Monday Night Musings

Saturday afternoon in Berkeley was a beautiful sight to see. It didn’t start out too keenly, as the California Golden Bears methodically drove the ball downfield on their second drive of the ball game. With the ball placed inside the one yard line, sophomore sensation Jared Goff quickly took the snap and leaped onto the backs of his offensive linemen, and the game changed for good.

While Goff leapt, the ball squirted out of his hands and catapulted directly into the mitts of No. 7, Shaq Thompson.

If you are Cal, the one guy on the Husky defense you probably don’t want to give the ball to is that guy - the one that spurned you for UW. And sure enough, Thompson snagged the errant lob, raced out of his own end zone, pirouetted out of one tackle at around the 12-yard line, then came to full speed quickly and sprinted down the sideline to the house.

Just like that, it was Washington 6, Cal 0. Cameron Van Winkle’s extra point made it 7-0 and the home crowd was stunned, as was the Bears sideline.

And the Husky bench was electrified.

That play was huge, but more importantly, the Huskies were able to take full advantage of the miscue. On the next Cal turnover, courtesy of a botched read-option by Goff where he mishandled the exchange with the running back, the Huskies threw a dagger at Cal in the form of a perfectly delivered Cyler Miles spiral to tight end Joshua Perkins for a touchdown.

Miles stood in the pocket, let the rush bear down on him (pun intended), and let it fly with a linebacker in his face. He didn’t even get to see the touchdown throw as he was belted to the turf, but it was a nicely thrown aerial that hit Perkins in stride as he flashed across the hashes.

Washington 13, Cal 0. Another Van Winkle extra point and it was 14-0 and Cal was on the ropes.

Still, the Huskies defense had to shut down the Cal offensive juggernaut.

And shut it down they did, holding them down again and again. The pressure that the front four was getting on Goff was outstanding, allowing the Huskies to drop seven men into coverage against five receivers. Danny Shelton caved the interior while Hau’oli Kikaha was his unblockable self on the edge, racking up another three sacks on Saturday. His 10 sacks lead the country as does his 13.5 tackles for loss. He is a guy that defensive coordinators must account for on every snap.

Cal entered the game leading the league in most offensive categories, but they could not penetrate the Husky defense.

The game was clinched by the offense in the second quarter when they went on a methodical clock-killing 14-play 88 yard drive for a touchdown that took almost six minutes to complete. When Miles threw another dart on a crossing pattern, this time from 11-yards out to DiAndre Campbell, the Huskies stood tall with a 21-0 lead.

And any possible doubt was quickly erased when John Ross III caught an inside slant screen pass, darted across the field and turned the corner in front of his own bench and outraced the entire Cal secondary en route to an 86-yard touchdown that sent some fans to a very early exit out of Memorial Stadium.

This Husky team looked revitalized after a bye week, and there were two notable changes on this team.

• The offensive plan was trimmed down considerably, and that helped not only Cyler Miles, but also the offensive line. The protections were better, and Miles looked a lot more purposeful when he dropped back. He didn’t panic because there was more knowledge of the playbook. The game slowed down considerably for Miles, partially because no one will mistake Cal’s defense for Stanford, but also in some part to #10 being more comfortable within the confines of the offense. He had more reps with fewer plays on his sheet, and that helped him tremendously. Over the past two weeks he took a big step up.

• The defense is getting more pressure on the defensive line. The stunts and realignments from Kikaha, Shelton, Hudson, and Hudson are working. Those guys are disrupting the pocket and holding their ground against the rush, which allows the Husky linebackers to be much more active. Coach Kwiatkowski only called two blitzed in each half of the Cal game, which means the majority of the time the Huskies were able to blanket the field with seven men in coverage. That is a huge advantage to your secondary when they get that much help.

Good teams take advantage of the other team’s mistakes, and Washington absolutely buried the Golden Bears for their mishaps on Saturday. That was a good Husky team we saw. They played with confidence in themselves, with trust in their coaches, and with precision in their execution. The defense looked good against Stanford but they looked even better against Cal. Never did the Huskies look out of position. Their coaches put them in good positions to take advantage of the two beasts up front, Shelton and Kikaha, and when fortune came their way they pounced on the ball. Washington leads the nation in take-aways.

Now comes a bigger road hurdle – the Oregon Ducks. Oregon went into the Rose Bowl on Saturday and ripped UCLA’s heart out. It wasn’t even close until the end when UCLA scored a barrage of points to make the final score more palatable, but the Ducks won big.

Marcus Mariota is an incredible leader and athlete, and UCLA didn’t have an answer for him. Washington will need to be more than solid up front against Oregon, as Mariota has more foot speed than all seven of the Husky defenders in the back end. If you lose contain, it can be a 40-yard gain by the time you corner him again. Travis Feeney and John Timu are going to really be tested. The Ducks have a bevy of weapons to choose from, and Mariota doesn’t throw many interceptions.

Is the Husky defense ready for this exam? I think so.

Will Cyler Miles remain as cool and confident in the nasty confines of Autzen Stadium? UCLA’s Brett Hundley was the most accurate passer in the Pac-12 headed into last weekend’s clash with the Ducks, but he threw a crippling interception. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon’s All-American cornerback, baited the normally unflappable Hundley into throwing an ill-advised seam route. When Hundley pulled the trigger, Ekpre-Olomu jumped the route, made the interception and ran it all the way down to inside UCLA’s 10 yard line. That turnover cemented the Oregon win as it led to another Duck touchdown that made it a commanding 35-10 lead.

It will be crucial for Jonathan Smith to game plan such that Cyler isn’t asked to get too fancy with the Duck secondary. Miles took several steps forward last weekend. Now it’s up to him to hold serve against a much better defense. He takes very good care of the football, and that fact, combined with the play of the defense, should keep the Huskies closer than the 19-point spread indicated by what Vegas is thinking.

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