Greetings, sports fans. Hope everyone is as excited as I am for the (official) start of conference play. Our tune-up against Presby last week wasn't quite as smooth as many of us would have liked, but here's to hoping that the boys are ready to ramp things up against the Washington Huskies on Saturday in Seattle.
I don't think the importance of this game can be understated for either team. I also don't recall a time when a game in the fourth week of the season has felt so critical to determining the direction of our season. Take one from the Husky-doodles, on the road, and the sunshine pumping will really fire up. Go down hard, and suddenly a visit to the
lonely grave of Rick Neuheisel's coaching career Rose Bowl in late October is terrifying. This is a big one.
After dispatching Eastern Washington and Hawaii with some difficulty in weeks 1 and 2, Washington went down fighting in Lincoln last week at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. While they're a bit dinged up, that didn't stop them from putting 38 points on the Husker defense in a losing effort. They will, no doubt, be looking to get back on track and open up Pac-12 play in exciting fashion as our sturdy Golden Bears make the trip to the Pacific Northwest.
This game, really all games, against Washington holds a special place in my blue and gold heart. You see, my esteemed and lovely wife (most of the time...see below) is a U-Dub alum. This fact was easy to tolerate while the Huskies were an utter laughingstock (been there done that). Sadly, they're now clawing their way back to college football relevance. Between the buzz surrounding the UW program and the lingering embarrassment of the last two meetings between Cal and Washington (a 10-42 drubbing in Seattle in 2009 and the 13-16 offensive shitshow to end Cal's season last year) our happy home is being torn asunder. Suffice to say, my wife is getting her U-Dub swagger back. But don't take my word for it, she'll tell you herself:
Using my husband's handle formula, greetings from...WomanDawgWash? Hmm.
Hopes still run high for both Dawgs and Bears, and there's no doubt one of our hearts will be broken on Saturday. At least in years past, our match-up (and inevitable domestic crossroads) came later in the season after each team's trajectory was more defined. So much for being gracious in victory and defeat..."I mean, yeah, I'm bummed...but now I'll just be excited for YOU, honey!". Not this year, folks.
What do I think will happen? There will be shouts of joy, cheers of elation...while MBC spews F-bombs and nurses his beer in the corner. Hey, at least you can look forward to even more than the usual snarky, obnoxious and overall jack-assery from him next week. Make that two weeks. Wow, he's going to be really pent-up. Oh you poor little Bears...
Oh, it is SO on! So who should be feeling better about this game? Read on as I introduce you to the key offensive players for the Huskies... and attempt to convince myself that we can win this game.
2011 record: 2-1
Week 1: WIN vs Eastern Washington (30-27)
Week 2: WIN vs. Hawaii (40-32)
Week 3: LOSS at Nebraska (38-51)
Last Season: 7-6
2011 Offensive Stats:
Passing: 230.3 yards/game
Rushing: 148.3 yards/game
STARTER - Keith Price, Sophomore - 6'1, 192 lbs
Many folks were concerned that the departure of QB Jake Locker to the NFL would leave a serious void in an otherwise stacked Husky offense this season. That has not been the case. Keith Price is currently tied for the most TD passes in the country (11), is completing 64.4% of his passes through three weeks, and has thrown just 3 picks thus far. JAKE WHO? Fact of the matter is, Price's early success has brought another dimension to this offense that Locker couldn't consistently provide: the dude hits open WRs. While not quite as mobile as Locker, Price has also shown a good ability to move and avoid pressure. Unfortunately, that mobility has been significantly reduced by two nagging knee sprains...one suffered in week 1 and one he sustained last week against Nebraska that saw him moving around like VINCENT Price by the end of the game. Keith is determined to tough it out and play this Saturday. If he goes down, backup QB Nick Montana (correct, one of Joe's sons) would take over the offense. Nick has never taken a college snap, but the reports out of Husky Camp said that the QB battle between he and Price was pretty tight. Maybe we'll see how good Montana really is if Price doesn't finish the game.
Downside: Experience, depth, mobility
What to expect:
I'd be happier if Locker were still the Husky QB. For as highly touted (and highly drafted) as he was, you could count on Jake to miss the more-than-occasional open WR, throw a dumb pick, or run at the wrong time and put himself in harm's way. And yes, I know he didn't do much of that against Cal the last two years...but that doesn't mean he didn't do it A LOT. Through three games, Price doesn't appear to be nearly as mistake-prone as Locker was (two picks in the red zone notwithstanding). And that scares the crap out of me. He has a ton of weapons at his disposal in the passing game, and an NFL-caliber running back to shoulder the load if things aren't working out through the air. Washington will also show a wide variety of formations...anything from a pistol variation, to a power I, to a 4 WR shotgun set. In my opinion, this guy is the best QB our secondary has faced thus far...and we let Tyler Hansen throw for almost 500 yards two weeks ago. It will be interesting to see just how much his knees hamper his ability to avoid pressure, assuming we actually apply some...which is assuming a lot (CU PARALLEL #1), and whether he can be forced into mistakes when under duress (Nebraska only sacked Price twice, but he did throw two picks). Hopefully our defense decides to get off the plane in Seattle, because they will be tested on Saturday. We'll have to find a way to put pressure on Price. I hope Clancy's bag of tricks has some sexy blitzes stowed away that will make Keith's banged up knees quiver. THE "PRICE" IS WRONG, BITCH!
STARTER - Chris Polk, Junior - 5'11, 214 lbs
Polk is a beast. He rushed for almost 1500 yards last year (1415 to be exact), and is averaging 120 yards/game through the first three weeks this season. Sadly, Chris is also breaking our streak of cuddly, midget RBs that we've previewed through Cal's first three games. In comparison, he's a towering 5'11. He seems to have barely missed a beat after a minor surgery on his knee just prior to the season starting, which is good for the Huskies. There's not a ton of depth or experience behind Polk; Sophomore Jesse Callier (the change-of-pace back and primary KR) is battling a hamstring injury, and Sophomore Deontae Cooper was lost for the year due to a torn ACL this summer (his second). That leaves rarely-used senior Johri Fogerson and true freshman Bishop Sankey as the only other available running backs. Sankey had a tough showing last week in Lincoln on this kickoff return (cue Benny Hill music).
Upside: Experience, awesomeness
What to expect:
Our defense has had success bottling up small running backs through the first three games, but Polk's not small...and he's a lot better than the Three Mouseketeers we've faced. In fact, he may be the best running back we see all year. He's a hammer on 3rd and short (on 3rd downs of 3 or less yards to go, he had first down runs on 6 out of 7 carries), and he's capable of busting big runs too. Washington will also run him out of a wide variety of formations. Thus far, Polk hasn't been utilized a lot in the passing game (3 catches for 27 yards). But after Colorado had so much success using Rodney Stewart on screens and short passes, I wouldn't be surprised to see UW send Polk into the flat on occasion to get him into space (CU PARALLEL #2). This will come down to whether our D-Line can hold their ground and clog up the middle of the field. Polk will get at least 20 carries in this game, so hopefully a steady rotation on the defensive line will keep us from wearing down (MOAR MOALA BEAR!!!). As potent as the Washington passing game is, we have to stop Polk in order to win this game.
Jermaine Kearse, Senior - 6'2, 205 lbs
James Johnson, Junior - 6'1, 200 lbs
Devin Aguilar, Senior - 6'0, 188 lbs
Very solid group here. None of the starting three guys really have numbers that jump off the screen (Kearse 8-107-4 TDs, Johnson 12-155-3 TDs, and Aguilar 11-181-1 TD), but I actually find it more disconcerting that their stats are so balanced. Kearse has routinely killed us (ask Darian Hagan), but Johnson and Aguilar demand attention as well. If these three weren't enough of a handful, super-frosh WR Kasen Williams is waiting in the wings, along with speedy WR/KR Kevin Smith. This is a long and athletic group that can make defenses pay, and have done so regularly in the first three weeks. There is a light case of the dropsies making the rounds among some of these guys, but not sure if that's a systemic issue or not (grasping at straws here...).
Upside: Depth, experience, size
Downside: I don't know yet.
What to expect:
A big challenge for our secondary. Stevie Williams should be okay, but Marc Anthony and Nickel back Josh Hill, along with both Cattouse and Campbell, will also be tasked with keeping this group in front of them. I'm worried about this WR group. Paul Richardson was able to take full advantage of missed reads and assignments in our secondary to the tune of a career day (CU PARALLEL #3). That was one guy; this is three (at least). I don't know that any of the Husky WRs are as fast as Richardson, but they're thicker and stronger. We'll need solid tackling from our DBs to avoid any possible SQT/Meachem-esque hootenanny. Again, I believe this to be easily the best WR group Cal has seen thus far this season. Will we have an effective plan to minimize the impact these guys have on the game? Has Clancy hammered our guys enough about the embarrassment in Boulder that they're determined not to let it happen again? I sure hope so. Buffalo brainfarts can't happen in Seattle. I'm predicting that our secondary has a much better day in Seattle... and doesn't let any Washington receivers set any school records.
