California (4-1, 2-1 in Pac-12) vs. Washington (4-1, 0-1)
Last Time Out: at Washington 41, Cal 17 (Oct. 26, 2013)
Last Time in Berkeley: Washington 21, Cal 13 (Nov. 2, 2012)
The Betting Line: Cal -4; O/U 70
When: Oct. 11, 3:00 PM Pacific
Where: KABAM Field at California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.
Watch: Pac-12 Networks; Ted Robinson (play-by-play), Glenn Parker (analyst), Jill Savage (sideline)
Listen: KGO 810 AM, Cal IMG Sports Network; Joe Starkey (play-by-play), Mike Pawlawski (analyst), Todd McKim (sideline reporter)
Student Radio: KALX 90.7 FM; Justin Allen (play-by-play), Eamonn Shannon (analyst) California Injury Report: Stefan McClure (game-time decision; calf), Avery Sebastian (various; proable), Khalfani Muhammad (questionable; thumb), Joel Willis (probable; shin), Darius Powe (probable; shoulder), Jeffrey Coprich (out; foot), Edward Tandy (out; concussion).
Cal Game Notes
Washington Game Notes
DISCUSS: Message Boards
What to Watch for on Offense:
PROTECT THE PRECIOUS: Last season, the Cal offensive line allowed 34 total sacks in 12 games. This season, through five games, the Bears have allowed just eight. So far, so good for Jared Goff.
[READ MORE: FEATURE: Goff Behind the TDs]
Washington, though, won’t be pushovers, particularly up front. The Huskies are second in the conference with 20 sacks, and rank tied for third in the nation in that category. That said, Washington State came into last week’s game having sacked Marcus Mariota seven times, and took Goff down just once.
Washington packs a wallop, with senior 6-foot-6, 273-pound defensive tackle Evan Hudson, senior 6-foot-3, 246-pound defensive end Andrew Hudson and 6-foot-2, 339-pound senior nose tackle Danny Shelton up front.
Shelton ranks fourth in the league in tackles with 47 total, with a staggering 7.0 sacks. Andrew Hudson has two forced fumbles – second in the league only to teammate Shaq Thompson.
“They’ve got two good edge pass rushers, two guys that have good speed, who can just kind of run around tackles, and they’ve got one guy in particular that’s a really good pass rusher inside, that’s really strong, physical, pushes people back into the quarterback, so when the quarterback tries to step up because of the edge pressure, he’s stepping up into a guy who’s getting good push,” says head coach Sonny Dykes. “The two things are contributing to their pass rush and they’ve done a nice job of mixing things up. They’ll be creative. They’re going to bring their corners and they’re going to do some different things to try to create some pressure on your quarterback. You’ve got to be able to handle it, prepare for it. They’ll have some different looks we haven’t seen that we’re going to need to be able to handle.”
Cal’s eight sacks allowed is tied for second-lowest in the conference, and of eight fumbles, the Bears have lost just three, and none of those have been in the red zone. While last season, Cal was dead last in the conference in red zone offense (72.1%), this season, the Bears are the third-best red zone offense in the league (95.2%), and, Goff says, a lot of that can be attributed to the line.
“I think that’s a big testament to the running game. It has a lot to do with the linemen and the running game, and how well they’ve been hitting their blocks and how well the running backs have been running,” says Goff. “The linemen are so much more improved this year.”
And, speaking of that running game …
THE RUNNING BACK DYNAMIC: Daniel Lasco will get back to pounding the rock both inside and outside this week, after just 11 rushes for 61 net yards last week in Pullman, Wash. Lasco went into last week’s game against Washington State having rushed for 100 yards in two straight games, and given that the tempo of Saturday’s game figures to be much slower than the air-it-out Cougars forced, it’s tough to think Lasco won’t get somewhere around 20 carries.
If Lasco does get 20 carries, expect another 100-yard game out of him. Lasco is sixth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game, and is third in yards per carry at 6.2. The only backs ahead of him are junior D.J. Foster of Arizona State and Nick Wilson of Arizona.
The run game is completely different from last year, averaging 150.2 yards per game to 2013’s 122.2, in large part thanks to the aforementioned improvement in the offensive line, and in part due to the sea change in Lasco himself.
The real change in the run game this week will be the likely absence of Khalfani Muhammad. The fourth-quarter speed specialist has an injured thumb, making his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and in space very limited, if nonexistent. His speed is still there, but if he ha to change hands to his injured paw, Cal’s going to be in trouble. Luckily, the Bears have a few other options. Muhammad didn’t look like he’d be getting much game action when BearTerritory saw him on Thursday, but you know who has looked game-ready over the past two weeks? Both Vic Enwere and Tre Watson. Watson in particular has looked impressive, and very versatile. My bet would be that Watson – who has more side-to-side shake than Muhammad – takes the bulk of the reps after Lasco, and this may even be his breakout game if that’s the case.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE OUTSIDE: Washington’s pass defense is not good, and it’s been against mediocre offenses. The Huskies struggled mightily against Eastern Washington in a 59-52 win, allowing 475 passing yards thanks to a largely inexperienced secondary consisting of two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. The depth in that secondary is even younger, consisting of just one senior, two sophomores and two freshmen.
