Saturday night, on the shores of Lake Washington, the 2021 Pac-12 schedule will begin for the California Golden Bears (1-2) and the Washington Huskies (1-2). Both teams have had a tough start to the season and will look to make the most of a fresh start as they meet for the 100th time.
California scored over 30 points for the second consecutive week as the Golden Bears outlasted Sacramento State 42-30 on Saturday afternoon at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Chase Garbers went 22-of-34 and passed for two touchdowns while adding 68 yards and another score on the ground. Damien Moore rushed for 89 yards on 12 carries with two touchdowns. Jeremiah Hunter and Trevon Clark led the receivers, as the duo combined for nine receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Golden Bears surrendered 408 passing yards, which was disconcerting for head coach Justin Wilcox. The run defense was on point in limiting the Hornets to just 59 rushing yards on 22 attempts.
Washington had their backs against the wall heading into their matchup Arkansas State, and they stepped up and responded with a 52-3 victory on Saturday afternoon. The offense showed signs of life after a pair of horrendous efforts in losses to Montana and Michigan. Dylan Morris was 23-of-39 for 367 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Overall, there was a nice level of aggressiveness with the passing game that will hopefully continue moving forward. Jalen McMillan had a huge day with 10 receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown, while receivers Taj Davis and Terrell Bynum combined for 158 receiving yards and a touchdown. The defense bounced back regarding stopping the run as they held the Red Wolves to 55 rushing yards on 23 attempts for a 2.4 yard per carry average. They also did a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage after a rough night in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines.
California at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington -8
When California Has the Ball
Patience will be important for the Golden Bears if they want to attempt to establish the run first as Michigan did in Week 2. Moore should see 15-20 carries, and he is off to a solid start this season at is averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 41 attempts through three games. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will give Garbers some designed quarterback bootleg type of runs to slow down the Huskies pass rush. Execution on third down is going to be key for California, as it will likely need to convert 50 percent or higher this week in order to get a win in Seattle.
Washington will need to control the line of scrimmage and force Garbers into the long yardage passing type of situations that will allow them to get off the field. Brendan Radley-Hiles led the Husky defense on Saturday with nine tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery. Despite the optics of the Michigan loss, there are several reasons to be encouraged about this Washington defense after three weeks. The Huskies sit at the top of the Pac-12 in scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, first down defense, and third-down efficiency defense. As for Saturday night, it’s all going to boil down to matching the physicality of the Golden Bears offensive line along with quality execution.
When Washington Has the Ball
Head coach Jimmy Lake needs to adjust his coaching mindset and accept that offense wins in this era of college football. The hire of offensive coordinator John Donovan has been below average at best, and, with nine games remaining, Lake and Donovan have to save this broken offense that continues to hold this program back. McMillan, Bynum, and Cade Otton are Washington's best offensive weapons, and Lake and Donovan might as well ride those guys, win or lose.
California must shore up its issues in the secondary if the Golden Bears are going to make some noise in the Pac-12 North race in 2021. They are allowing 318 passing yards per game and 448.3 yards total yards to opposing offenses. In comparison, Washington is only allowing 298.0 yards per game heading into conference play. Putting extra pressure on Morris this week would be a good place to start, so keep an eye on Cameron Goode, who leads California with two sacks this season. The Golden Bears have also had their issues with third-down defense; teams have converted 48.08 percent of their opportunities. That has put Cal's defense in tough spots as they eventually wear down in the second half.
The under of 44.5 has the feel of a safe bet this week since the last time these two teams combined for at least 50 points was way back in 2016 when Washington beat California 66-27 in Berkeley. The last time these two teams played at Husky Stadium was back in 2019, with the Golden Bears grinding out a 20-19 win over the Huskies. That type of approach is going to be the key to victory for both teams because neither can ill afford to get destroyed in the turnover battle. In the end, Washington has the better defense, and that will be enough for them to grind out a hard-fought win to get back to a 2-2 record on the season.
Prediction: Washington 24, California 17
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