Time for our weekly rendition of three up, three down, in which we examine the positives and negatives from Washington’s 66-27 victory at California on Saturday night.
First, a few links, notes and highlights.
--- Here is my story from the game, highlighting the various statistical achievements set by UW’s offense on Saturday.
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--- If you haven’t already heard, ESPN “College GameDay” has chosen UW as its broadcast location for next weekend. The Huskies host USC at 4:30 p.m. The Trojans beat Oregon, 45-20, on Saturday to improve to 6-3 overall and 4-2 in Pac-12 play.
--- Speaking of the Pac-12 standings: Washington and Washington State are now the only teams that can win the Pac-12 North. Both are 6-0 in league play. Washington State routed Arizona, 69-7, in Pullman yesterday.
--- The AP top 25 and coaches poll will be released later today. Expect the Huskies to remain at No. 4 in both.
Video highlights from the Pac-12 Networks:
And a couple of calls from play-by-play man Bob Rondeau, including John Ross’ juke-filled 67-yard touchdown catch.
1. John Ross and Dante Pettis. Again.
The two receivers continue to make their case as perhaps the most statistically productive duo in UW history.
With three touchdown catches each on Saturday, Ross and Pettis became the first receiver duo in school history to catch 10 or more touchdown passes in the same season. Ross has 14, which is tied for second-most in the country, and moved into second place on UW’s single-season touchdown reception list (Mario Bailey had 18 in 1991, and with a minimum of four games remaining, Ross has a very real chance to break that).
Cal tried to stack the box on Saturday to stop the run, something coach Chris Petersen said he expected. The Golden Bears have one of the worst rush defenses in the country, so it figured they would do everything they could to prevent UW from simply running the ball down their throat.
But quarterback Jake Browning continues to be savvy enough to examine the opponent’s defensive alignment before the snap and adjust the play accordingly. On Saturday, that meant noticing Cal’s safeties playing lower than normal -- similar to what Rutgers did in the season opener, Browning said -- and that led to Ross and Pettis beating their defenders in man coverage.
"When you have a great quarterback and o-line, you can go deep and take advantage of those plays,” Ross said. “Jake does a great job looking at all those options, and when he knows he can go deep, he will check us. Based off how we've done up to this point, I get excited when I see that. Jake does too, and if it is not the play he wants he will shake it and go with another.”
Pettis caught eight passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns. Ross caught six passes for 208 yards -- fifth-most in a game in UW history -- and three touchdowns.
2. Jake Browning is re-writing UW’s record books.
Browning threw 229 touchdown passes in three seasons as the starting quarterback at Folsom High School. He won’t throw that many at Washington. But he’s on pace to throw more than any quarterback in UW history.
In his sophomore season, Browning has already set UW’s single-season record for touchdown passes with 34. That figure is tied for tops in the country. He also leads the country in passing efficiency, and is tied for second in yards per pass attempt with 10.3. Barring an unforeseen collapse in UW’s final three regular-season games, it seems almost certain that Browning will be invited to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
On Saturday, he completed 19 of 28 passes for 378 yards and six touchdowns. It was his second six-touchdown performance of the season (he also did it at Oregon). For the season, Browning is completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,273 yards, 34 touchdowns and three interceptions. He is already fifth on UW’s career touchdown passes list with 50, only 25 behind Keith Price’s record of 75. And Browning still has at least four games remaining this year, and at least one full season after that.
3. That’s why nobody throws to Sidney Jones.
Jones, UW’s top cornerback, hasn’t been targeted often this season. California quarterback Davis Webb threw his direction more than any other quarterback had in UW’s first eight games. It didn’t work too well.
Jones broke up two passes and snagged two interceptions, including one in the end zone that thwarted a Cal drive in the third quarter. He said he was excited for his matchup against Cal’s Chad Hansen, the Pac-12’s leading receiver, and knew he would get a little more action in this game than he had previously.
UW’s other star cornerback, Kevin King, also had an impressive game with three pass breakups, including one he leaped to knock away in the end zone.
1. Bad field position in the first quarter.
The Huskies were fortunate to limit Cal to a pair of field goals in the first quarter, because a pair of bad special-teams plays resulted in a couple of short fields for the Golden Bears.
First, Cal began a drive at UW’s 35-yard line after Tristan Vizcaino punted the ball only 17 yards, pushing it well out of bounds on the right sideline. Then, after Vizcaino booted a line-drive punt that covered only 34 yards, Cal’s Vic Wharton III returned it 29 yards to UW’s 16-yard line.
The Huskies’ defense held firm on both possessions, holding Cal without a first down on either one and limiting the Bears to a pair of Matt Anderson field goals. But those drives could have easily resulted in touchdowns, which could have changed the complexion of the game early.
2. Shaky first-half defense.
It’s difficult to fault the Huskies’ defense too much for the first-half score due to the aforementioned field-position struggles. But Washington did allow 20 points, 237 yards and 5.4 yards per play in the first half, all numbers much higher than the Huskies would have liked.
Six of those points, of course, came as a result of the special-teams miscues, and UW’s defense deserves credit for not allowing it to be worse. Still, the Huskies yielded touchdown drives of 75 and 81 yards -- both of which featured some big plays, including Webb’s 61-yard pass to Demetris Robertson -- allowing Cal to cut its deficit from 21-6 to 21-20 before UW answered with a touchdown drive.
Cal has a good offense with a good quarterback and some talented receivers, and the Bears ultimately wound up averaging only 4.9 yards per play. This obviously was never really a game in the second half. But if UW is looking for things it could have done better, its first-half defense might be on the list.
3. A couple players banged up.
Once again, senior offensive guard Jake Eldrenkamp and senior defensive end Joe Mathis did not make the trip due to injury. It is unknown when either might return. Nick Harris again started in Eldrenkamp’s place, and Connor O’Brien again filled in for Mathis.
The game yielded a couple of other injury concerns. Senior linebacker Psalm Wooching traveled and suited up but did not play, and changed out of his pads at halftime. UW linebacker Azeem Victor appeared to have some kind of arm injury, according to sideline reporter Elise Woodward, though Petersen said afterward that he thinks the injured players will “be OK,” and implied that anyone who sits out against USC would have to be pretty seriously injured.