The middle of the season is here and boy it certainly isn’t friendly to the Cal defense. One week after getting gassed on the ground against the Ducks, the Bears find themselves up against the best offense in the Pac-12. What makes Washington’s offense just so deadly? Balance.
The Huskies can beat you through their personal soup du jour, one week dominating on the ground and the next lighting it up through the air. Even Cal’s best opponents this year to date have struggled in some facet offensively but for Washington the challenge is finding any holes in what they do. Let’s introduce a couple of familiar faces to start.
Jake Browning, QB
- 29th in the country in passing yards
- 6th in quarterback rating
- 14th in touchdowns
- 14th in yards per attempt
- 11th in completion percentage
Browning is everything you would hope for in a quarterback. He limits turnovers, is accurate as hell and can make plays on the ground. His pocket presence is greatly improved since Cal last visited Husky stadium in 2015. His worst game of the year came in a road contest against Colorado when he only threw one touchdown but Myles Gaskin picked him up with over 200 yards rushing. At his worst, Browning has the ability to put his team in the position to win the game and the opposing defense is still forced to respect the pass. At his best he throws for 378 yards with a completion rate near 70% and six touchdowns, but we don’t need to relive that.
Myles Gaskin, RB
- 23rd in the country in rushing yards
- 22nd in rushing touchdowns
- 30th in yards per attempt (7.1)
Gaskin is rolling into this matchup riding a two game streak of over 100 yards rushing. Even more concerning for Cal, Gaskin tore up a Colorado defense that was strong enough to get the Buffs to the Pac-12 championship last season. Success is nothing new for Gaskin nor should his name be unfamiliar to Cal fans. Gaskin was named first team all Pac-12 last season and is coming off two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. The Bears defense will absolutely have their hands full with both Browning and Gaskin come Saturday night.
Dante Pettis, WR
- 6th in the country in receiving touchdowns
- 35th in receptions
- 43rd in receiving yards
Pettis is an elite target for the Huskies and has developed a strong rapport with Jake Browning. Pettis caught 16 touchdowns in the 2016 season and was named second team all Pac-12. Last week Pettis enjoyed his first monster game of the 2017 season, catching 12 passes for 105 yards and three touchdowns.
Pettis is not only a force through the air but also in special teams where he is currently tied for the NCAA record in punt returns. He is also locked in a tie for first place in NCAA history with a punt return in three consecutive games.
To say the Bears will have their hands full with Pettis this weekend is taking Washington very, very lightly.
What to expect come Saturday
If last week is any indication of what is to come, we can all take a bit of solace in knowing the Bears will show up ready to play. However the problem with playing Washington is there are so many options to stop and for a defense that is still growing it could get ugly rather quickly.
Washington is a run first offense, leaning on Browning when they have to but setting the tempo through Gaskin on the ground. The Bears have struggled in recent weeks to stop a relentless rushing attack and expect Petersen to try to exploit that right away. In passing downs, the Huskies are known to run double tight end sets which allow the receivers to start slightly behind the line and utilize their speed to get open down field. Camryn Bynum and Elijah Hicks will have their hands full trying to keep up with Pettis and the other Husky receivers.
The Bears will find themselves forced to stop Washington’s faster playmakers from finding space in the open field and slowing down Myles Gaskin. If they can disrupt Browning in a similar way as Colorado managed to in Boulder, the Bears can at least eliminate two thirds of the Washington offense. The issue when playing Chris Petersen is that there always seems to be that remaining third ready to step up to the plate.