The timing is not in Cal's favor either. This is the Pac 10 opener for Washington so they should be sky high for this game. Under the Neuheisel regime, UW is 19-5 in Pac 10 play. The Huskies will also be the healthiest that they've been all season, receiving back co-captain and starting weak side guard and long snapper, Elliott Zajac, and veteran tailback, Braxton Cleman. Washington will be without only starting free safety, Jimmy Newell. On the other side of the coin, Cal has been losing one starter per week over the last three weeks. Fortunately, it looks like only Cal's leading tackler from last season, MLB John Klotsche, is out for the season. WLB, Matt Nixon, is recovering rapidly from his sprained knee and should return to action this week. Starting right guard Jon Giesel suffered a sprained knee vs WSU and will probably be unable to go on Saturday.
During the three years of Rick Neuheisel's tenure as the Washington football coach, Cal has lost three extremely close games. In each contest, the Bears held two touchdown leads only to witness the Huskies rally late...
This year's game looks to be a potential "shoot-out" as both teams possess potent offenses. The majority of the yardage on both sides has been generated via the passing game. The Huskies lead the conference with 385 ypg through the air while the Bears stand a respectable fourth with 274 ypg...
To further augment the argument for offensive "fireworks", Cal's defense is ranked last in the Pac 10 in total defense (396 ypg) while Washington's defense rests in the middle of the pack at #5 (337 ypg). However, these stats can be misleading early in the season. The Bears have played 3 strong teams that have been ranked in the top 25 in the nation out of its 5 games thus far while Washington has met only a single formidable opponent, Michigan. The Huskies beat-up on three lower echelon teams: San Jose State, Wyoming and Idaho. However, Washington seemingly used these games to turn around its porous rush defense from a year ago when it finished dead last in the Pac 10. Without playing a Pac 10 foe yet, the Huskies are the best, allowing a meager 92 ypg as compared to Cal's eighth place position of 147 ypg. Both UW and UC's respective secondaries have been weak on pass defense in 2002, yielding an average of 245 and 250 ypg, respectively, to rank eighth and ninth in the league. Both teams allow in excess of 58% completion percentage against them. Only Stanford's defense gives up more yardage per offensive play (5.6) than Cal (5.5) and Washington (5.0)...How do these teams stop first downs? In the second halves of Cal's last two games, the answer to that question is that the Bear's "D" could NOT force its opponent to punt even once...Bad sign.
Cal has established a modus operandi of starting quickly in the first half of games this season , outscoring its opposition 121-22 in the first half. On the other side of the ledger, Cal has been outscored in every game during the third quarter. Washington's best quarter this season has been the third, tripling the score on its opponents. Bad omen. Also, archrivals, UW and Oregon, did not play last season. However, Jeff Tedford's Oregon offenses only scored 20, 23 and 27 ppg in the three prior matchups against the Huskies from 1998-2000.
Cal's Offense vs Washington's Defense
**Offensive Line vs Defensive Line**
The proficient play of the Cal offensive line has been a barometer of the offensive unit's overall success in 2002. The offensive front has only allowed QB Kyle Boller to be sacked 6 times in 5 games, leading the Pac 10 conference. Sophomore right guard, Jonathan Giesel, suffered a sprained knee last Saturday battling against Rien Long of Washington State. In all probability, he will be
unable to participate in Seattle. David Hays replaced him in the third quarter last week. Hopefully, the OL unit can pull together to maintain their collective effectiveness.
Cal's Joe Igber has had big games against UW in two out of three meetings in his career. Washington's "D" only returns 5 starters from last season. Igber actually has the third highest average per carry(4.9) of any tailback in the Pac 10 this season. In four out of five games, Tedford has been successful in getting the ball to Igber in space either running or receiving for super "total offense" numbers of approximately 150 yards per game. For the Bears to be competitive at Washington, similar numbers will need to be generated by Iggy Ziggy.
Kyle Boller experienced his best statistical game of his career last Saturday vs WSU. He effectively mixed up the use of his three regular WRs plus his tight end, keeping the Cougar defense off-balance. Unless the Huskies can continue to register 4 sacks per game (last year-only one vs Cal), the Bears should find success against Washington's secondary especially in the 5-10 yard range. UW has been garnering the majority of /its sacks this year from its two defensive end positions. Kai Ellis(2 sacks and 4 passes batted down), the juco defensive POY in 2000 for CCSF, will matchup vs Cal's best OL, Mark Wilson. Anthony Kelley subs for Ellis and has racked up 3 sacks from the same weak side DE spot. Sacramento's Manese Hopoi (6'4" 255) starts at the strong side DE position and has tallied 4 sacks in four games. Chris Murphy will try to keep him under control.
