Andrew Berg (3-0 SU, 0-3 ATS)
Throughout Justin Wilcox’s tenure at Cal, the question has been whether he could concoct a way for the offense to score just enough points to buoy his always-solid defense. To Wilcox’s credit, he has not had a Ferentz-like stubbornness about a specific style; he has been willing to try just about anything, he just hasn’t found an offensive system that works. The most recent path was hiring Jake Spavital as OC after the air-raid disciple previously led the Bears offense in 2016 under Sonny Dykes. Dykes had the exact opposite problem to Wilcox: plenty of points but no defense. Maybe if you combine the stability of a Wilcox defense with the fireworks of a Spavital offense, that will be enough to climb into the top half of the conference?
A 14-10 loss to Auburn and a shockingly close call against Idaho say otherwise.While the Bears offense has been better with Sam Jackson V at the helm, the TCU transfer has been beat up early and unavailable too often. In his stead, NC State transfer Ben Finley has put up workmanlike numbers not out of line with his uninspired stint with the Wolfpack. Spavital has embraced prolific RB Jaydn Ott has the centerpiece of the offense. Ott will have to do what George Holani and Nate Carter could not and anchor an offensive assault on the ground against this Husky defense.
Even if the Bears are able to move the ball on the ground- which is no guarantee- they face a nearly impossible task in trying to slow down Michael Penix and the UW passing attack. The Bears’ solid defensive marks are rooted in success against the run. They are #1 in the country in defensive rushing EPA, but only 60th against the pass. The Dawgs will not think twice about how to attack. Given Wilcox’s tendencies, I would expect to see lots of deep safeties and Penix picking apart intermediate routes. Unless the pass protection goes drastically south in a hurry, he should have time to let his receivers find the open spots and march down the field with 10-yard passes.
Washington- 42, California- 20
Mark Schafer (3-0 SU, 1-2 ATS)
It’s the opener of the last season of the PAC as we know it! The Dawgs have many things going in their favor: they’re at home, coming off a huge win against Michigan State, and they have an offense that rates as one of the most explosive in the country. Given the proclivity of UW-Cal games to get a little weird, this seems like it opens the door for one of those times. Even if it does, I believe we’ll be okay. Michael Penix Jr. and Ryan Grubb know what Cal did last year, which was to limit the deep shots by our offense by dropping the DBs deep into coverage, and Mike came out of that game with a solid performance. I believe they’ll try to do the same, and I believe Mike will find the receivers open short and they’ll get plenty of “their yards” as Coach Shephard likes to say. We’ll see if Dillon Johnson can take pressure off of the pass game and continue his upward ascent, while providing a safety valve in the pass game for Penix.
Defensively, the key is to stop the run, as it has been for a while with this Cal team. Jadyn Ott will be tough to stop, as he is probably one of the better running backs in the PAC 12. But then again, I said the same things about Nate Carter last week and look what happened there! They’re not really a threat to throw, as their quarterbacks are averaging about 7 yards per attempt, so the Dawgs need to force the Golden Bears to throw, get them uncomfortable, and maybe force a couple turnovers.
Overall, this last matchup between Cal and UW could get a little weird, but even if it does, these Dawgs, if they’re well prepared, should be in a position to win.
Washington- 41, California- 14
Iyo Stephensbailey (1-0 SU, 1-0 ATS)
Whoo-whee. After a two game hiatus, I come back ready to remain undefeated against the spread. I’ve said it once and I will say it again, this team is ready to make a statement. Not only that, but they have already done so a couple times. Michael Penix Jr. is passing and Heisman leader in so many categories and it’s time to think big. Those northern California schools have given us issues before but this is different.
This will get ugly pretty quickly.
Michael Penix I believe may also eclipse is game-by-game average of four touchdowns. I’m worried for Cal, personally, as the full power of our playbook has yet to be unleashed. Albeit, all Pac-12 teams look dangerous on their own, but this offense has embarrassed who they want at will. Also, everything is clicking at the right time, from pass defense, to offensive line protection, to rushing attack (if and when we bother to put it out of our Heisman favorite QB’s hands).
It’s unlikely this remains a contest after the first half. This is home and we have proven that while we haven’t lost a home game since 2021, we can do this anywhere. I’m all in. It’s game time.
Washington- 48, California- 13
Max Vrooman (3-0 SU, 1-2 ATS)
Washington took care of business but now begins a 2-game stretch where a neutral observer would assume the Huskies would roll while true Dawg fans are haunted by past games. We’ll get to the trip to Tucson in the desert next week and the issues that has caused. For now thought it’s a Cal team that under Justin Wilcox always seem to be able to make things ugly.
There’s no question that the passing games between these 2 teams present the ultimate mismatch. The Huskies are averaging better than twice as many yards per dropback so far this season and Cal still has an unsettled starting QB situation. Sam Jackson IV is likely to start out under center but is averaging 5.0 yards per attempt and has been pressured on nearly 30% of his dropbacks. UW’s secondary is a little banged up but it seems unlikely Cal moves the ball much through the air.
If Cal has any chance in this game it’ll be because RB Jadyn Ott is right up there with any of UW’s skill position players as the best in this game. He missed last week’s game but is back now and backup Isaiah Ifanse has also been very good so far. Expect Cal to try to run the ball early and often and shorten the game as much as possible.
The Golden Bears defense has been very good so far led by former Husky LB Jackson Sirmon and new UNLV CB transfer Nohl Williams. Last year this defense managed to slow down the Huskies just enough to make the game competitive. Cal’s defense might be slightly better this year but the game is in Seattle.
I’m not going to put it past Cal to limit possessions with their running game and manage to cover the 3 touchdown spread. But if Washington gets out to an early lead and Cal is forced to pass to catch up then there’s no way they keep things close. The metrics have been slow to adjust to Washington’s performance so I’m going to keep picking the Dawgs to cover until they give me a reason not to do so.
Washington- 38, California- 17
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 4, California- 0
Against the Spread (-20.5): Washington- 4, California- 0
Average Score: Washington- 42.3, California- 16.0