College Gameday lived up to the hype last week with Washington finding a way to win in Salt Lake City. Though the Huskies came away with a win, the Utah Utes played well enough to move up in the AP rankings despite losing. Washington added another notch to their resume by beating a top 20 team on the road which should help their case in the Playoff committee rankings at the end of the year.
Speaking about rankings, UW is only No.5 in the College Playoff Committee first rankings this week. Texas A&M took the number four spot most expected would belong to UW. However, it's early and the likelihood UW will move up in the next few weeks is high after they play two more ranked teams.
Reviewing last week's game, UW came in with high expectations. While they did not get the blowout win over a ranked opponent that I hoped would occur, they did get a gritty win over a tough defense. Surprisingly, the difference in the end was a spectacular special teams play by Dante Pettis to return his 5th career punt for a touchdown. Utah came close on a final drive driving to the 26 but ended with a sack and incomplete pass. Again, the defense held up for Washington to give the Huskies the big win. Troy Williams was held to 163 passing yards while the rushing defense was able to contain Joe Williams just enough to get the win despite his 170+ yards on the ground. The Huskies actually were negative on turnover margin with 1 interception to zero turnovers for Utah. This was a fairly clean game in terms of turnovers with each team fumbling once but recovering their own fumble. Offensively and defensively Utah and UW matched up well but Pettis' big play was the difference in keeping UW undefeated.
Next up is a road game that should be an easier match versus Cal. However, Utah thought the same thing when they visited Berkeley and Utah lost to Cal in their only other defeat this season. Washington should be better prepared to thwart an unexpected defeat to Davis Webb and company. Let's look at Cal's offense and defense and see if these Bears have any bite left in them midway through the season.
Cal's offense is a spread offense that likes the throw the ball a lot. They are similar in style to Washington State who will also rely on scoring through the air when UW plays them in November for the Apple Cup. The cheesy nicknamed “Bear Raid” offense is lead by Davis Webb who transferred from Texas Tech this season. Webb has been very active throwing the ball this year as he has 29 passing touchdowns to Browning's 28. However, Webb’s pass efficiency and QBR are much lower than the accurate arm of Browning. Webb is completing only 62.4% of his passes and has had 8 interceptions on the year. Webb and company were only able to muster 24 points in their last game versus USC despite throwing for 333 yards. One would expect the typical air raid style offense to continue on Saturday but perhaps not. Cal may watch the game tape of the Utah game (and maybe even Arizona) to find the chink in the Huskies' armor. The games that have been close for UW have been due to strong rushing from their opponents. Arizona took UW to overtime behind a strong rushing attack with J.J. Taylor in the backfield and QB Brandon Dawkins making plays with his legs to be the leading rusher in that game. Last week, Joe Williams and the offensive line of Utah kept the Utes in the game with a strong rushing game that moved the chains down the field. Because of this, Cal may lean on their talented back Khalfani Muhammed who has over 600 yards rushing this season. Emerging star receiver, Chad Hansen, who has 770 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns this season, is Cal's other main option to make this miracle upset a reality. Hansen has been Webb's favorite target and could be one of the few challenges for UW's secondary. Unfortunately, Hansen is still banged up and is a week-to-week decision to play in this game.
For Cal’s defensive coverage I was tempted to just put pictures of crickets but then I remembered the one goal line stand this year versus Utah to give the Utes their first loss. Somehow in that one lone game the Cal defense woke up from their coma and played their heart out stopping Utah at they 1-yard line to notch a win against a top ranked team. The Cal versus Utah game reminded me of the movie “Awakenings” where the catatonic patients are given L-dopa and suddenly wake up and are fully functional, but the effect is temporary and they go back to their zombie like state soon afterwards. Thus was Cal's defense who have allowed an average of 47 points per game in the last 3 games since beating Utah. So how is Cal going to shut down an offense like UW who put up 70 points against a weak defense like Oregon? Well, last week they were able to get only 1 sack against Sam Darnold. They did however recover two fumbles and snag an interception. So if Cal is to have any chance in this game they will need to step it up and force more turnovers to keep it close. They do not have any defensive all-stars on their team. Safety Luke Rebenzer had 11 tackles and 1 interception last week. They will need more performances like this to even think about keeping this one close. It's unlikely though that Cal's defense is talented enough to go against a top tier offense like UW.
Now let's review what UW will be doing in this game versus Cal.
If last week's USC game is a template for what Washington will do against Cal we can expect UW to both run and pass the ball with little resistance. UW is bringing a quarterback who is slightly better than Sam Darnold and a running back who is slightly better than Ronald Jones II. So the Jake Browning / Myles Gaskin combo I would expect to equal or surpass the performance of Cal's last opponent. Cal allowed almost 400 yards rushing last week with another 231 yards through the air. Combined 629 yards of offense is an embarrasing effort for Cal's defense. Browning and Gaskin will likely embarrass Cal's defense again. Browning should have little issue throwing deep balls to Pettis, Ross or McClatcher. Between Gaskin and Lavon Coleman in the backfield, things could get ugly quick and I would not be surprised to see 300+ yards between the two running backs. Jomon Dotson may get more snaps later in the game too if this thing turns into a blowout in the first half. I would expect a lesser version of what UW did to Oregon against Cal this weekend.
In terms of defense, Davis Webb will face a new challenge with a UW secondary that will slow down his strong receiving corps. The defensive line will put pressure on Webb and force him to make mistakes. I would surmise that Webb will throw at least 2 interceptions in this game due to pressure coming from Azeem Victor or Keishawn Bierria. If Cal does decide to lean more on the run game good luck getting through guys like Elijah Qualls or Greg Gaines. They may find more success with the run then passing but will not be enough. Cal has the second best scoring offense in the Pac-12 but they have padded their stats against weaker defenses. Washington defense is more in line with how Utah and USC played Cal which prevented them from breaking the 30 point mark they need to win most games. Washington may find themselves in a similar position as the Oregon game by absolutely wrecking the spirit of Cal early in the game and keeping the Cal offense demotivated from trying to keep up with the high scoring Huskies. I also see Budda Baker being a big factor in disrupting Webb and possibly intercepting the ball. The Huskies defense should be able to shut down Cal like they have done to most of the competition this season.
Special teams for Washington is making a comeback with the performance of Dante Pettis and his game winning punt return last Saturday. The kicking game seems to becoming more consistent as all field goal attempts and extra points were made this last go around. Special teams play may be another bright spot this Saturday as the Huskies may see Pettis or Ross do some more magic. Austin Joyner is also getting some time in on returns. For Cal, Khalfani Muhammed fumbled the ball deep in Cal territory last game and Cal's special teams allowed Adoree Jackson to gain 30+ yards on a return. UW likely has the edge again in this phase of the game.
Time to make some Husky Hype Predictions for this likely lopsided matchup.
Huskies put up 500+ yards of offense
Husky defense keeps Davis Webb under 200 yards passing
Gaskin/Coleman combine for 300+ yards rushing
UW forces 4 turnovers
Special teams has at least one 40+ yard return
Huskies score 30+ in first half
Final Score Prediction: Huskies win big 52-17