University of Washington

Cal’s defense has Chris Petersen’s attention

Chris Petersen reflects on Huskies’ season opener

Washington head coach Chris Petersen reflects on the season-opening win over Eastern Washington during his press conference on Monday.
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Washington head coach Chris Petersen reflects on the season-opening win over Eastern Washington during his press conference on Monday.

Washington’s loss to Cal last season isn’t an easy game to forget, although Husky fans have almost certainly tried.

The 12-10 defeat was a battle of two of the Pac-12’s top defenses. The Golden Bears didn’t score an offensive touchdown. UW managed just one. The Huskies’ offense was struggling so badly that head coach Chris Petersen brought former backup quarterback Jake Haener into the game at the end of the third quarter. But the attempt at sparking the offensive backfired: Haener was quickly intercepted by linebacker Evan Weaver, who ran the ball back 37 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

UW and Cal should have two of the best defenses in the conference this season, too. And on Saturday night, they’ll go head-to-head at Husky Stadium. At his press conference on Monday, Petersen was asked to reflect on the last time the teams met.

“I think the one thing is, people on the outside don’t realize how good Cal is on defense,” Petersen said. “They don’t. That’s the bottom line. Just look at their scores and look at their play over the past two years. They’re just, they’re good. … I think it’s a really, really good defense and you got to have patience and those type of things. You’re going to have to earn it.

The Golden Bears, who finished 7-6 last season, had the No. 3 scoring defense (20.4 ppg) in the conference behind UW and Utah, respectively. They were also third in total defense, allowing 317.2 yards per game. In last year’s game, the Huskies finished with 250 yards of total offense. Cal had 242.

Cal’s secondary is widely considered one of the best in the country, and defensive backs Ashtyn Davis and Camryn Bynum were both selected to the preseason All-Pac-12 second team.

“There’s a lot of defense there for you,” Petersen said of Cal’s secondary. “There’s always that dilemma: you can see a lot of defense but sometimes you can see a lot of holes in it. Sometimes a lot (of defense) can be an advantage for an offense. They might get you, but you’re going to get them and hit them because guys are out of position, assignments, those type of things.

“Those guys don’t play like that, and they haven’t played like that for a year and a half at least. They have all kinds of different blitz schemes and guys know where they’re supposed to be. So they keep you off balance with that, and then they cover well. Those guys have played a lot of football for them.”

Two other Cal defensive players received preseason honors. Weaver was voted to the All-Pac-12 first team while defensive lineman Luc Bequette made the second team.

While Cal didn’t play well in its first game of the season — The Golden Bears trailed UC Davis 10-0 after the first quarter before winning 27-13 — the defense allowed just a single touchdown, 264 total yards and 15 first downs.

“They are very good at not giving up much. … There’s just not a lot of explosive plays and they are very good against the run,” Petersen said. “If you’re into football, study that defense.”

Nick Harris update

Starting center Nick Harris, a preseason AP All-American and All-Pac-12 first team selection, was injured in the first quarter of UW”s win on Saturday.

After going down, he limped to the sideline with the help of two athletic trainers. Harris made a brief stop in the medical tent before standing on the sideline for the rest of the game without his helmet. On Monday, Petersen said Harris was “week-to-week.”

Redshirt freshman Matteo Mele took over for Harris at center against Eastern Washington.

“Matteo did a good job,” Petersen said. “Matteo’s been getting a lot of reps in practice as well. Nick’s played a lot of snaps for us, so we’ve been able to work (Mele) quite a bit as well. You never know when that day is going to come where the guy’s gotta go, so he got a lot of good reps.”

Jacob Eason’s debut

Petersen grinned when asked about Jacob Eason’s 64-yard incomplete pass that had Husky Stadium buzzing on Saturday. There was a high snap on the play, but Eason managed to grab the ball and then launch it over the head of wide receiver Aaron Fuller. After the game, Fuller said it seemed like the ball “came from heaven.”

“I don’t know how many passes we’re going to throw 70 yards. Like you said the snap threw him off. We’re not wanting to throw the ball that far,” Petersen said, then smiled again. “Maybe we should design it that way.”

After the immediate follow-up question — Why not throw the ball that far? — Petersen explained.

“There is usually a timing (component),” he said. “Even the deep balls, there is a timing component. Usually the longer you hold it the better chance you give the DBs to make up ground, not only the corner but the safety. So that’s why you’re not usually holding it that long. Sometimes things break down and guys have to let one go. And it kind of did break down because of the bad snap.”

Eason completed 27-of-36 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns, setting the school record for the most passing yards in a debut. He’s one of just three Huskies who have passed for more than 300 yards in their first game. Eason’s four touchdowns were also the most in a UW season opener since Brock Huard in 1998.

So what did Petersen like most about Eason’s performance?

“I think he took what the defense gave him,” Petersen said. “He just kind of stayed within the reads and kind of went there. There was one throw that we probably got lucky on. He tried to throw it away and got hit as he was throwing it away and it could have been a little bit scary, they could have gotten their hands on it. So that was a good one to learn from. But I thought of the most part his decision making was really good.”

Young secondary

True freshman safety Cameron Williams and redshirt freshmen cornerback Kyler Gordon made their debuts as starters in the Huskies’ secondary during the 47-14 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday. They each finished with four tackles. And while Gordon was called for two pass interference penalties, Petersen said both instances were learning opportunities.

“Tried to run a little stutter route on Kyler a little bit.,” Petersen said of one of the penalties. “He was actually in decent shape and then (Kyler) kind of ran by him, grabbed him a little bit. He’ll learn from that.”

Petersen was also pleased with Williams, the first true freshman to start in the Huskies’ secondary since Taylor Rapp in 2016.

“Cam did a nice job tackling,” Petersen said. “We had the run where we kind of ran into Keith (Taylor) and knocked Keith off and then we got the long run. … A lot of those big, explosive plays kind of run through the secondary so there’s a lot of weight on those guys’ shoulders. I thought he did a nice job game one.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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