No. 14 Huskies (1-0) vs. California (1-0)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium
TV: FS1. Radio: KOMO-AM 1000/FM-97.7
Latest line: Huskies are favored by 14 points.
UW key players
QB Jacob Eason: 349 passing yards, 75 percent completions, 4 TD, 0 INT
TE Hunter Bryant: 6 catches, 81 yards, 13.5 yards per reception
DT Levi Onwuzurike: 34 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks in 2018
S Myles Bryant: 8 tackles, 1 TFL
Cal key players
QB Chase Garbers: 238 passing yards, 57.1 percent completions, 2 TD, 1 INT, 18 rushing yards
RB Christopher Brown Jr.: 36 carries, 197 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 1 TD
LB Evan Weaver: 11 tackles, 1 quarterback hit
S Ashtyn Davis: 4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
An Eason sequel?
You may have heard this already, but Jacob Eason had a halfway decent Husky debut. The junior quarterback and Georgia transfer completed 75 percent of his passes in a 47-14 win over Eastern Washington, throwing for 349 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. However, a harsh dose of reality may arrive on Saturday night. The Cal secondary ranked second nationally in interceptions (21), ninth in passing defense (175.1 yards per game), 11th in pass efficiency defense (107.25) and 12th in opponent yards per attempt (5.9) last season. They also dominated Washington in a 12-10 upset win on Oct. 27, 2018. But it’s worth remembering that those Huskies didn’t have tight end Hunter Bryant, wide receiver Chico McClatcher or since-departed starting running back Myles Gaskin. They didn’t have Eason, either. Now, it’s time to prove UW’s season-opening offensive outburst was a spoiler, not a fluke.
Bringing down Brown
All Cal sophomore running back Christopher Brown Jr. did last week was rush 36 times for 197 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, in the Golden Bears’ underwhelming 27-13 win over UC Davis. Considering that Cal quarterback Chase Garbers finished dead last among Pac-12 starters in passing efficiency last season, Brown may be the offense. But will that be enough? The 6-1, 230-pound running back is a load to bring down, and Garbers has the ability to scramble and extend plays. But the UW defense might just be up to the task. Washington held the Eastern Washington Eagles to 63 rushing yards and 2.1 yards per carry last week, and Jimmy Lake’s crew ranked 15th nationally in rushing defense (116.1 yards per game) an 21st in opponent yards per carry (3.53) in 2018. If UW can stop the run, the Golden Bears may be in trouble.
The turnover battle
The Washington defense did not force a turnover last week, but that’s not to say it shouldn’t have. A sure pick-six caromed off of the hands of redshirt freshman cornerback Dominique Hampton in the second half. “That was a critical moment right there,” Lake said. “Everybody on defense knows that he should have had that. Now we just have to continue to work on having better hands, making sure we’re snatching it out of the sky, make sure we’re focusing on the crosshairs. I think he was focusing on housing it before he caught it, and so we’ve got to do step one first.” There will be more critical moments on Saturday, as the Huskies face a quarterback in Garbers who threw 10 interceptions last season and one more last week. The Cal defense is also plenty capable, after snatching a whopping 21 picks last season. Can UW force a turnover or two, flip the field and make the most of its home field advantage? The Huskies are already the more talented team in this match up. If they’re also more opportunistic, you can forget about an upset.
So here’s what’s going to happen. Cal is too one-dimensional offensively, and Washington will lock in on Brown and effectively limit the sophomore running back. Garbers will surrender an interception or two, which will be converted into UW points. Against an elite secondary, Eason won’t be as spectacular as he was a week ago. But he’ll make a couple big throws, and Washington’s seasoned offensive line will allow running backs Salvon Ahmed, Richard Newton and Sean McGrew to get going. It won’t be a blowout, but Washington is the more talented team, and the Huskies are also motivated after last season’s ugly upset. That’s a dangerous combination: Prediction: Huskies 27, Bears 16.