SEATTLE – California’s last three opponents scored 59, 56 and 49 points, respectively – and basketball season doesn’t start until next month.
Which has to have Washington Huskies football fans thinking that even UW’s struggling offense should be able to roll up a few touchdowns against the Golden Bears on Saturday, right?
Or, for the glass-mostly-empty crowd: if the Huskies can’t score against Cal …
“They’ve given up some big plays,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “Points are going to go up when big plays happen, and hopefully we can make some.”
Or at least more than they did two weeks ago against Stanford, which limited the Huskies to 98 passing yards and more or less dominated Washington’s offense en route to a 20-13 victory at Husky Stadium.
But Stanford does have the No. 1 scoring defense in the country. Drop your eyes 118 spots on that list, and there’s California, 4-1 and in first place in the Pac-12 North, but allowing more points per game than every FBS team except Troy, North Carolina, Bowling Green, Tulsa, Eastern Michigan and SMU.
Of course, Cal is winning because of its offense, which ranks second nationally in scoring at 50 points per game. And if it’s a shootout the Golden Bears want, the Huskies need to be able to keep up, like they did earlier this season in a 59-52 victory over a defensively-challenged Eastern Washington team.
“I feel like we can score, too,” sophomore receiver John Ross said. “I think it’s going to be just as good of a game as we played against Eastern Washington. I feel like we have to bring that type of energy when we played them, and continue to make plays after plays.”
Those plays, Smith said, have hopefully been streamlined during the Huskies’ bye week. One of the coaching staff’s goals was to review UW’s offense – particularly its passing game, which ranks 104th in the country through six games – and focus more on refining concepts that have worked well while possibly scrapping concepts that haven’t.
“We’ve got to clean up some details,” Smith said. “Some concepts, we feel good. We’re not that far away. And some of them have been executed. So we kind of keep on building on those. We did eliminate a couple of things that hopefully streamlines some of the stuff we will call.”
He hopes that will help third-year sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles, who has been heavily criticized by fans after completing 15-of-29 passes against Stanford while throwing for just 98 yards.
Miles is 63-for-100 this season for 623 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. Acceptable numbers, for sure, but his 6.2 yards-per-attempt ratio provides evidence of UW’s lack of a downfield passing game. Against Stanford, it was nonexistent.
“No question, you’d like to” have more explosive plays, Smith said. “We’re going to try to put some guys in position to do that. We want to find ways to score. If it comes on a 50-yard play, great. 5-yard play, we’ll take it as well.”
Ross said Miles needs help from his offensive teammates, who all share the blame for that group’s issues through six games.
“I just think everyone makes mistakes, and we just want to work on not making the same mistakes and that’s what we have been doing,” Ross said. “I don’t think it’s the new system. It’s just hard learning so fast in the hurry-up offense – it’s going so fast-paced, sometimes you get things mixed up, and there’s a lot of miscommunication.”
Said junior receiver Jaydon Mickens: “(Miles’) potential is through the roof, and everyone knows it. He's just going to get better. We're going to get better as a team, and we're going to be on the same page with him. Everything doesn't go right. So when things don't go right, we're going to stay behind him and play how we know how to play."
Which should be easier against Cal than it was against Stanford – and most anybody else.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple