Washington and California will be looking to get off to a great start in Pac-12 Conference play as both teams bring highly talented quarterbacks in young freshman Jake Browning for the Huskies and Jared Goff for the Golden Bears. Goff is viewed nationwide as one of if not the best pure pro-style passers in college football.
Washington came into the 2015 season with plenty of questions along the offensive line due to the lack of experience throughout the unit. However, this unit at least from a pass blocking perspective has done a nice job giving Browning an opportunity to make plays in the passing game. California held on for dear life after nearly blowing a 45-24 lead against Texas down in Austin as they needed a missed extra point by Longhorns place kicker Nick Rose in order to escape with a 45-44 win to move to 3-0 on the young season.
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These two teams have a long history with each other going back to the 1904 season as the Huskies lead the series 52-38-4. The Huskies won the last meeting over the Golden Bears 31-7 last October in Berkeley as they had little trouble containing Goff and the high-flying California offense.
California at Washington
Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: California -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Washington running game
The next step for the young offensive line is to create a consistent running game against a quality like California. The Huskies have only run for 29 yards against Boise State and 74 yards on 35 carries against Utah State. The opportunities are going to be there against this Golden Bear defense as they allowed 286 yards on the ground with 163 of them by Texas quarterback Jarrod Heard. It will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith mixes in some fly sweeps with Chico McClatcher to get him out on the perimeter to create some explosive plays. Then countering with Dwayne Washington and Myles Gaskin up the middle and getting to the outside as well. If Smith can stay patient with the run early Washington should be able to get close to 200-225 yards on the ground against this California defense.
2. Can the defense pressure Jared Goff
The Huskies were able to get plenty of pressure a year ago as they limited Goff to 304 yards and made the Golden Bears work for everything that they got in last year’s matchup. The pressure also created three fumbles by Goff and kept him on his heels all game long. There is also the factor of Goff not quite at 100 percent health wise as his ankle was rolled up upon during the Texas game. With Goff’s limited mobility look for defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to turn his front seven loose a bit to pressure Goff enough to get him off of his spot even if it does not result in sacks.
3. Jake Browning taking on one of his hometown schools
Browning, a product of Folsom High School out of the Sacramento area should have a little extra juice on Saturday going up against the Golden Bears. So far Browning is showing that the moment of playing big time college football as a freshman is not too big for him to deal with. As far as the game itself Browning should have plenty of opportunity to make big plays as long as the offensive package continues to open up for him on Saturday. Browning completed 22 of 31 passes for 368 yards for three touchdowns, and one interception to which he responded very well to. Look for Browning to throw for over 300 yards again even as the California defense still has a lot to prove after giving up 650 yards to a struggling Texas offense.
This will be a game that goes well into the fourth quarter before the outcome is decided as both teams should be able to make big plays offensively. However, in evenly matched games where the home team has the better defense that more often than not ends up being the difference maker. Washington has the better defense and look for Azeem Victor and Kieshawn Bierria at linebacker to wreak plenty of havoc in the backfield to slow down the Golden Bears running game. Also, look for the defensive line to get just enough pressure to get Goff off of his spot and out of rhythm to cause a key fumble or interception by the secondary. Finally, look for Washington to get a narrow victory to move to 3-1 and give them some confidence before heading down on Oct. 8 to deal with USC and the chance to battle former head coach Steve Sarkisian.
Prediction: Washington 34, California 30
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter @scottwhittum.