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Cal Game Preview

The Washington Huskies survived their biggest test last weekend on the road against the Utes, but they won’t have the luxury of returning home before having to stop by Berkley to take on the California Golden Bears. Cal has been the antithesis of consistency with tough losses to teams like Oregon State, but wins over the likes of Utah. Coming off a big loss to USC, we’ll see which Cal comes to play this weekend.

A trend I find very interesting is Cal has yet to win consecutive games or lose consecutive games this year. They literally alternate success and failure on a weekly basis. Since they lost last week they should win this week, right? The Washington Huskies beg to differ. But it’s important to remember Cal hasn’t lost at home this season.

A punt return touchdown late in the fourth quarter was the difference in a narrow 31-24 victory for the Dawgs at Utah last week, keeping the Huskies’ perfect season alive. However, that wasn’t enough to earn a top-five spot in the initial College Football Playoff Poll. 

Washington’s 8-0 record is impressive, but they’ve preached a one game at a time mindset from the get-go. This week it’s California that the Huskies will focus their attention on. Here are some Golden Bears to keep an eye on Saturday.

Players to Watch 

#7 SR 6’5” 230-pound QB Davis Webb

2016 stats: 259 of 415 for 2914 yards, 62.4% completion, 29 TD, 8 INT, 140.6 efficiency rating

Scoop: Davis Webb is prototypical quarterback with a massive body and strong arm to boot. He’s effective getting the ball out of his hands capitalizing on screens and quick hitters, but is also capable of the delivering a nice deep ball. His eight interceptions are the most in the PAC-12, but that appears to be a function of Cal’s propensity to throw the ball; his 51.875 attempts per interception rank in the middle third of PAC-12 quarterbacks. He’s also only thrown one pick at home, so expect an efficient and dangerous quarterback under center for the Bears this weekend.

#6 JR 6’2” 205-pound WR Chad Hansen

2016 stats: 59 receptions for 770 yards, 13.1 YPC, 8 TD

Scoop: With little recruiting attention as a high schooler in Idaho, Chad Hansen signed with Idaho State in 2013, where he caught 45 passes as a freshman. I doubt anybody thought he would have 59 receptions in just six games for Cal three years later. His story is just as impressive as his numbers; he leads the PAC-12 in receiving yards as well as receptions despite missing the past two games with an injury. He’s a well-rounded, sure-handed receiver who can make plays deep and pick up yards after the catch when he’s targeted near the line of scrimmage. If he’s ready to go this weekend, he’s sure to be a difference maker.

#8 FR 6’0” 175-pound WR Demetris Robertson

2016 stats: 35 receptions for 469 yards, 13.4 YPC, 6 TD

Scoop: True freshman Demetris Robertson has wasted no time getting acclimated to college football play. He has tremendous speed and is a threat deep, but also is quick and can do some damage after the catch. Where Chad Hansen is a high-volume production receiver, Roberston is a guy who can strike quickly.

#29 SR 5’9” 175-pound RB Khalfani Muhammad

2016 stats: 93 carries for 614 yards, 6.6 YPC, 2 TD

Scoop: As much as Cal likes to throw the ball, they have a very respectable rushing attack that begins with Khalfani Muhammad. He may not be the biggest back the Huskies have faced, but he can wiggle his way through arm tackles and his combination of speed and quickness make him hard to bring down. He also pitches in on kick returns. If the Huskies can’t limit Muhammad and the run game, it will make it that much harder to slow Davis Webb down.

#5 JR 5’11” 195-pound RB Tre Watson

2016 stats: 90 carries for 484 yards, 5.4 YPC, 14 receptions for 186 yards, 6 total TD

Scoop: Tre Watson cohosts the Golden Bear backfield show and brings a diverse skill set to the table. He also isn’t a bruiser, but he can run effectively between the tackles and has the quickness to make guys miss in space. He’s also an exceptional receiver out of the backfield, adding another weapon to his arsenal.

#9 JR 6’3” 280-pound DT James Looney

2016 stats: 37 total tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks

Scoop: The damage Cal is able to do upfront largely needs to be credited to James Looney. He gets fantastic penetration as an interior lineman, clogging up run lanes and even providing some pressure on opposing passers. Even if it isn’t him who ends up making a tackle, a lot of times it’s his activity up front that clears rooms for his teammates to finish the job.

#1 JR 6’3” 230-pound LB Devante Downs

2016 stats: 56 total tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks

Scoop: Cal’s run defense hasn’t been something to right home about, but Davonte Downs has been one of the few bright spots in that area. Off the edge he’s solid in run support as well as pass rush.

#17 6’0” 195-pound JR Luke Rubenzer

2016 stats: 53 total tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 recovered fumbles

Scoop: Former quarterback Luke Rubenzer transitioned well to the defensive side of the ball last season, and with a season of safety under his belt he’s taken his production to the next level. He’s the fourth-leading tackler on the team and he’s responsible for the most takeaways on the entire Golden Bear defense. He’s capable of giving the Dawgs a hard time in both run support and coverage.

#2 6’0” 190-pound JR Darius Allensworth

2016 stats: 12 total tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PD

Scoop: Allensworth broke up 11 passes last year as a first time starter. That could be part of the reason opponents never throw the ball his way. His numbers are low this year, but that can be credited to the lack of balls coming his way and the fact that he’s missed two games. His status is up in the air for the Washington game, and should he not be ready to go Marloshawn Franklin Jr. will step up in his place.

