UW hasn't had many easy wins this season, so "grind it out" has become a team motto. However, as Jake Browning points out, "There’s nothing wrong with blowing people out either."
BERKELEY, Calif. — Maybe this is just what this team is. Maybe comfortable isn’t part of its makeup. Maybe it’s destined to be a group that grinds it out every Saturday.
The Huskies haven’t always made it easy on themselves, but they are here anyway — in prime position with four regular-season games remaining to make a run at a division title. And who knows after that, but it’s all out there in front of them for the taking.
No. 15 Washington (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) will try to maintain its slim lead atop the Pac-12 North on Saturday afternoon against California (4-3, 1-3) at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. for a FS1 broadcast.
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The Huskies’ past four Pac-12 games have all been close. Their offense is averaging 26.6 points per game in conference play; their defense is allowing 18.8 points, and those past four conference games have all been one-score games in the fourth quarter.
Grind it out has become a team theme, and the Huskies haven’t left themselves much margin for error lately, on the scoreboard or in the standings, with Washington State, Stanford and Oregon all firmly in the chase for the North title.
“We’ve had a lot more close games this year than any of my former years here, except my freshman year, but we were losing a lot of those,” senior quarterback Jake Browning said after the Huskies’ 27-13 victory over Colorado last week. “It feels good to grind it out, but there’s nothing wrong with blowing people out either. They don’t all need to be close.”
Washington’s offense has been confounding at times this season. On the one hand, the Huskies are averaging 6.27 yards per play, second-best in the conference.
And they’ve been frequent fliers into the red zone — getting inside the opponents’ 20-yard line more than anyone else in the Pac-12, 41 times in eight games. But they’ve been dreadful at times in converting those red-zone opportunities, scoring just 21 touchdowns in those 41 chances — a 51-percent touchdown rate that ranks dead last in the conference.
“It seems like it gets to a point in every game where it’s, ‘OK, OK, it looks like we can put this away.’ And then, ah, we miss that (play) or whatever,” Browning said.
California’s defense is much improved under its second-year coach, Justin Wilcox, UW’s defensive coordinator from 2012-13. The Bears have allowed opposing offenses just 16 visits to the red zone this season — fewest in the Pac-12. But then, opponents have scored on 15 of those red-zone trips, with 11 touchdowns, and that’s part of what makes the matchup Saturday an intriguing one.
Cal also has been solid against the run this season — allowing just 3.75 yards per carry, compared to 3.76 allowed by UW’s defense — and the Huskies could again be without standout senior running back Myles Gaskin (shoulder).
“I really mean this: I think we got a very dangerous Cal team,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “We know those guys. We know those coaches. I think those guys are very well coached. I know how Justin runs that program. We better play at a very high level.”