SEATTLE — The question was relevant and simple.
Steve Sarkisian’s response was short and telling.
Asked in general terms about California’s defense – which the University of Washington football team will combat at 8 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium – the coach quickly made clear he didn’t want to discuss his opponent.
“It’s not about Cal,” Sarkisian said after Thursday’s practice. “This is all about us.”
Point taken. But when the Huskies (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12 Conference) host the lowly Bears (1-6, 0-4) in an attempt to snap their three-game losing streak, it will be at least partially about the California team that enters this game ranked as one of the nation’s worst defenses.
It’s why many – including Las Vegas oddsmakers, who peg UW as a 23-point favorite – expect the Huskies to win easily, despite
suffering blowouts against Oregon and Arizona State in their past two games.
The 8 p.m. kickoff time will be the latest start for the Huskies this season. But attendance may be bolstered by the remembrances planned before the game and at halftime for longtime coach Don James, who died Sunday.
Washington and Cal players will both wear “DJ” decals on their helmets, and UW’s coaching staff will wear a patch on their shirts.
“I think it’ll be a really good atmosphere Saturday night here in Husky Stadium,” Sarkisian said. “I think our fans will be fired up. I know our guys will be charged up. I think we’ll come out with a chip on our shoulder and ready to play good football.”
That will likely mean returning the Huskies’ offense to its run-first roots. Put another way: Bishop Sankey, who needs 78 yards to surpass the 1,000-yard mark, should have more carries than the 13 he had in last week’s 53-24 loss at ASU.
“You guys know me enough by now (to know) that I love running the ball,” Sarkisian said. “I love giving the ball to Bishop. To go and stand in front of you guys and look at the stat sheet, and he has 13 carries in a critical ballgame in a season, that’s not enough.”
California’s defense seems as susceptible as any to allowing a big game to Sankey. Or anyone else. The Bears rank 121st in total defense, allowing 525.4 yards per game due to injuries and inexperience coupled with a brutal schedule.
They rank 123rd (out of 123 teams) in passing yards allowed per game, 122nd in scoring defense (44.4 points per game) and are tied for 120th in turnover margin (minus-1.6).
If ever a get-well game existed in the Pac-12, this is it for the Huskies, who have a bye next week before hosting Colorado on Nov. 9.
“We’re capable of doing it,” fifth-year senior quarterback Keith Price said of the possibility of bouncing back from the losing skid. “We have a good team, a very talented team, so it’s going to be fun. These next couple ballgames are going to be fun and we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves.”
Sarkisian said Thursday that he’d “be surprised” if Price didn’t play Saturday, then said Friday during an interview with KJR-AM that Price will indeed be UW’s starter.
Cal coach Sonny Dykes wasn’t sure this week who would start at quarterback for his team, either, but announced Friday that he’s sticking with true freshman Jared Goff. The Bears do have some decent weapons in the passing game – receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper the two best – and rank seventh nationally in passing yards per game with 359.9, though their pass efficiency ranking is 80th.
Not that Sarkisian wants to talk about it. He’s only interested in how his team responds to its annual three-game losing streak.
Asked whether this week of practice served as a wake-up call, Sarkisian said: “You get a feeling sometimes one way or the other, then the game comes, sometimes it validates that feeling and sometimes it contradicts that feeling,” Sarkisian said. “I’d like to think so, but again I’ll answer that question better Saturday at about midnight, if it was a wake-up call or not.”
CALIFORNIA (1-6 OVERALL, 0-4 Pac-12) at WASHINGTON (4-3, 1-3)
8 p.m., Husky Stadium, Seattle
TV: Fox Sports 1. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 51-38-4. UW won in Berkeley, Calif., last year, 21-13, and has won four consecutive games in the series.
What to watch: Will the Huskies’ defense recover from the 1,216 yards it allowed to Oregon and Arizona State the past two weeks? California has struggled all season, but the Bears are going to throw the ball a bunch, and rank seventh in the nation in passing yards per game. With freshman Jared Goff maintaining the quarterback job for at least another week, the Huskies might be able to force a few more turnovers than usual. If they don’t, Goff will have a chance to put a dent in what’s already a somewhat beleaguered UW secondary. But the Bears’ defense has been so bad this year, it likely won’t matter.
The pick: Washington, 38-10.
1 Bryce Treggs WR 5-11 180 So.
Team’s second-leading receiver, and also a favorite target of Goff. Combines with Chris Harper to give Cal one of Pac-12’s best receiving tandems.
6 Chris Harper WR 6-0 180 So.
Team’s leading receiver with 698 yards and four TDs in seven games. Started five games last year as true freshman.
16 Jared Goff QB 6-4 205 Fr.
The true freshman won Cal’s starting QB job in camp but has twice had to fend off backup Zach Kline during open competitions this season. Goff completes 60.4 percent of his passes, and has thrown for 2,256 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.
91 Deandre Coleman NT 6-5 315 Sr.
Garfield High graduate is Cal’s starting nose tackle and leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks.
10 John Timu LB 6-1 235 Jr.
Sprained his right ankle last week against ASU but was seen running fine on kickoff coverage team during practice this week.
17 Keith Price QB 6-1 202Sr.
Steve Sarkisian says Price will start, but it’s not known how effective he’ll be with an injured thumb on his throwing hand.
25 Bishop Sankey RB 5-10 203 Jr.
Sankey had an off game against Arizona State, finishing with 23 yards rushing on 13 carries after beginning the week as the nation’s leading rusher. He should be more successful against a weak Cal defense.
37 Princeton Fuimaono LB 6-1 217 Sr.
He was UW’s leading tackler last week at Arizona State, but he still missed a few key tackles and had a big penalty that proved somewhat of a turning point.