Advantage: EVEN (due to the absence of Cal's RG Giesel)
**Wide Receivers/Tight Ends vs Secondary**
The two cornerbacks are track sprinters but use poor judgment and poor technique often to get beat. Roc Alexander(4.24 forty) is simply the fastest player in UW history. He'll lock up with LaShaun Ward. On the other side, the matchup will be Husky Derrick Johnson and Cal's "go-to" receiver, Geoff McArthur. In the slot, Washington's Chris Massey will try to blanket the Bear's Jonathan Makonnen. Tedford should attempt to exploit the inexperience of the redshirt freshmen free safeties, James Simms or Evan Benjamin. The Husky enforcer is strong safety, Greg Carothers(6'2" 230)! Bet on a Cal "flea-flicker" play-action pass play early in the game targeted deep down the middle, to attempt to set the tone for the game as well as quiet the crowd...
**Running Backs vs Linebackers**
Neuheisel said in the pre-season that "the linebacking corps is as good as we've ever had." This group has speed. MLB Mahdavi led the Husky "D" last season with 93 tackles (including a team-leading 5 sacks). This year three of the top five tacklers to date are the three starting LBs. Weak side linebacker, Marquis Cooper, is blossoming into the star of the defense. He is 6'4" 215 and runs a 4.4 forty. In 4 games, Cooper has averaged 8 tackles per game (including 2 sacks, 2 TFLs and 1 pick). Cal would appear to have difficulty running wide on this team. The strong side backer is from St Marys HS-Berkeley, Jafar Williams(6'0" 230). He missed last season due to injury. The aggressive Husky defense has averaged just short of 8 TFLs per game (similar to Cal's 7.7 TFL's per contest).
Bottom line: Cal's offense should be able to move the ball consistently against the Huskies. However, Tedford's offense will receive a real test when it reaches the red zone. Cal is tops in the Pac 10 in red zone proficiency, scoring 96% of the time. Washington leads the conference in red zone defense, allowing teams to score on only 58% of their chances inside the twenty...Something has to give! Hopefully, Mark Jensen will continue his field goal accuracy (79%) if needed....
Cal's Defense vs Washington's Offense
**Defensive Line vs Offensive Line**
Although the quality of UW's initial four opponents can be disputed, Rick Neuheisel's offense certainly can control the football. Washington is #2 in the Pac 10 in time of possession(33.5 minutes) and dominates the league in the number of first downs per game( average of 28). Slick Rick's troops also are #1 in total offense(504 ypg) by a whopping margin. Washington is also tops in passing offense(385 ypg) and is matched up this Saturday versus Cal's ninth place pass defense. QB Cody Pickett completes nearly 70%(actually 69%) of his passes, throwing for 377 ypg!
It would seem that Washington's offensive line is much more competent as pass protectors than run blockers. They yielded 1.75 sacks per game in 2001 and are averaging 2 sacks per game so far in 2002. In the run game, Washington only averaged 3.1 ypc last season and is currently on target to repeat that same performance this season. UW has huge linemen-all in excess of 300 pounds-but the Husky running game is rated #7 in the Pac 10, averaging 119 ypg. Their star tailback, Rich Alexis, is really geared for the option. With QB Marcus Tuiasasopo directing an option offense often in 2000, Alexis gained 816 yards while averaging 6.4 ypc. Last season, under a more traditional offensive approach, Alexis's stats dropped way off to 397 yards and 3.1 ypc. Speaking of Tuiasasopo, Marcus's younger brother has been moved from linebacker to starting fullback to help the run game. Zach Tuiasasopo(6'2" 245)is a stud lead blocker and blitz pick-up specialist. He also is dangerous as a pass receiver that sometimes gets "lost" coming out of the backfield...Cal is traditionally a good run defense team, holding the Huskies to a 2.6 average in Berkeley last season. Unless, Alexis breaks one, he'll pound away 20-25 times to give the semblence of a balanced offensive attack. He's averaging 95 ypg (barely over Igber's 89 ypg) in 2002 but his average per carry has risen back to 4.1 ypc. When the Huskies are in the red zone, one of Neuheisel's favorite plays is still the option pitch to Alexis. Now-it's time for his Pac 10 exam.
The pass rush matchups are critical to the outcome of this game. Cal has to generate a consistent pass rush or else. Cody Pickett is "on fire" entering this game with back-to-back 400+ yard explosions. The Bears have roughed up opposing quarterback's for 12 sacks in 5 games. However, Air Force ran the triple option almost exclusively, permitting Cal zero sacks in a handful of pass attempts. More realistically, Cal's front seven has garnered a dozen sacks in 4 games, averaging three! Cal's sack-master, Tully Banta-Cain(6 sacks), will line up opposite Khalif Barnes. Cal's DL did rack up 3 sacks against this same group of Husky OLs last season so there's room for optimism. The combo of Gustaveson(1 sack) and Cherry(2.5) will share time at strong side DE versus Nick Newton. Cal's top four defensive tackle rotation has combined for only 1 sack by Josh Beckham. Their primary function is to stop the run but they need to step it up with more pressure on the QB. Cal will need to be conscious of "contain", too, because ex-rodeo rider, Cody Pickett, is fearless and runs with 4.57 forty speed.
