trust him yet in coverage (Plummer was 4-4 targeting Powell).

That said, he is a well above average tackler for a CB and brings a physicality to the position, which he showed blowing up a few WR screens. CB Jordan Perryman lead the team with 5 solo tackles, which is usually not a good sign for a CB. There were busted coverages that allowed some plays to be completed that otherwise should have been easily defended, as well as overthrows from Plummer on what would have been explosive completions for the Bears. You can’t complain about the pass rush with 5 sacks, but it sure seems like if they edge defenders don’t get pressure, it’s going to be a completed pass.

NCAA Football: Washington at California Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing Defense - B+

Even with exciting freshman RB Jaydn Ott, Cal only gave it running backs 26 times for 89 yards, including just 5 yards in the first half. Their longest rush was 12 yards and they were held without a rushing score. I do think Washington’s rush defense is much better than last year. I also believe teams are going to attack the weakness of this defense - the secondary - and therefore not pile up huge raw yardage numbers. Situationally - like on key 3rd and shorts - Washington can still improve it’s run defending.

Special Teams - B+

Peyton Henry missed a field goal but did hit a 40-yarder. The punting game still feels like a missed opportunity to help the defense by pinning teams back, but Jack McCallister did drop one inside the 20-yard line. One kickoff Cal did attempt a return, the UW coverage did its job and tackled the Cal WR Mavin Anderson after just a 12-yard gain.

Coaching - B

A win is always better than a loss, but I can’t recall being a Husky fan in which a 6-2 record felt so much like 4-4. In particular these past two against Arizona and Cal, it felt like every time UW was on the cusp of blowing the game open, they would commit a red zone error, or give up a 3rd or 4th and long, and allow the opponent to stay in the game. For the halftime yardage disparity (245 - 83) to be what it was and only be up 6-0 is a problem that won’t be as easily solved against some of the remaining teams on the schedule. All it would have taken is one turnover on UW offense to put Cal in a great position to score and make this a very different game.

They got the road win against a team that plays really good defense and had their backs against the wall. I’m not sure previous UW quarterbacks make the big time and clutch throws in the second half to win game that Penix was making. But, it should be a concern that it doesn’t seem like the defense is improving very much. Giving up just 21 points after consecutive games of 40, 45, and 39 is improvement. No one can deny they played a great first half. But does anyone come out of that game really feeling confident?