If you look at the Huskies schedule, this is a game you counted as win in the question to finish 7-5 or 8-4. It seemed like a given before the season, judging by how both teams finished last season.
And yet, today, it doesn't feel quite as certain. The Cal offense isn't nearly as bad as people thought it would be. Conversely, the Husky defense hasn't been as good as people thought it would be.
But in the hours and days following Washington’s 51-38 loss to Nebraska, defensive coordinator Nick Holt became one of the least-popular men among Huskies fans.
Good or bad, right or wrong, the many faults of the Washington defense were placed squarely on Holt.
Message boards, Twitter and other social media became venting places to discuss all that was wrong with the defense, particularly the face of it. Surprisingly, the Internet domain www.firenickholt.com has yet to be purchased, but if the Huskies defense struggles again today against California at Husky Stadium, some angry and enterprising UW fan will get it up and running.My 30-second opinion about the criticism of Holt? It's fair. You are the defensive coordinator. It comes with the territory. He should expect criticism. The defense as a whole has underperformed. Holt and Steve Sarkisian say the players are in the right place to make plays, but they just aren't. But part of coaching is teaching kids to make the plays once they are in position. Obviously, some players - Quinton Richardson - never seem to learn. But still, you make the big boy bucks for coaching a defense, don't express dismay when your defense doesn't perform up to your paygrade.
On to today's game, which I think everyone expects to be a shoot out. And I wouldn't disagree. The weather is perfect. Both teams have playmakers on offense.
I have two questions ....
Will Washington's defense show up?
I can't answer that. I really don't understand why the Huskies haven't been better. I don't think it's just the players' fault. You have young and inexperienced players, that are thinking too much. So put them in situations where they don't have to think - simplify it some. Don't be completely vanilla or entirely base oriented, but doing 15 calls really well seems more logical than having 30 calls where you might be average at best.
But the defense has been called out by the fans, the media, the coaches and themselves, if it can't show up today, then there is something very wrong.
Will the offensive line keep Keith Price upright?
I know Sark said Price looked great all week. Maybe he sees something I don't. I do think Price is healthy enough to play, but he's limited. The rollout passes and bootlegs seem like a chore for him to do and he just couldn't do them at a speed that makes them a viable play call. Heck, he even struggled at times getting the handoff to Chris Polk on the stretch plays. Of course, that may have been Price not wanting to put too much pressure on the knee in practice too.
Even if Price's knee health before the game, you have to wonder if it will remain that way. Cal has a very good defensive line and they will play a myriad of guys. If they can bottle up the run, like they did against Fresno State. It could put Washington in third down and long situations, allowing them to blitz freely and try and hit Price. Colorado negated this by throwing a lot of quick three-step drops. Expect Washington to do that as well. Price also has to be vigilant about keeping himself out of harm's way. He must utilize the slide and not be afraid to throw a pass away early to avoid getting hit. He's the best and only option at QB. As Todd Milles said today on the drive up, the team could afford to lose Chris Polk before it could afford to lose Keith Price.
I think Price stays relatively healthy, and the UW defense bends a little, but picks off two passes to help them eke out a 34-31 win.
CALIFORNIA (3-0, 0-0 PAC-12) AT WASHINGTON (2-1, 0-0)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m., Husky Stadium. TV: Root. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: These two are the only teams that have been continuous members of what is now the Pac-12 Conference since it was founded in 1916. They first played each other in 1904. They have met 91 times, with Washington leading the series 49-38-4. Last season, UW beat California, 16-13, in Berkeley.
What to watch: The first thing to watch above all else is the health of Washington quarterback Keith Price. He’s coming off a left knee sprain suffered in the Nebraska game, to go with the right knee sprain that he’d been battling since Eastern Washington. Obviously, Price’s quickness and athleticism have taken a hit. But he’s shown toughness and the ability to make things happen with his arm, highlighted by 11 touchdowns. The question will be whether the Huskies’ offensive will be able to protect Price against a very good Cal defensive line. Cal will use a host of linemen in their 3-4 look. Led by Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt, the linebacker unit has veterans and solid tacklers. They are allowing opponents just 2.7 yards per rush this season. The Huskies are still going to give the ball to Chris Polk, who ran for 86 yards in the game last season. They just need to open up the middle by hitting on some passes to loosen up the defense. This could be a game where Austin Seferian-Jenkins becomes even more of a presence. Defensively, the Huskies have been mediocre at best.
What’s at stake: Everybody wants to get a win in its first conference game. For California, it would be a major confidence builder considering its recent struggles at Husky Stadium. The Bears also are looking for a little redemption after last season’s last-second loss at home to Washington.
The pick: Washington, 34-31.