If the Huskies struggled against the Eagles’ passing attack, that doesn’t bode well for how they’ll fare against the Bear Raid.
Goff will have an additional weapon back this week in Darius Powe to add to Stephen Anderson and his roommate Ray Hudson on the inside, all three of whom will help pick up any blitzes on the part of Thompson.
“He’s really good in the pocket. Strong arm, ball comes out really, really rapidly,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen. “He can throw the ball with the rush around him. He’s not looking for checkdowns in those situations. He can still throw ball down the seams.
“He’s mobile, and although he’s not a ‘runner’ he does a really good job of creating things when things do break down. Very impressed with him. He’s probably the best guy we’ve seen so far.”
Goff’s QBR (89.6) ranks highest among the 97 quarterbacks in FBS who have attempted more than 110 passes, he’s seventh in the country in passing yards (1,875), and has proven just mobile enough to extend plays and find impossibly open receivers, and there are plenty of those in this offense.
Yet, there isn’t a single Cal receiver on the league’s leader list for receptions per game, or for receiving yards per game. There’s a reason for that.
“That’s what [OC Tony] Franklin’s always said: It’s an unselfish offense,” says Hudson. “Somebody’s going to have 10 catches one game. Another player’s going to have 10 catches the next game. It’s going to be spread across the board. That’s the best thing about this team: Nobody cares about that. No one’s focused on getting to the next level. Nobody’s focused on getting to that next step. Everyone’s focused on this, now. Obviously, those are people’s goals, but, right now, it’s winning here, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
What to Watch for on Defense
BACK TO BASICS: DEFENDING THE RUN Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman isn’t shy about saying that the Bears are stronger at defending the run. He said last week that it’s the best thing Cal’s defense has done so far.
“They’re very multiple in their formations, shifts, motions and you’ve got to pay attention to all the little things and get yourself lined up before the snap, and that’s a big thing we’re working on,” says Kaufman. “There’s no question that it’s a different challenge than we’ve seen the past three weeks. It’s more of a pre-snap than it is a post-snap challenge.
“You’ll see probably at least two people, minimum, moving before the ball is snapped, maybe as many as four. You’ve got a guy lined up on the right, he’ll shift to the left, the guy on the left will shift over to the right, so you’ve got to make sure where you’re at. They run the ball. They’ve got some power running game and things we’ve not seen in the last couple weeks.”
In that sense, Washington is not dissimilar from the power running game Cal saw against Arizona, at least for the first three quarters before Nick Wilson went down with injury.
“Different formation and different scheme, but same thought and same idea,” Kaufman says.
Could the Huskies do as linebacker Michael Barton said earlier this week, and, after looking at film, decide to throw the ball more?
“I’m sure they are, and they may do that,” Kaufman says. “I would assume that they’re going to do what they can do to take advantage of any of the weaknesses they can find, and we know that. That’s the thing we’ve got to do: Continue to improve to get to the point where we can take care of ourselves.”
Early this week, the Bears made a point of harping on run fits for linebackers and the defensive line, and for good reason. Think of it as the first week of a freshman class: Reviewing the material you’ve learned in the subject after your final summer break before college cleansed that information from your system.
“We had the emphasis for Arizona, because they were a run team going in, and even Colorado ran the ball, but, for me, coaching the linebackers, I’ve made a much bigger emphasis on run fits this week just because of who we played last week,” said linebacker coach Garret Chachere. “We emphasized so much pass coverage, and we emphasized the run –we always do, and we played the run well the other day – but we’ve got to get back to getting off the blocks and the fits. The run game is an aggressive type of football, so I’m going to coach them aggressively.”
[READ MORE: Espitia Suspension Over]
Those run fits will be of paramount importance because of the bulk of Washington’s offensive line, which averages 320 pounds.
“Probably the biggest group that we’ve faced, thus far, in terms of length and width,” said defensive line coach Fred Tate. “They’re a solid group that will lean on you and get movement. What you’ve got to do is play with great leverage, and continue to play physical and try to match their physicality, and just play smart and play aggressive and play with great leverage.”
Cal is third in the conference in run defense, allowing 117.0 yards per game. Even when taking the 25 carries and 78 rushing yards against Washington State into account, the Bears have also held run-first Arizona to just 107 yards on 32 carries, and Big Ten offense Northwestern to 108 yards on 36 carries, so this run defense definitely has the appearance of being the real deal.
