Pac-12 hopefuls: Cal football begins conference play against Washington

photo of a Berkeley football player tackling someone during a game
Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Wishing on shooting stars and crossing their fingers is one strategy Cal football fans can be seen resorting to as the Bears start conference play this weekend. The blue and gold will hit the road, traveling to the University of Washington to begin this season’s Pac-12 journey. This game doesn’t hold enough weight to be considered crucial to the Bears’ season trajectory, and seeing as UW has also had some road bumps in its nonconference play — in the form of a 7-13 loss to Montana, which gave the Grizzlies their first Football Championship Subdivision win — this faceoff has the potential to get Cal on the right track.

With half of the Pac-12 melting under the Friday night lights, other teams have been proving themselves, and luckily for the Bears, Washington is not one of them.

Washington has been playing anything but Division I-worthy football this season. With the Huskies’ offense and defense in equal states of disarray, the Bears may see their earlier-season selves reflected back to them in Seattle. The Huskies’ offense is certainly lacking, as quarterback Dylan Morris, who threw 897 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions in 2020, has not quite lived up to his previously earned “star quarterback” title. On top of Morris’ disappointing performances, Washington’s rushing attack has left a lot to be desired, boasting a mere average of 105 yards. While five veteran starters hoped to anchor the line, adjustment has been the name of the game, as the Huskies’ coaching team can’t seem to stop rotating players in and out.

Washington head coach Jimmy Lake has insisted on being on the defensive for every game — the safeties and defensive line have been repeatedly switched around.

The field is in a state of havoc, and even Washington’s 52-3 win against subdivision team Arkansas State might not be able to boost the Huskies’ morale enough to steal a win against Cal on Saturday. On the other hand, the Bears might be in the same boat coming off of a marginal 42-30 win against Sacramento State. The fact that Cal allowed the Hornets anything more than a singular touchdown is a cause for concern.

The Bears’ defense needs to do some serious self-evaluation, particularly regarding its so-called tackling — Wilcox has been vocal about the shortcomings of his defensive line.

“We didn’t play in the pass defense, so that’s DBs, that’s zone coverage by the linebackers, that’s rush mechanics by the rushers,” Wilcox said in a press conference. “We didn’t play pass defense to the standard that we would expect. Based on the ability of the players and the standard that’s been set here, we didn’t play up to that.”

Conversely, the offense has shown improvement. The blue and gold’s offense averages 30.3 points and 435.3 yards per game, record highs during Wilcox’s time as head coach. Cal ranks third in the conference in total offense yards per game.

A star member of the offensive backfield, sophomore running back Damien Moore is much of the reason why the Bears have been able to rack up a large number of points. Moore leads the rushing attack with 79 yards per game, which puts him fourth in the Pac-12. He has completed five touchdowns in 2021, with at least one touchdown in each of the three games Cal has played this season.

With the offense finally finding its footing and taking advantage of good players who have the ability to make great plays, fans can only hope that the defense follows suit and brings home a conference win against Washington.

Maria Khan covers men’s soccer and football. Contact her at [email protected].