STARTER - Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Freshman - 6'6, 250 lbs
Along with Kasen Williams, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ASJ from here on) was another ballyhooed in-state recruit from the 2011 Husky class. He's managed to ease right into the starting TE role for Washington, and already has the measurables of an NFL TE. With each game he's gaining experience and getting better. He's extremely athletic for his size, and there was some chatter during his recruitment that if he continued to grow he could ultimately move to Offensive Tackle. For now, he's taking to his starting TE role quite well. Also seeing time will be RS Freshman Michael Hartvigson, who's just as big and almost as athletic as ASJ. This duo is young, but talented. I already don't like the idea of seeing them in purple and gold for at least two more years. Side note: Washington's school colors look good on women...but not on grown men. Just my opinion.
What to expect:
I'd be happy if both ASJ and Hartvigson had quiet days. If nothing else, we should be able to put a body on them and limit their opportunities in space. Only issue with that is...you still have to tackle a 6'6, 250 pound man-child. Anthony Miller wore a stylish Buffalo-skin backpack in Boulder for a bit, will either of these two be looking for a similar style available in, say, Golden Bear? The possibility of either of these two running uncovered, down the seam, just might make my eyes bleed (CU PARALLEL #4). THEY'RE TOO BIG TO MISS!
LT: Senio Kelemete, Senior - 6'4, 301 lbs
LG: Colin Tanigawa, Freshman (RS) - 6'3, 310 lbs
C: Drew Schaefer, Junior - 6'4, 301 lbs
RG: Colin Porter, Sophomore - 6'4, 315 lbs
RT: Erik Kohler, Sophomore - 6'5, 306 lbs
I think this group has the most to prove of the Washington offensive units, and they haven't played badly. I dunno, maybe I'm just looking for something that would inspire some confidence. Kelemete and Schaefer are the grizzled vets of this line (they each started all 13 games last season), while Kohler and the two Colins are each entering their second year in the program. Both Porter and Kohler did play in some games last year though, while Tanigawa red-shirted. This is a versatile group, with three of the five starters garnering game experience at more than one position. They're pretty solid in both pass and run blocking (7 sacks allowed through three games, 148.3 rushing ypg). They also seem to have improved with each passing week. They held a pretty touted Nebraska D-Line in check for most of the game. Oh, and they're big too.
Upside: Versatility, size
Downside: Experience, depth
What to expect:
Hard to say, but our odds of slowing down this offense will either be greatly increased or diminished based on whether we consistently win (Fresno State) or lose (Colorado) the battle in the trenches. This is a good O-line, and our Front 7 will have to flat outplay them. That won't be easy either. May or may not be worth noting that our 3-4 will be the first such alignment that Washington will have faced this year. Does that matter? It might. I also have some doubts about just how good Nebraska's defense really is. I'd be pretty surprised if we didn't blitz regularly to try and get to Price, but I've said that with confidence before and been wrong (CU PARALLEL #5). But the possibility of a hobbled QB would lead me to believe we just might try to sack him once or twice. I've found our pass-rush to be pretty underwhelming thus far this season, so I have doubts about whether we can be effective in getting to Price. If the Husky O-line pushes our D-line around, WE. ARE. FUCKED. We need all of that size, depth and talent in the Front 7 to step up and have a big day.
Did those constant references to the Colorado game get annoying? I hope so. Even though it resulted in a heart-attack-inducing win, that game in Boulder managed to stomp out a lot of my confidence in our defense to perform, and our staff to make effective adjustments. Is that fair based on such a limited body of work? Maybe not. But ever since we struggled so mightily with the Buffs, I've been concerned about this game. A good and balanced offense...on the road. That is nightmare fuel. This game will offer us an opportunity to either: view the CU game as an aberration, or view it as a continuation of a disturbing trend where we manage to crap the bed in road games. As I stated at the top of the post, it also may tell us what we can expect from this group going forward...good or bad. THIS IS A BIG GAME.
I don't know how much Price's injuries will factor in, but they should to some extent. With his mobility taken away, it's possible that the complexion of their offense changes significantly. What does that mean? Leaning on an elite running back and a big offensive line to carry the day. Even though that doesn't sound all that pleasant, I feel more confident about our defense's ability to stop the run than I do stopping the pass. If the whole Price injury thing is being completely overblown (possible) and he's able to elude pressure and find open receivers, that could hurt us badly.
In case I haven't made it clear, I'm of the opinion that this will be a very tough offense to contain. And I'll bet Kodiak's look at the statistically poor Husky defense tomorrow will show that the Dawgs will have their hands full with our offense as well. Both offenses can score points, but I think our defense is better than theirs. We won't shut down the Huskies, but we'll slow them down enough for us to snag another coveted road win and send the Sunshine Pumpers into a frenzy.
My Prediction: 31-24 BEARS (YAY!)
WomanDawgWash's Prediction: 38-28 DAWGS (BOO!)