Justin Wilcox didn't hold back in his assessment of his California Golden Bears' ugly overtime loss to the sad-sack Colorado Buffaloes last week.
"Terrible loss," the Cal head coach told reporters after the 20-13 decision. "No excuse for the performance.
"There's nothing good about the run game. We played bad football … especially on offense, and there's no excuse for that."
Wilcox was steamed.
"It's very hard to win at this level scoring one touchdown," he continued. "You've got to put the ball in the end zone, and credit to them … they did it more than we did."
That wasn't supposed to happen for California against the struggling Pac-12 rival. Colorado's first win of the campaign left Cal 0-3 away from home on the 2022 calendar.
But at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley — where the Bears get set to play the Washington Huskies late Saturday — they have a flipped script of 3-0.
So it's a chance for Wilcox and 3-3 Cal to get right — and happy — after last week's debacle in Boulder.
And for all Washington's successes this season, it has yet to win on the road, giving the Bears all the more reason to believe in a bounce-back. The Huskies (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) come into this game with both of their losses coming away from Seattle – to the now-No. 9 UCLA Bruins and the Arizona State Sun Devils.
“Huge week for us,” Washington head coach Kalen Deboer told reporters, coming off a fifth straight home win in Week 7 — a 49-39 smack of the Arizona Wildcats. “Going on the road is always tough, and going to Cal is always tough. Coach Wilcox will have his guys motivated.”
He's got their attention with his anger anyway.
Washington at California
When Washington Has the Ball
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. just seems to get better and better. A surprise on the national scene since his arrival over the off-season in the Pacific Northwest, he is tops in the nation with 2,560 passing yards. That's 365.7 per game, to go along with 20 touchdown passes against just four interceptions.
And those numbers bumped big time last week when Penix put a school-record 516 total yards on 36-of-44 passing against Arizona. He also accounted for five TDS in the win, including four with his arm. The total yard count topped Marcus Tuiasosopo's record of 608 yards and Cody Pickett's passing mark of 455.
"It's not just about what he did statistically," DeBoer, who's also in his first season as UDub's sideline boss after leading Fresno State to a 9-3 mark last fall. told reporters. "He just keeps putting the pressure on and leading the charge to help us win the football game. We needed all those points and all those yards that he gave us."
Penix believes the performance wasn't a one-time thing, either.
"On account of this offense we have and the guys we have around me," said Penix, "we could put up those numbers every week."
He's right. He's got weapons galore.
Rome Odunze himself set a school record with a fourth consecutive 100-plus-yard receiving game last week. The sophomore caught nine balls from Penix for 169 yards and two TDs. One score came on a 45-yard circus catch and another an even longer trip to paydirt of 48 yards.
"He's certainly special," said DeBoer of Odunze. "He brings that size and that strength. What I've seen of him, based on last year's film and even spring ball, I feel so much more confident with the 50-50 balls and him finding a way.
"He can run by people, as we saw in the one touchdown catch he bobbled a little bit. He can get behind a defense. But I've seen it in practice, throughout fall camp, throughout the season: Give him a chance, and he'll find a way."
The Cal defense can't ignore freshman Ja'Lynn Polk or Jalen McMillan either. Polk nearly cracked the 100-yard mark on four catches against Arizona, while McMillan caught six balls for 77 yards and — with 530 receiving yards on the year — isn't far behind Odunze's 693, which is second in the Pac-12 behind Jacob Cowing's 737 with Arizona.
It doesn't help Cal's coverage that starting cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns III is questionable with an undisclosed injury after limping off last week against Colorado.
When California Has the Ball
After last week's offensive woes, Wilcox went out and got what he hopes is help. He drew in long-time offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, with an aim to help shore up the blocking — an area Wilcox took issue with after last Saturday.
"He joined us Sunday," Wilcox told reporters. "He's an extra set of eyes and a person who's universally respected, not only as an offensive line coach but as an offensive coach. Eyes and ears and maybe a little fresh perspective.
"Any chance to help make the program better."
Greatwood has decades of NCAA experience, having coached at Oregon, USC, and Maryland before being with Cal from 2017-19. He was also an NFL guy with the Los Angeles Rams.
"The offense starts at the line of scrimmage," Wilcox said. "You can't run a run play or a pass play very effectively if you don't start up front. Generally speaking, you have to block the people up front in the run and pass game, and we didn't do a good enough job of that (Saturday), and their front got after our front."
That should've made it rough on Cal quarterback Jack Plummer, but the senior didn't have a bad day all things considered — 29-of-52 for 262 yards, one TD and one INT.
But the rushing game was a dud, with just 35 yards to show from the loss in Colorado.
And worse for Plummer and Cal is the status of receiver Jeremiah Hunter, who leads the team in catches (30) and receiving yards (448). He's a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury.
They might be relying on redshirt freshman receiver J.Michael Sturdivant, who made a diving 14-yard TD catch for the only points last week, and others to step up in Hunter's absence.
However, Plummer does get things done, with at least 260 yards and a touchdown-plus in each of his last four efforts.
Can Plummer, Wilcox, and Greenwood find more points and remain perfect at home?
That could well depend on that matchup in the trenches when Cal has the ball.
The porous offensive line, which has allowed 18 sacks in six contests, plays right into the strength of the Huskies' defense — its pass rush, which has 20 sacks to its credit.
But Washington's D as a whole has struggled recently, having allowed 526 yards at home to Arizona last week and 124 points combined over the last three games, which has included the team's only two losses.
So there's room for offense from Cal in trying to keep up with the Penix-led attack.
"It's a performance-based business, for the coaches and players alike," said Wilcox. "We have made a couple adjustments with our lineup this season, and there's a potential that could still evolve this week and in coming weeks."
He hopes it evolves enough this week to stay above .500 and move to 2-2 in conference play.
DeBoer, meanwhile, wants a sixth win on the season and to improve to 3-2 in Pac-12 action.
"I know we'll be up to the challenge," DeBoer said. "We know Cal, and going on the road there, in particular, is a tough feat for us over the years and historically."
It should be a good one.
Prediction: Washington 42, California 27
*Price as of publication.