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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

September 23, 2011 at 2:52 PM

The pick. …

Time, finally, for the best part of everyone’s Friday (okay, somewhere in the top 100, anyway).

Not that I really profess to have a clue how the game tomorrow will turn out (and yes, that’s been true for years — it’s just especially true of this particular game).

Neither does anyone else, judging by the fact that the game is now essentially a pick ’em in Las Vegas.

Cal has been one of the most schizophrenic teams in college football the last few years, and trying to figure out what it might do from week-to-week is usually as risky as letting your guard down against Floyd Mayweather.

If Cal’s been consistent at all the last few years, it’s in being a much worse team on the road than at home (and to better make that point, Cal has lost four of its past six conference road games by 19 points or more, winning in that time only at WSU, and has lost its last two in Seattle by a combined 46 points) .

UW, obviously, is at home tomorrow, a huge advantage for the Huskies. The offenses of Eastern Washington and Hawaii, though, didn’t seem too intimidated by the surroundings, and I think Cal’s offense is better than either of those, just in being more balanced if nothing else.

And each has ample motivation. UW has handled Cal easily in Seattle the last two times the Bears have traveled north, and have won three of four overall, including the “God’s Play” win in Berkeley last year that knocked Cal out of a bowl game while going a long way to putting UW in one. Cal’s players have said often the memory of that game lingered through the off-season. And with games at Oregon and then home to USC and Utah to follow, the Bears need this win for a little breathing room.

Same is true for the Huskies — a 3-1 record heading to Utah next week will feel a lot more comfortable than 2-2. Not to mention what a win would do to ease the nerves of a restless fan base (especially if the defense can play well) and maybe reinvigorate the on-the-fence fans who appear at the moment to be staying home.

Offensively, UW’s most important task may be to keep Keith Price upright and give him some time to throw against a Cal secondary that allowed 474 passing yards against Colorado. Assuming he gets just a little bit of room, there’s no reason to think Price can’t have a lot of success against the Bears. The key to making that work will be the play of UW’s O-line against a deep and big Cal defensive line — that may be the key matchup of this game.

There’s also, though, not a lot of reason to think Cal receivers Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones can’t have a lot of success against UW. Those two are pretty proven and each will almost certainly make their share of catches — the key will be tackling well and keeping small gains from becoming big ones. The other key will be putting
on Cal QB Zach Maynard, who is more experienced than you think (remember that he started all of 2009 at Buffalo) but who has been a little erratic so far, completing 51.6 percent of his passes. UW obviously has to rattle Maynard and force a few mistakes.

UW coaches promise they’ll use a few more guys up front (and obvious candidates include Josh Shirley, said to have had his best week of practice since camp, or Sione Potoa’e, said now to be 100 percent healthy). UW will need fresh legs to keep the heat on the mobile Maynard for a full 60 minutes.

Special teams have also been huge in each of UW’s games this year, and will be again tomorrow.

The line on this game has obviously been interesting to watch, UW as favored by as much as three early in the week and now down to pick ’em. That indicates a lot of people suddenly finding faith in Cal, which did show some grit in fending off all those Colorado passing yards to ultimately beat the Buffs in overtime on the road.

As the line illustrates, this game seems so even in so many ways. Ultimately, the main decider for me is UW’s home field. Call it, Huskies 34-28.



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