Here we are again. My favorite game to cover for the California Golden Bears.
Let’s get into it.
We’ve got a Q&A with John Sayler, a writer with UW Dawg Pound, to look into what’s bound to be a challenging game for the Bears.
1. Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?
John Sayler (JS): Wide receiver Dante Pettis might be the most underappreciated superstar in all of college football. Pettis has returned eight punts for touchdowns during his four-year Husky career, including one each in the first three games of the 2017 season. Since then, teams have decided that he is too dangerous and he has not had an opportunity to return another one, resulting in a lot of 30-yard punts that go out of bounds.
Pettis had 15 touchdown receptions a year ago, but played in the shadow of John Ross, who hauled in 17. This year, Pettis is the clear #1 option for quarterback Jake Browning and leads the team with 27 receptions and six TDs. He doesn’t blow you away with his size or his speed, but he gets open and no one seems to be able to keep up with him.
2. Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?
JS: The front seven returns four All-Pac 12 players from a year ago, so the easy answer would be to pick one of those players. Instead, I will introduce Bear fans to a 5’8”, 180-pound cornerback named Myles Bryant. A former walk-on who played as a true freshman in 2016, Bryant has emerged as one of the top defenders on a deep and talented Husky defense. His instincts are phenomenal and don’t let his size fool you—he will bring down much bigger players and is not afraid to get his nose dirty in the run game. He’s an inspirational player when you consider his size and the fact that he worked his way from walk-on to scholarship player to starter to flat-out star.
3. Who's one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for the Huskies?
JS: Freshman tight end Hunter Bryant has emerged as the Huskies’ second-leading receiver and Jake Browning seems to be gaining confidence in him more and more as the season progresses. He’s not a huge tight end (6’2” 240), but he has good speed, good agility, and a knack for getting open. As a true freshman, Bryant has demonstrated a good grasp of Chris Petersen’s rather complex offense and figures to see his role increase even more.
4. How do you explain UW's slow starts in games this season?
JS: It’s been a hot topic for Husky fans and I can’t really explain it. Other than the Fresno State game when UW dropped 27 first-quarter points on our old pal Jeff Tedford, UW has outscored its (rather feeble) opponents only 31–21 in the first quarter of games. It has been pretty frustrating to watch as the entire offense seems to be out of sync. Chris Petersen doesn’t really want to get into it, stressing that it’s a “four-quarter game.”
It would be more of a problem if the Huskies weren’t so fantastic in the third quarter (outscoring those same foes 59–3).
5. What does Washington need to do to win the game?
JS: Simply put, Washington just needs to execute. That means playing sound football in all three phases. It may sound a little cliché, but as four-touchdown favorites playing at home, there really isn’t anything special they need to do to get the win. I would say there are plenty of things they need to NOT do like (1) turn the ball over, (2) surrender big plays to the Cal offense, or (3) think they can win the game by just showing up.
6. What does Cal need to do to win the game?
JS: Cal will need to try to keep the ball away from Washington’s offense by keeping their own offense on the field. They’ll need to gain some big chunks of yardage to accomplish that task, as teams that try to get 4 yards a crack against the Huskies don’t seem to be able to sustain more than a drive or two without a critical mistake. Defensively, the Bears will need to get pressure on Jake Browning while keeping close contact with his receivers. UW always uses the pass to set up the run, which gets defenses on their heels, and then slams the running game once the defense is tired.
7. How do you see the game going?
JS: I think Washington gets off to a good start in this one, even though that has not been the trend so far this season. If Cal can hit on a big play or two, they can keep pace for a while. Eventually though, I think UW’s advantage in the trenches will prove too much for the Bears to handle. Once Ross Bowers takes a few hits and the Cal offensive line wears down, the mistakes will begin to mount for the visitors—and Washington should cruise to a victory.
8. Homerism aside, can the Huskies make a repeat appearance in the College Football Playoff this year?
JS: If the Huskies go undefeated, then I imagine they would be in. Washington is likely to be favored in every game the rest of the way and if they were 12–0, they would probably be favored in the Pac-12 Championship game as well. So, yes. They can.
But running the table in this conference is really tough to do, and seems unlikely. It’s hard to say that a one-loss Pac-12 team could make the playoffs this season, so I would put the chances below 25%.
9. What are your thoughts on the Wilcox gif? You know which one I'm talking about.
JS: If I was a Cal fan, I’d be a bit concerned about his ability to prepare for games while Chris Hansen from NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” waits in his living room.
10. Whom do you most want to punch in the face?
JS: It’s gotta be Jim Harbaugh, especially with those Henry Kissinger glasses on.
Many thanks to John for helping us get educated on our upcoming opponents. Let’s go for the impossible, Bears.