The Washington Huskies enter Pac-12 conference play with a match up against a team that is not only in their division this season, but could have easily ended their season as the Dawgs did last year. With Chris Polk’s touchdown run on the last play of the game at the end of last season, the Huskies ended up finishing 6-6 while California wound up 5-7 on the year. These teams again appear to be very close in talent and potential, thus providing a very difficult game to predict.
Cal enters this contest feeling pretty good with a 3-0 record and a blowout win last week against Presbyterian (that win can’t make you feel THAT good). The Golden Bears also knocked off Fresno State and Colorado (in the awesome non-conference game against a conference foe). The have not beaten anyone outstanding, but neither have the Huskies. This game could end up being a season changing type match up since both teams play in the North division and will have to compete with Stanford and Oregon. A loss in this game leaves the Huskies in desperate need of an upset later on this year to even reach a bowl game potentially.
Key Positional Battles
Chris Polk vs. LBs D.J. Holt and Mychal Kendricks
Cal’s linebackers are making plays early in the season, as is Husky running back Chris Polk. The Dawgs third all-time leading rusher is currently the Pac-12 leader in carries and second in yards while absolutely blowing up tacklers. Meanwhile Holt is the second leading tackler in the Pac-12 and first on Cal. Mychal Kendricks is only one tackle/game behind him. Combined, they have 25 solo tackles and average 13 tackles per game. Polk will need to shed the grasp of these two, as well as beat them on the outside for the Dawgs to be successful in this game.
California WRs vs. Husky DBs
As the Seattle Times pointed out, all three of the Husky opponents put up their best offensive numbers against the Huskies. Despite defenders of the defense claiming that the Dawgs simply faced an absurd number of pass attempts in the first two weeks, it is clear that the Husky defensive backs need to step up their game. When Quinton Richardson got beat deep on the first play of the game for Nebraska, it became clear that once again the DBs need to improve. Even though Nebraska ran for over 300 yards on the ground, they were also successful in the air. Cal will prove a new challenge. The Bear Insider blog describes QB Zach Maynard as somewhat inconsistent, but very wiling to throw downfield. In fact, it appears that Maynard’s strength and potential weakness is the fact that he will launch the ball to his wideouts, in particular Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. Richardson and Desmond Trufant will need to play better than they have the past three weeks to stop these two talented receivers who currently stand 5th and 6th in the conference in receiving yards.
Husky Defensive Line vs. Cal Offensive Line
Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt stated that he was most disappointed in the defensive line thus far this season. Many fans would agree as they recorded only five sacks in three games thus far this year. While senior DT Alameda Ta’amu made some nice plays in the run game last week, the other members of the line like senior Everette Thompson have disappointed. The pressure will be necessary this week since the Husky defensive backs have struggled so much. Cal’s offensive line allowed five sacks in the first three games, which isn’t a great number and isn’t awful either. The winner of this match up could very well determine the winner in the game as well.
Keys for UW
1. Third Down Conversions
The Huskies are last in the Pac-12 in third down conversions allowed. They give up 57% of third down opportunities. This can’t happen for the Dawgs to win on Saturday. If Cal can convert early and often, the Husky defense will wear down and you can kiss a victory goodbye. On the flip side, Washington converts 42.5% of their third downs, good enough for middle of the pack in the conference. The winner of this battle will be a huge determinant in who wins the game.
2. Stuff Cal’s Rushing Game
Cal running back Isi Sofele is tied for second in the Pac-12 in rushing attempts at 61 (behind only Chris Polk), and sits fifth in rushing yardage as well. They have a nice change of pace back in C.J. Anderson who puts up 7.2 yards per carry, but only has 13 attempts this season. Freshman Brandon Bigelow (once a Husky prospect) could be a difference maker as well if Head Coach Jeff Tedford gives him a look. With the inaccuracy of Zach Maynard (but also big play ability), it will be essential that the Dawgs make Cal extremely one dimensional. From the Cal blogs, it appears that Sofele goes down on contact so the Husky line and linebackers will need to not get engaged early.
3. Make Big Plays
Last week’s keys focused on big plays from the Huskies, while limiting those of Nebraska. In reviewing the game, it was obvious that the Dawgs kick return mistake by freshman Bishop Sankey was the play of the game (non-referee version). The Huskies will need to make more positive plays like the touchdown passes to Jermaine Kearse early and James Johnson late to win this game. Keith Price has been a part of many big plays this year, but it would be nice to see one in the return game or on defense to get a victory on Saturday.
Player to Watch
The Cal wide receiver put up great numbers last week with seven catches for 123 yards and a TD. The senior had 50 catches a year ago and 43 in his sophomore season. Last season, he caught only two balls against the Dawgs in a Washington 16-13 victory. Yet as a sophomore he put up six catches for 107 yards. While Keenan Allen is a force on the other end and Cal’s leading receiver, I have a feeling Jones will be a bigger key in this one as either Richardson or Greg Ducre will be matched up against Jones.