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Cal Football

Washington Preview: New Coach, New QB, Same Old Huskies

November 4, 2020

What Cal doesn’t know about Saturday night’s opponent Washington is what kind of team the Huskies will be under new coach Jimmy Lake and who will be their starting quarterback.

What the Bears do know is that the Huskies have enough talent to make those questions irrelevant.

Even with some significant contributors missing from last year’s 8-5 team that won the Las Vegas Bowl the Huskies have plenty of quality players, especially on defense. That is the specialty of new head coach Jimmy Lake, (left, above), successor to Chris Peterson (right), who surprisingly resigned in December. 

What Lake doesn’t have is an obvious choice to succeed Jacob Eason as the Huskies’ QB. And he is using that uncertainty to his advantage. Although he undoubtedly by now knows who the starter will be, he is not letting anyone else, or at least anyone not directly involved, in on the decision.

“Yeah, great question. Great question,” Lake said with a grin during his weekly news conference Monday, when asked to divulge the name of his new starter. “We will find out at about 7:34 PT, right around there, on Saturday night.”

The morning line favorite among the four contenders is grad transfer, Kevin Thompson, who last year lit up the Big Sky Conference at Sacramento State. He threw for 3,216 yards and 27 touchdowns with just eight interceptions in 12 games and was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year.

He represents much more of a running threat than the other candidates, having rushed for 619 yards and 12 more scores last year. “The guy can run, and he can throw it, and he’s smart, and he’s played football,” Lake said last week.

But he evidently is being pressed by Dylan Morris and Jacob Sirmon, nephew of Cal offensive coordinator Peter Sirmon. 

Dylan Morris, who might not be as big as even the 6-0, 200 claimed on the roster, makes up for his lack of size with a power arm, superior intelligence and a knack for winning. 

Jacob Sirmon, who was Eason;s official backup last year, is 6-5, 240, perfect size for a pro-style quarterback. He might be the best suited to run coordinator John Donovan’s offense. He is the nephew of Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon

Another family connection to the Bears is true freshman Ethan Garbers, young brother of Cal’s starting QB Chase Garbers. The younger Garbers has plenty of ability, but his inexperience makes him the outlier in the quarterback competition. 

“What we do know is that they are all really talented,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. “Whoever plays for them is going to be a very talented player and they are going to put them in a position to do what they do best. That’s what good coaches do. They have good coaches there. We have to go in and execute our defense against their offense.”

© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Newton (28)

Richard Newton, a preseason second-team All-Pac-12 choice, gained 498 rushing yards on 117 attempts last year. However, senior Kamari Pleasant is listed at the top of the depth chart at tailback. Lake could just be playing mind games, or he might really prefer the larger (6-4, 230) Pleasant. Look for both to get some carries along with senior Sean McGrew.

Terrell Bynum (31 catches, 368 yards) is the leading returning receiver, and he came on strong in the second half of last year. 

Ty Jones and Puka Nacua are solid veterans at WR who lost part of their 2019 seasons because of injury, and senior Jordan Chin has big-play capabilities.

Donovan’s offense uses a lot of tight ends, and the Huskies have the numbers led by junior Cade Otton. He is one of the best in the country.  Sophomore Jack Westover showed potential last year while a top-flight freshman crop includes massive Jack Yary (6-6, 250) whose father Ron is a member of both the Pro Football and College Footballo Hall of Fame.

The offensive line returns only two players who could be called “starters”, center Luke Wattenberg and left tackle Jason Kirkland, but they are good ones. Plus there is plenty of experience, including quite a few starts, among the others.

On defense, the Huskies lost quite a bit, especially when All-Pac-12 tackle Levi Onwuzurike and linebacker Joe Tryon opted out of the season. But Tuli  Letuligasenoa, impressive as a backup last year, will step in for Levi and the Huskies may not miss a beat. He is equally impressive against the run and rushing the passer. 

The rest of the front seven is experienced and talented. Nothing new there for Washington.

“They have gotten a lot of pressure with their pass rush in the past,” Wilcox said. “They do have some blitz package stuff they’ll get into...They’ll rush you with three, they’ll rush you with four. They’ll rush you with five or more.”

© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Elijah Molden was MVP in the Las Vegas Bowl

Safety Elijah Holden, a 2019 All-Conference pick in many quarters, anchors a predatory secondary. One of the nation’s best he recorded 79 tackles, three-forced fumbles, and four interceptions He has plenty of help, including seniors Asa Turner and Keith Taylor.

“Last year they played five, sometimes six DBs at times,” Wilcox said. “ They’ll utilize their best players.” 

Placekicker Peyton Henry has been the man for two years. Last year he was 19-for-21 on field goals and perfect on 49 PATs. His career-best FG was a 49-yarder, one of four FGs he hit against Cal last year.

Senior Race Porter, who averaged 44.5 yards on four kicks last year, takes over the punting job.

Notes: This is the 100th meeting between the two schools, with UW holding a 54-41-4 advantage….Cal however has won the last two, including last year which was interrupted by a two-hour, 39-minute rain delay ... UW has gone 71 games in a row without allowing an opponent to score more than 35 points, the longest such streak in the nation….The Huskies had double-digit win totals the three years leading up to 2019 ...Washington allowed just seven scrimmage plays of 40 or more yards in 2019, tied for eighth lowest in the nation. 

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