Seattle, WA ─ The only thing colder than the brisk nighttime air at Husky Stadium on Saturday night was the ruthlessness with which No. 6 Washington feasted on Cal football, showing the world just why they deserve their ranking, in a demolition of the Bears, 38-7. Quarterback and probable Heisman candidate Jake Browning led the Huskies, going 27-40 for 215 yards and two passing touchdowns (with one more on the ground), while Cal’s Ross Bowers struggled, finishing 11-18 for 80 yards. The Bears’ third straight loss dropped them to 0-3 in Pac-12 play and 3-3 overall.
The first half went more or less as expected. The Washington defense pressured Cal to no end, forcing four sacks, as well as a Patrick Laird fumble. The Huskies’ offense was solid, gaining 221 total yards, behind Browning’s 17 completions for 143 yards and two touchdowns (one on the ground). The crowd at Husky Stadium was electric, likely contributing to the show of ineptitude put on by Cal as the Huskies sprinted to a 24-0 lead.
Cal gained a first down on its first drive with two passes to Laird, but the Bears would punt on their second set of downs. In response, Browning did what he does best, methodically leading his offense downfield and picking the Cal defense apart en route to a touchdown. Using three different running backs on the ground and completing passes to three different receivers, the Huskies showcased their depth from the get-go. An 11-yard Browning pass to tight end Hunter Bryant found Washington up after its first possession.
The Cal offense completely stagnated from there, with the following five drives consisting of four three-and-outs and the aforementioned fumble. The Huskies line did a brilliant job pressuring Bowers, breaking down the pocket ─ and exposing the inexperience of Cal’s offensive line ─ numerous times, even when only rushing their front three.
Cal finished the half with 43 total yards, and -19 rushing. Without reliable slot receiver Kanawai Noa, and deep threat Demetris Robertson out for the season, Bowers’ options were limited, but his (lack of an) offensive line was clearly his biggest obstacle.
“Things on the offensive line have got to be better. They’ve done some good things. Not every sack is on the offensive line,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “We’ve got to do a better job at the quarterback position in terms of working the side of the field, going through our reads and delivering the ball where it should go.”
The Cal defense played reasonably well through the rest of the first quarter, holding the Huskies to a punt and a missed field goal on their other two first-quarter drives. But Browning wasn’t discouraged, leading three second-quarter scoring drives ─ a field goal, a 21 yard rush on a quarterback keeper, and a handoff to halfback Myles Gaskin from eight yards out.
After failing to get out of their own half all but one time against Oregon in the first half last week, the Cal offense somehow managed to outdo itself. Against the Ducks, Cal was able to get into its opponent’s half on its own doing, as a Jordan Kunaszyk interception set up a touchdown. On Saturday, it wasn’t even the defense that moved the ball into Husky territory for the Bears, but rather the referees.
Ross Bowers found Gavin Reinwald for 14 and a first down at the Cal 49 on the final drive of the half. Bowers was sacked on the next play for a loss of 13, and a dump to Laird on second down gained six. Then on third down an incomplete pass toward Laird was upgraded 15 yards and into Washington’s half on a personal foul penalty with one second remaining in the half.
The half culminated on a laughable 60-yard field goal attempt by Matt Anderson ─ as opposed to a desperation hail Mary that Bowers attempted two weeks ago against USC ─ that missed well short.
The teams traded punts to open the second half, and Browning added another touchdown on the Huskies’ second drive, this time finding linebacker Jusstis Warren ─ who had reported eligible as a fullback ─ wide open for a 2 yard dump to the right side of the endzone.
It took until there was 1:07 remaining in the third quarter for Cal to put any points on the board, as Darius Allensworth recovered a fumble forced by James Looney, and took it 37 yards to the house. This was followed by a another risky special teams play, an onside kick that Cal illegally recovered inside of 10 yards, giving the ball to Washington. Gaskin capped the ensuing short-yardage drive with his second rushing score of the night.
Browning was removed from the game for the final 10 minutes, and the second string finished the job for Washington. Bowers, too, was benched ─ for Chase Forrest ─ with nine minutes to go.
The Bears will attempt to recapture their early season form when they return to action on Friday, hosting No. 11 Washington State.
“This won’t be a typical week, obviously being on a short week,” Wilcox said. “I think we’re going to find out more about our team in the next 48 hours than at any other point since I’ve been here.”
Vikram Muller covers football. Contact him at [email protected].