It was nearly a year ago when Cal football inside linebacker Evan Weaver was flying through the air en-route to the game-winning touchdown against then-No. 15 Washington. It marked the first time Cal beat the Huskies at home since 2008, helped the Bears get into the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl and breathed life into a rivalry gone stale.
Saturday, Cal travels north to take on now-No.14 Washington under the hostile lights of Husky Stadium. Both teams earned victories against an FCS team in Week 1, asserting their dominance ahead of the first Pac-12 battle of the 2019 season.
“We know Washington is an excellent team, and it’s going to be a hell of a challenge for us. But our guys are excited for that,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “That’s why you come to Cal, to play games like this. For us, it’s going to take really good clean football.”
The Bears eased into their first game against UC Davis a week ago, falling into a 10-0 hole with three first-half turnovers. Cal rebounded late in the second quarter to take a 13-10 lead, but the rough start could have sunk the Bears had they been playing stiffer competition.
“We have to take care of the ball, we have to make great decisions with it,” Wilcox said. We have to have great ball security. We have to create some explosive plays on offense, limit the explosives on defense and play good fundamental football.”
A pair of career highs in yardage from quarterback Chase Garbers and running back Christopher Brown Jr. negated a fumble and Garbers’ interception. Garbers is hoping to get off to a fast start and channel the ghost of Jared Goff, who was the last quarterback to leave Seattle victorious after throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns in 2015.
Washington, however, has historically never been kind to the Bears. Junior quarterback and star-in-the-making Jacob Eason dished the rock for 349 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Huskies’ 47-14 rout of Eastern Washington on Saturday. Its wide receiving core is loaded with talent, which will be a problem for Cal if Eason can settle into the game and get into rhythm.
The primary focus early on for the Cal defense will be to stop the Huskies’ running backs and inflict further damage in the passing game as the night wears on. Linebacker Kuony Deng cemented himself as an enemy of offense on the ground and in the air, with the speed to catch up to receivers and the strength to stop the run.
“Any mistake is magnified by the speed, its magnified by how fast the ball is going to be coming out of the quarterback’s hand,” Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. “If you don’t fit a run correctly, their backs can take it to the house. So we have to be spot on in everything that we do.”
Cal’s defensive backs unit knows how to be spot on, but the Huskies’ young secondary still has some questions entering their second game. They gave up 21 completions and over 200 yards passing Saturday, which could lead to some big breaks for Garbers, who was responsible for three 30-plus yard completions against UC Davis.
In last year’s matchup, Cal did not score an offensive touchdown. To be able to match Eason’s score-happy offense, the Bears’ wide receiving corps, led by Michigan transfer Kekoa Crawford, will need to get open in the end zone for Cal to have a chance of earning back-to-back victories against Washington for the first time in 13 years.
“Nobody is going to bet on us. We are betting on ourselves,” DeRuyter said.