What the Cal Offense Looks Like

Washington Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski informed the media this week that while Cal seems to throw the ball a ton, they run the ball very effectively and call quite a bit of RPOs (run pass options). This allows Davis Webb to read defenses and take what is given to him. His ability to do that effectively has led to some impressive numbers.

Cal’s conference leading total offense, which averages 536.5 yards per game, trails only Washington State in passing yards per game. They also cash in through the air a lot; Webb’s 29 passing touchdowns lead the PAC-12. 

A lot of their success through the air can be credited to their young, talented receiving corps. Bug Rivera is the only senior listed in the two deeps at any receiver position for Cal, and he’s only fifth on the team in receptions. It’s been Chad Hansen, Melquise Stovall, and Demetris Robertson that have been leading the ‘Bear Raid’ attack. Hansen is dangerous outside with his nice hands and solid routes, Robertson’s athleticism makes him a tough cover, and Stovall is a crafty threat out of the slot. Those three have combined for over 1600 yards and 17 touchdowns, but they aren’t the only ones making solid contributions. Nine different Cal players have registered over 10 catches. All of those players also have at least one receiving touchdown. The depth of the receiving corps is very impressive.

They also have a solid line that has a lot of size. Similar to Washington, they love their tall tackles Aaron Cochran and Steven Moore, standing 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-6 respectively. Their long arms make it tough for pass rushers to beat them around the edge and pressure Davis Webb. 

The Golden Bears had a nifty three-headed monster backfield going on before Vic Enwere suffered a season-ending foot injury, but even so Cal has two solid backs left in the stable. Khalfani Muhammad tends to get the most carries of the two, and deservedly so; he is fourth in the conference in rushing. However, Tre Watson’s impact goes beyond running the ball. His four touchdown receptions are third on the team. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him that much more valuable in Cal’s pass-happy offense. But, again, just because they throw the ball a lot doesn’t mean their run game should be taken lightly. The two combine for just shy of 150 yards per game and will be sure to be factors in this one.

They run a staggering 88.8 plays per game which indicates two things. First, they love to go fast and get to the line as soon as they can. Second, they are effective at moving the ball down field and seldom have short drives: only Washington, Washington State, and Stanford have punted fewer times. All this factors into an offense that scores 41.2 points per game.

What the Cal Defense Looks Like

What good is a 41.2 point offense when your defense gives up 41.8 game in and game out? The answer is, not much. And it’s not like those numbers are influenced by extreme values. Cal has given up 40 points of more in six of their eight games so far.

The reason for their lack of success is an inability to stop the run. In an average game, opponents will rush for 286.6 yards and three touchdowns against the Golden Bears while averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Those numbers are all either the worst or tied for the worst in the conference. The next closest defense in yards allowed on the ground is Oregon, but they’ve allowed over 400 fewer yards. And no team has had the opposition run the ball more against them, showing that the secret to success against Cal isn’t much of a secret at all. Their line isn’t necessarily very big, which could be one of the many reasons that teams can find so much success handing off the football.

Their pass defense is their relative strength. They allow the fifth fewest passing yards per game in the PAC-12 and their pass defense efficiency is 128.2. They’re coming away with at least an interception per game on average and are allowing fewer than two passing touchdowns per contest. Their secondary is led by juniors Luke Rubenzer and Darius Allensworth. However, Allensworth’s status is up in the air, which could take some bite out of their defensive strength. It may not matter too much if the Huskies are able to have their way running the ball. 

Keys to the Game

California

1.Take care of the ball - The Huskies nearly paid for missed opportunities at interceptions against Utah last weekend. Davis Webb averages an interception per game. Keeping the ball out of Budda Baker and the boys’ hands could result in taking the Dawgs down to the wire for the second week in a row.

2. Extend drives - The nature of Cal’s quick-strike offense has lead to holding the ball for only about 28 minutes a game. If they aren’t able to put long drives together and have possession at least that long, Washington will gladly run the ball on the Bears’ bad rush defense and take any wind out of their sails.

3. Strike first - The Utes held the Huskies scoreless on their first two drives last week, the first time that's happened to UW all year. With an offense as high powered as Cal’s, two scoreless drives could be devastating for the Dawgs if they happen to get behind on the road.

Washington

1. Get some pass rush - The Huskies have been missing Joe Mathis in the worst way. With no word on when he’s expected to return, Washington will need to find another source of pass rush, especially against a guy who throws the ball as much and as well as Davis Webb. He gets rid of the ball quickly, but when he does step back to throw a longer-developing route UW has to make him pay. 

2. Win the turnover battle - The Huskies lost the turnover battle against Utah for the first time in what feels like forever. The loss in turnover margin almost led to an actual loss on the scoreboard. They probably don’t want to roll their dice with shaky turnover stats on the road again.

3. Take what’s given to you - Cal gives up an absurd number of points per game and rushing yards per game. Scoring on this defense isn’t rocket science. Teams haven't had to go outside their comfort zone to get what they've needed. All Jake Browning has to do is manage the game and not take unnecessary risks. 


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