“We just want to win football games. We all would like to play better defense. That’s how the kids look at it and how the coaches look at it,” says Chachere. “We don’t look at it as, ‘Those guys are doing what they’re supposed to do, those guys are struggling’; we’re struggling. As soon as you start thinking somebody’s not doing their job, all of the sudden, you get in a situation where everybody’s looking at you.”
A better attack up front will help hide some of the deficiencies in the secondary, by making sure they don’t have to cover for so long, if indeed Cyler Miles decides to take to the air.
“We were missing assignments up there, too. It’s a team deal. They unfortunately get the brunt of it. We’ll bounce back,” says Chachere. “Those secondary guys have a lot of spotlight on them because everybody can see that. Some of these games, other parts of the defense weren’t doing their job to get to the passer, but nobody sees that. Those seven guys up front get to hide a little bit, and all the folks get to go on those corners and safeties.”
Miles, though, is a very good runner, if a bit young.
“They throw it quite a bit, and when you look at their numbers of passes, there’s probably, if they’re 60 percent run, there’s another 10 percent of those runs that are quarterback scrambles, and he’s quite elusive when he does that,” says Kaufman. “The big thing there is you’ve got to be lined up and know what you’re doing before the snap, because of all the things that they do to work against you if you don’t know what’s going on.
“He will scramble off of his passing game, but it’s a little bit different.”
Cal will have the services of Avery Sebastian back on Saturday, but Stefan McClure will still be a game-time decision.
AVERY-DOWN BACK: It can’t be overstated how important a healthy, explosive Sebastian is to the secondary. The veteran safety registered 11 tackles in a quarter and change in last year’s opener before going down with a torn Achilles, and when he’s been healthy this year, he’s been effective both on defense and special teams.
More than anything, though, is Sebastian’s steadying presence is crucial to a very, very young secondary.
“Understanding everything about your job comes with experience, and that’s a lot of it,” Kaufman says of the secondary’s struggles. “That’s a lot of it. Guys are playing hard, but we’re not playing as experienced as we’ve got to play in order to get the job done. We’ve been fortunate that, offensively, and special teams have been able to bail us out, but we’ve got to continue to grind to be able to get there.
“We had four guys this past weekend that got their first playing time of 15 or more snaps, and that was the first game they’ve really been in -- [David] Garner, [Darius] White and Joel Willis and one more. I remember counting four that got snaps.”
Kaufman has never had as young a group as the one he has now.
“We’ve not had as young a group, and maybe as many shifts or changes with injuries and stuff like that, and that’s probably some of the growing pains we’ve had,” Kaufman says. “We’ve dealt with some of it, but not to this degree.”
Having Sebastian and his back-end experience back on the field could help coverage in blitzing situations, where more inexperienced safeties bit on the run in previous weeks. That will allow the Bears to get more pressure on Miles.
“That’s one of the things you say every week when you plan out your blitz schemes: Are we matching up or are we making a quick death?” says Kaufman. “You have a lot of one-on-one tackles with Washington State, and when you blitz, you have even more one-on-one tackles, and they get the ball out. A lot of it is how do your guys match up with – how do your cover guys match up with their receivers, your blitzers with their protectors and then how does the quarterback handle it? For me, you can’t see that until it’s game day.”
Expect the Huskies to run a lot of two-tight end sets to help with protection and to pick up the blitz, making safety play that much more important.
[READ MORE: Sebastian, Espitia Return]
TWO-BACK SYSTEM: Washington presents similar challenges to Arizona, in that they will try to bounce their runs to the outside, particularly with Dwayne Washington, the more explosive of a pair of backs the Huskies use, with the other being Lavon Coleman.
During the week of prep for the Wildcats, Cal emphasized sealing the edge, and did that fairly well against Arizona. They’ll have to do that again this weekend.
“They’ll run inside and outside; they’ll take what’s there,” says Kafuman. “The thing you’ve got to be able to do is understand your second-level fits.”
That will start up front with the defensive line.
“To me, I watch the run game quite a bit, and I think they’re both really solid run-hard backs that are going to be downhill, run with great pad level, low pad level, and bring it to you,” says Tate. “They kick it outside, but once they get those pads square to the line of scrimmage, they’re tough to bring to the ground. They’ve got a stretch play that they run, they’ve got a pin-and-pull play where they get outside, but those backs get north-and-south very quick on you.”
Coleman, thus far, has been the more productive back, averaging 4.4 yards per carry (8th in the Pac-12), and is the more consistent of the two. Our Chris Fetters says that Coleman is the go-to guy for the Huskies both inside and outside.