**Linebackers vs Running Backs**
Cal's linebacker corps lost two starters for the Washington State loss and it showed. The replacements, MLB Marcus Daniels and WLB Wendell Hunter, are faster but lack the savy of veteran multi-year starters, Klotsche and Nixon. Even so, Hunter was voted defensive player of the week by Cal. He's only a sophomore so he has a very bright future. Nixon should be back to share duties with Hunter this week. Marcus Daniels and Matt Nixon both average 6 tackles per game to lead the defensive front. Cal's two safeties, Nmamdi Asomugha and Bert Watts, are next in tackles with in excess of 5 per contest. Paul Ugenti and Calvin Hosey have split time at strong side OLB with solid results. Ugenti possesses superior speed for pass coverage chores while Hosey is more physical(6'4" 235), creating havoc as a pass rusher.
**Secondary vs Wide Receivers/Tight Ends**
Washington's WR talent is second to nobody in the Pac 10 and very few teams in the nation. They have depth-six WRs average in excess of 2 receptions per game. Their top three are all ex-Prep DreamTeamers. AA Reggie Williams(6'4" 220)is similar to Charles Rodgers of Michigan State. He's a big target with blazing speed who whupped the NFL Draft's #1 cornerback, Texas's Quentin Jammer, on multiple occasions in last year's Holiday Bowl. His skills are already being compared to Randy Moss. The #2 guy that scorched Cal for two long TD receptions last season in Berkeley is Paul Arnold. He was rated the third best prep running back in the nation a few years ago. The slot receiver is Charles Frederick(4.3) or ET from Florida prep fame. ALL THREE CAN TAKE IT TO THE HOUSE! Cal will have to play predominantly zone if they want to keep the ball in front of them and force Pickett to drive it down the field. Otherwise, it will be reminiscent of last year with James Bethea matched up on Arnold while Jemeel Powell attempts to slow down Williams . The slot matchup against Harrison Smith is the worst because of Frederick's blinding speed. Hopefully, the Bears will assign Donnie McCleskey, a natural cornerback, to the task this week. The biggest surprise this season has been the emergence of tight end, Kevin Ware, with 17 receptions (including 3 Tds) in 4 games. He has speed to run deep patterns that either Asomugha or Watts will have to be cognizant of at all times. If the University of Washington OL can give Pickett time to survey the field (his biggest shortcoming is still that he locks on to his primary receiver), then the game could get "out-of-control" quickly. If the Bears force a third and long situation, don't get too excited, Cal fans, because the Huskies lead in third-down conversions, too, with a 54% success rate.
Bottom line: The question seems to be can the Washington offense be held to 30 points (their average last season) or will they score 35.5 ppg, this year's average, or more. Hopefully, Cal can stop the run, sack the quarterback and create some turnovers to keep the game competitive. Thankfully, Cal is quite adept at scoring as well.
Both teams have strong special teams units across the board. Both placekickers are extremely accurate. Both punters are inconsistent but possess the capability to get the job done well. Cal surprisingly is #1 in the Pac 10 in kick-off returns (25.8 ypa) and #2 in punt returns (15.2 ypa). Washington is number three in KO returns but last in punt returns. The Bears coverage units are strong as well. The kickoff coverage unit is currently #3(18.9 ypa) while Washington's languishes in ninth place(23.8 ypa). Cal and Washington have return personnel that can take it the distance if someone misses a tackle.
In summary, Washington is a typical Pac 10 team this season in that they can "light up the scoreboard" but cannot always stop the opposition... Cal has taken it to the extreme, however. The Bears are the only Pac 10 team that gives up more yardage (396 ypg) than they gain (390 ypg). One statistic that was a surprise was that the Huskies are the least penalized team in the Pac 10. Discipline and Neuheisel just don't seem compatible, do they? Cal's hope in this game is the turnover margin. This penchant for creating opposition turnovers while taking care of the football like it was your newborn child, HAS BEEN THE KEY TO THE TEAM'S TURNAROUND THIS SEASON SO FAR! Cal is now #2 in the Pac 10 with an average of +2.2 TOs per game as opposed to UW's #9 position of -0.5 TOs per game. I believe it was ex-NFL head coach, George Allen, who said: "give me three turnovers and I'll beat you every time." GO BEARS!
MY PREDICTION: Washington 34, California 24.