Apologies for the delay here. Had some delays at the Sacramento rental car place.
Admit it: When you went through the Huskies’ schedule the before the season and marked down projected results game by game, you had Washington with an easy win this week.
You probably even put down the pencil and traced that “W” over Cal in permanent marker.
I did, too.
That’s hardly the reality now.
Coming off a 1-11 first season under Sonny Dykes, Cal has probably been the biggest surprise in the Pac-12 through the first six weeks of this season. The Bears (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) are in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North. They’d be undefeated if not for Arizona’s Hail Mary finish a few weeks ago.
Jared Goff has been excellent in his second season as Cal’s quarterback, and the offense is second in the nation with an average of 50 points per game.
Meanwhile, the Huskies (4-1, 0-1) lost to Stanford two weeks ago, which led into their bye week, allowing extra time for folks to build up extra anxiety over UW’s struggling offense.
Here’s the catch, of course: In Stanford, UW probably faced the best Pac-12 defense it will see all season. In Cal, UW might be facing the worst.
The Bears rank among the worst defenses in the nation, allowing a little more than 40 points a game — while also having defended more plays, 458, than anyone in the Pac-12.
If the Huskies are going to get the offense going, this is the game.
After all of the critical hits Cyler Miles has taken past couples weeks, the Huskies must first establish a consistent running game, something they couldn’t do against Stanford. Do better on first and second down, and third down becomes much more manageable for the young quarterback.
I’ll also be curious to see if Miles is involved more in the run game — intentionally, anyway, and not on run-for-your-life scrambles. He seems to have a decent feel for the read-option; it’s not something he has to do every other play, but just a handful of times a game could force defenses to alter their plan just a bit.
The most surprising part of the Cal offense is that the line has allowed just eight sacks in 193 passing attempts. (UW has allowed nine in 129 passing attempts; Oregon has allowed 15 sacks and UCLA 22.)
The Huskies are tied for sixth nationally with 20 sacks in five games, with Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton tied for second in the nation with seven sacks each. It can be said every week, but this seems especially apt this week: UW’s ability to pressure Goff — and, thus, protect UW’s young secondary — figures to go a long way toward determining the outcome of this one.
Goff will pile up some yards, but the hunch here is that UW’s front seven will do just enough to slow him down while the UW offense, behind a big game from Lavon Coleman and a key field goal from Cameron Van Winkle, reemerges in a nice bounce-back effort.
The pick: Washington 41, Cal 38.
Around the Pac-12:
— Washington State at Stanford: I’ve been trying to convince myself to pick the Cougs here … but I just can’t. Stanford’s defense finds a way again. The pick: Stanford 35, Washington State 28.
— Oregon at UCLA: You wonder what Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley would give to have, say, Cal’s offensive line? The winner of this one is the team whose quarterback is still standing in the fourth quarter. The pick: UCLA 42, Oregon 35.
— USC at Arizona: I’m not completely sold on the Wildcats yet, but at some point the drama surrounding USC has to become a distraction, right? The pick: Arizona 31, USC 24.