Washington puts its unbeaten record on the line again this week with a 7:30 p.m. Saturday game at California.
Here are five things to watch as the Huskies (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) face the Golden Bears (4-4, 2-3).1. California’s passing attack.
It’s been a lonely season for star UW cornerback Sidney Jones. He’s one of the top cover corners in the country, and is projected to be an early pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
As such, opposing quarterbacks tend to avoid him. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones was targeted only nine times in UW’s first six games, during which he allowed only four receptions for 20 yards.
“I just try to find action somewhere else besides the ball being in the air,” Jones said.
Considering how often California throws the ball, Jones should get a few more opportunities than usual to actually defend passes.
Cal quarterback Davis Webb leads the country in pass attempts with 415, an average of 51.9 per game. The Golden Bears rank fifth nationally in offensive plays per game with 695, an average of 86.9 per game. Their prolific passing game headlines an offense that ranks 14th nationally with an average of 41.3 points per game, though Cal runs the ball at a 4.9-yard-per-carry clip.
“They run it all. They don’t let you just sit back and cover one route,” UW defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “It’s a multiple route-running offense, and like I said, as soon as you start worrying about the pass, they’ll hand that ball off. They’ve had some good rushing games. So we have to prepare for the run and the pass.”
And Webb, the senior graduate transfer from Texas Tech, is good enough to test the Huskies’ talented secondary.
“He can make all the throws,” Lake said. “Prototypical quarterback. He’s 6-5, 220 pounds. I’ve seen him throw off his back foot and throw dimes all the way to the opposite hash. This guy’s talented. He’s got a very, very talented arm.”
2. Will Chad Hansen play?
How good has Hansen been for the Bears this season? He leads the Pac-12 in receptions and receiving yards … and he missed Cal’s last two games due to an ankle injury.
But Cal coach Sonny Dykes said this week that he thinks Hansen will be able to play against the Huskies.
“He’s a good player. Good routes, good hands,” Jones said. “Quarterback’s good, delivers the ball well. (Hansen is) one of the better receivers in the Pac. It’ll be a good challenge.”
Hansen has caught 59 passes for 770 yards and eight touchdowns in six games.
3. Washington’s pass rush.
The Huskies played again without team sacks leader Joe Mathis last week against Utah. It showed.
UW recorded only one sack of Utah quarterback Troy Williams, and it came when linebacker Keishawn Bierria sprinted through the line on a blitz. Otherwise, Williams had quite a bit of time to throw. So the Huskies certainly appeared to miss Mathis, who sat out his second consecutive game due to injury.
UW coach Chris Petersen is tight-lipped about injuries and hasn’t given any indication of how much longer Mathis might be out. But against a Cal team that has yielded only 14 sacks in eight games, despite throwing the ball more than anyone in the country, the Huskies are going to have to make Webb uncomfortable in order to keep their defense off the field.
“They’ve got those big linemen and they create that pocket and he’s a big tall guy that can throw on his back foot,” Petersen said. “That’s what I think is a little unique about him, is that his arm is so strong he doesn’t have to have this perfect pocket. That he can get out and he can throw, which not a lot of guys can.”
4. The offensive line rotation.
The Huskies fared OK without starting left guard Jake Eldrenkamp last week, rushing for 199 yards on 36 carries against a tough Utah defensive front.
It’s unknown whether Eldrenkamp, a fifth-year senior who missed the game due to an undisclosed injury, will be able to return this week. If he doesn’t, expect true freshman Nick Harris to make his second consecutive start in his place.
UW offensive line coach Chris Strausser said Harris played “really well” with “a lot of poise” in his first collegiate start. Harris, an alum of JSerra Catholic High School, had played in every game this season in a reserve role, mostly at right guard.
“He’s been a guy that doesn’t flinch regardless of situation, so he was excited to play, ready to play,” Strausser said. “I thought he went out there and competed well. Tough environment, really, really good D-line, and I thought he competed well.”
Strausser said fifth-year senior Shane Brostek and fourth-year lineman Andrew Kirkland are still competing at the right guard position. Both played last week against Utah.
5. Myles Gaskin is closing in on 1,000 yards again.
Through eight games, no running back in the Pac-12 has more rushing yards than UW sophomore Myles Gaskin, who has gained 878 yards on 135 carries with seven touchdowns.
And against a California defense that allows more yards per rush than all but one other team in the country, Gaskin will surely get enough opportunities to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season.
After a bit of a slow start, Gaskin has rushed for 100 or more yards in each of the Huskies’ last four games. He is one of only two Pac-12 running backs who has appeared in each of his team’s games, and he is averaging more than 100 yards per contest.
“Just kind of getting your own vibe, your own head, one of those things that flows with you,” Gaskin said of his recent surge. “I’m just playing my game. Not trying to do anything else. Not trying to make these big runs. It all just happens. It’s just one of those things where you just vibe with it.”
No. 4 WASHINGTON (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) at CALIFORNIA (4-4, 2-3)
7:30 p.m., Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
The series: Washington leads, 53-39-4.
The pick: Washington, 42-20.
Averaging 8.3 yards per rush
28 touchdowns, 3 interceptions
Career-high 16 tackles last week vs. Utes
UW’s team defensive player of the week vs. Utah
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
29 Khalfani Muhammad RB 5-9 175 Sr.
614 rushing yards, 2 TDs
7 Davis Webb QB 6-5 230 Sr.
2,914 yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs
1 Devante Downs LB 6-3 250 Jr.
56 tackles, 3.0 TFL
31 Raymond Davison LB 6-2 225 RJr.
4 solo tackles against USC last week