How convincing was Cal’s 49-7 blowout win over Oregon State that this team can turn its season around?
Christie Aguilar: It is hard to be fully convinced that Cal — a team riddled with inconsistency and with a tough schedule ahead of it — can turn its season around. Yes, the Bears did what they were supposed to do and manhandled the worst team in the Pac-12, but Cal has still failed to rake in a truly significant win.
Josh Yuen: Yeah, it was nice, but Oregon State is nowhere near the five-headed monster that is the rest of Cal’s schedule this season. The 49 points were equally as appealing as the 7 points surrendered were, but until the team starts to punch the ball into the end zone against elite defenses, I am skeptical that Cal’s rhythm last Saturday wasn’t just temporary. Three or four touchdowns should be an absolute minimum if Cal is to take down Washington.
Sophie Goethals: After three straight losses to Pac-12 foes, it was an absolutely essential win and could swing the pendulum back in favor of a bowl game, but it by no means was a win that convinces me that the Bears will be able to pull off a bowl berth. Oregon State is, quite frankly, not very good — and a win over the Beavers is therefore not very impressive. Cal is going to have to pull a win off against a big-name opponent for it to prove that it has actually recovered from those three losses.
Andrew Wild: Beating up on the division’s basement-dwellers isn’t impressive on its own, but the way Cal got back on track in some of its problem areas was impressive and worth noting going forward. If the offense can find a consistent passing rhythm behind Garbers and the defense can sustain a pass rush, the team has a chance to do big things.
What kind of outing do you expect from Chase Garbers (and also Brandon McIlwain) against Washington?
CA: Garbers is a player who, game in and game out, is praised for his poise. If he maintains this poise, he can get Cal’s offense in rhythm and get some solid drives going for the Bears. He’ll need running back Patrick Laird to get the ball moving on the ground, however, as offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin is set on an RPO-heavy scheme. As for McIlwain, I like what he brings to the table; he’ll likely be called upon to run the ball on third and shorts, but I doubt for much else.
JY: While Garbers and McIlwain have exchanged starts in recent weeks, I anticipate Justin Wilcox rolling the dice a bit against a Washington defense that surrenders just a shade more than 15 points per contest. Think back to the BYU win during Week 2, when Cal started Garbers but relied on McIlwain in a variety of short yardage and goal-line packages. Garbers needs to find a rhythm early and keep up his confidence before this one gets out of hand.
SG: Let’s be honest — the Washington defense is not the Oregon State defense, and while Garbers was able to break down the latter, it won’t be so easy with the former. I’m expecting Garbers to show more composure and pick out good passes, but I’m a little reticent to say he’ll show us the same prowess he did against the Beavers. I think we’ll see less of McIlwain in this game, with a few running spurts generating yardage for Cal.
AW: I have been highly critical of the quarterbacks this season, but Garbers impressed with some throws I had never seen him make before. No doubt, he had some poor throws that led to good results by chance (like his horrific underthrow to Vic Wharton III in the first quarter that Wharton managed to haul in for 55 yards), but he also made some quick throws on slants over the middle — the exact sort of intermediate play the Bears have been in desperate need of. If he commits to plays like that, Garbers should impress.
Fact or fiction: Cal’s defense will hold Washington’s offense to less than 350 total yards.
JY: Fact — especially if Myles Gaskin does not play. A low-scoring affair isn’t out of the question between these two defensive-minded squads. Jake Browning doesn’t have the same weapons that he used to, and Cal’s defense is playing at an all-time high for the decade. Turnovers may play a factor in gifting the Huskies opportunities, but the Bears defense should hold its own for the most part.
SG: Fiction. While the Cal defense is undoubtedly talented, the Washington offense is just too efficient to be held to less than 350 yards.
AW: Fact. Jake Browning is talented but extremely mistake-prone, and if this defense does anything well, it’s punish quarterbacks’ mistakes. If Washington can sustain drives, it will hit the 350 mark, but I wouldn’t be surprised by a Luke Falk-style meltdown for Browning.
Washington has struggled in special teams this season, while Cal has excelled. How much will special teams play a factor Saturday?
CA: I’m sure Cal’s special teams units are happy that players such as Dante Pettis, who was just downright nasty on punt return, are no longer on the roster. Washington doesn’t have those same explosive pawns it once did, but Cal’s special team isn’t full of Pettis-caliber athletes, either. All in all, I don’t think special teams are going to make or break this game.
JY: If an upset is going to happen, the Bears need to win at least two of the three facets — offense, defense, special teams. The Huskies have struggled to contain on kickoffs, and their kicker Peyton Henry may still be dealing with the cloud of his missed kick against Oregon two weeks ago. Ashtyn Davis, Nikko Remigio and Greg Thomas need to be ready to make plays that could be a huge difference-maker in this one.
SG: While special teams is undeniably an important facet of the game, I don’t think it will be the deciding factor in this game. When you get down to it, the Bears offense is going to need to be able to hold its own and consistently produce, otherwise any positive impact that special teams will make won’t be enough to offset turnovers and offensive lapses.
AW: I’m still highly suspicious of Cal’s special teams. I think they take too many risks going east-west and giving opportunities to defenders to land huge hits, and against more talented teams, it could come back to bite them. I have a hard time seeing special teams be a big part of Cal’s hypothetical victory.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, will Cal get to six wins by season’s end?
CA: Since I have been a student at UC Berkeley, Cal has always had “The Upset.” In 2016, Texas. In 2017, Washington State. I think Cal is due to notch its “upset” win sometime soon, and then the Bears just need to bag one of two winnable games in either WSU or Colorado. So, yes, I see Cal finishing 6-6.
JY: Rightfully, the Bears aren’t favored in any of their remaining contests at this moment. That doesn’t mean one win is out of the question, but two? The team really needed to secure a win over Arizona or UCLA to convince me that a postseason trip was in the books, but it’s more of a 50/50 toss-up now. I’ll go with six wins on the nose, since nothing ever seems to go as predicted down the stretch in this conference.
SG: It’s looking more and more doubtful to me. The Bears had an easier schedule at the start of this season, but their remaining games are going to be much tougher. I’m not sure they can eke out two more against some of the strongest teams in the Pac-12.
AW: Before the season, I thought Cal had a chance to reverse the jinx and beat Stanford at home. If the team plays like it did through much of the start of the season, that’s not true and it has no shot. If it can right the ship and take the second-year leap under Wilcox many expected, wins against the Cardinal and Colorado at home are a possibility.
Christie Aguilar, Josh Yuen, Sophie Goethals and Andrew Wild are the 2018 football beat writers.