Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Andrew Wild, sports editor of The Daily Californian, and Josh Kirshenbaum, sports editor at the Daily of University of Washington. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s the biggest difference between last year’s playoff team and this year’s?
On offense it’s definitely the absence of receiver John Ross. He was a deep threat and a good enough deep threat that even when he wasn’t getting the ball, defenses had to game-plan around him. You had to push your safeties back and push your corners back, which opened up the running game and opened up the mid-level passing game and the screen game. Now that he’s gone, they’ve taken a few deep shots, but they’ve had to change up the offensive targets.
On defense, they look pretty similar. Last year’s defense was split between the first half, when they had Joe Mathis, and the second half when he was hurt. In the second half, the pass rush couldn’t create havoc with just four rushers. They had to do more blitzes, and this year’s defense looks a lot more like that, where they have to scale up the pressure.
How has the team gone about replacing the production of three secondary members who went to the NFL?
They’ve gone about it very well to be blunt. They had to replace three second-round picks (Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones). The guys they chose (to step in) have done a phenomenal job. It took a hit two weeks ago because Byron Murphy, one of the cornerbacks, had a great opener against Rutgers, and within three games, offenses were completely avoiding him, but then he broke his foot in practice and is out.
Jordan Miller has stepped up and been very good at the corner, and Austin Joyner has filled in for Murphy and has a little more experience and has filled in very well. Myles Bryant came in for Budda Baker and has been amazing. It’s a lot of new faces but they’ve picked up exactly where the last guys stopped off.
What is quarterback Jake Browning’s best skill?
It’s his mental game. I know all the TV commentators will talk about the mental side of things too, but it really is true. I think the best thing is that example is that if you watched the Oregon State game, they got into a fourth-and-10, and they decided to go for it. At the line of scrimmage, Browning saw they completely loaded up the strong side and checked the play into a run. You never see an audible to a run on fourth down but it’s something the coaches trusted him to do, and he trusts himself, and the play went for 20 yards and they scored a few plays later.
He’s the best I’ve ever seen at reading defenses and making changes at the line of scrimmage and creating matchups that will make guys open and then finding those open receivers.
What is it about head coach Chris Petersen that has let him turn around the program so quickly?
This Petersen, he’s pretty good. It’s really the mentality. Going from Steve Sarkisian to Petersen is probably the greatest culture shock you can have. He came in and absolutely laid down the law and made a decision almost immediately that anybody who didn’t go by his standards would be out, no matter how good they were. Within a year, the team’s mindset was his mindset, and he got the team to completely buy into the selflessness and the work ethic.
The biggest factor is whether Washington’s offense can put together big plays against Cal’s defense. That was one of the factors in last year’s matchup, but both teams are different. I can’t see UW scoring less than 40 points, and I say it goes 40-21.