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Cal Football

Washington Preview: Like Bears, Huskies Have But One Win

September 23, 2021

Washington, which hosts Cal Saturday night in the Pac-12 opener for both teams, is having a season much like the Bears.

Expected to be a prime threat to Oregon’s supremacy in the North Division, the Huskies stumbled out of the gate and did not record their first win until Week Three against an inferior opponent. Although Cal was not as highly regarded, most observers felt the Bears also would not have to suffer two losses before winning a game.

But in a scenario totally opposite the Bears’, Washington’s offense was the root of its early problems. 

Jimmy Lake (above), in his second year as the Huskies’ head coach, stresses running the ball in his offensive philosophy. Going into the season that certainly looked doable with an experienced offensive line, ranked by Athlon as fifth-best in the country, and a talented assortment of running backs.

But in the first two games, a galling loss to FCS foe Montana and a disappointing defeat at Michigan, the Huskies were running in place. They totaled a mere 115 yards on 59 carries, an average of 1.95 yards per rush. When you add the seven sacks that quarterback Dylan Morris endured, it is an indictment on that touted offensive line.

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Dylan Morris

They did much better last week, the Huskies picking up an even 200 on the ground and permitting but one sack. As with Cal’s improvement, a lot of that might be attributed to the quality of the opposition: Arkansas State, which isn’t Arkansas.

But Huskies’ offensive line coach Scott Huff told the Seattle media that much of the problems in the first two games were traceable to communication mistakes. That was surprising given the group’s experience. They did a better job of being in the right place, or blocking the right man, at the right time last week.

Led by All-Conference left tackle Jaxson Kirkland and center Luke Wattenberg, who is in his fifth year as a starter, the O-line is massive and mobile. The starters combined weight is just shy of 1,600 pounds.

Operating behind them, Morris was 23-for-39 passing, 367 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions against Arkansas State.

“Definitely played his best game this last game,” Lake said. “And I guess if I give an overall assessment, he’s played better each game.”

Wilcox has been aware of Morris since the QB was in high school.

“He is a really good football player,” Wilcox said. “He has a strong feeling for the game. He’s kind of an innate QB. He can throw the ball down the field. He does a nice job with his feet, making things happen. They do the RPO game and he makes good decisions.”

Even as the running game sputtered in the first two games, Lake kept fan-favorite running back Sean McGrew on the bench. Last week the 5-7, 180-pound senior scatback didn’t exactly bust loose, but he did average 6.0 yards on his six carries and scored the team’s first rushing touchdown of the season.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sean McGrew scores

RIch Newton and Cam Davis had been the Huskies’ ball carriers in the first two games, and will probably get the bulk of the carries again Saturday, but keep your eye out for McGrew.

Wide receiver Jalen McMillan who missed the first game because of injury and played sparingly in the second, had a breakout game with ten catches for 175 yards and a touchdown last week. 

McMillan was the offensive star of the first half, catching seven passes for 152 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown reception that gave UW a 28-0 lead.

“Having Jalen McMillan back was a huge boost,”  Lake said, “How about that game? He definitely early on allowed us to run the football by doing what he did downfield in the passing game. Even when the ball didn’t go his way, he was loosening things up and helping open huge holes for the running backs.”

Along with Terrell Bynum, he gives UW a pair of quality receivers.

Tight end Cade Otton was first-team All-Pac-12 last year and might be the most versatile tight end in the league.

While the offense was struggling, the defense was holding its own. Washington enters the week leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, first down defense, and third-down efficiency defense.

The Huskies use only two true defensive linemen on most downs, but Tuli Letuligasenoa (6-2, 300) and Sam Taimani (6-2, 330) are a handful. Lining up behind them, the linebackers are the strength of the defense.

“Those guys are doing their job,” Lake said of the linebackers. “When they’re doing their job that opens it up for someone else. So the production that we’ve been able to have with the pass rush we’ve been able to generate starts with those guys, and the guys inside.”

Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is wary. “They are very experienced, both those inside guys (Jackson Sirmon, Edefuan Ulofoshio)  have played a lot of football,” Musgrave said. “They have been in their program a number of years. They’re not fooled by very much, if anything. 

“And then the outside guys are disrupters. They’ve got four guys that rotate through and they come in and they’re fresh. They play with stamina and energy.”

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Taimani (right) makes a tackle

Sirmon is the team’s leading tackler, and if that surname sounds familiar it is because he is the son of Peter Sirmon, Cal’s defensive coordinator. Ulofoshio did not start last week because he’s banged up, but reports out of Seattle say he’s atop the depth chart again.

Probably the most talented of the linebackers is sixth-year senior OLB  Ryan Bowman. Teams have been paying particular attention to him, with either double teams or, to hear Lake tell it, some outright holding. He has 11 tackles this year, but none for a loss.

The secondary is strong, but it’s better when cornerback Trent McDuffie is on the field. He was injured last week returning a punt and is doubtful for Saturday. 


  • This is the 100th meeting between the two schools with Washington leading the series 51-41-4.
  • Cal has won the last two meetings by a combined margin of three points.
  • Freshmen inside linebackers Daniel Heimuli and Carson Bruener have been getting more playing time as the season has progressed. Heimuli even started in Ulofoshio’s stead against Arkansas State. 
  •  Of the 125 players on the UW roster, 108 are freshmen or sophomores.
  •  UW has gone 78 games in a row without allowing an opponent to score more than 35 points, easily the longest such streak in the nation.
  • Punter Race Porter is second in the Pac-12 (15th in NCAA) with his 47.0-yard average, which is more than one and a half yards ahead of pace for the single-season school record (45.6) 

More stories:

Wednesday Report: Sirmon, Musgrave, Goode and Wilcox on the Mic

Wilcox: Deng Doubtful, Crawford Likely for Washington

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Washington Preview: Like Bears, Huskies Have But One Win

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According to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), a predictive computer model that makes projections for every game:

California at Washington

Game info: Sat., Sept. 25 | 9:30 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Location: Husky Stadium | Seattle, Wash.
Projected winner: Washington | 82.8 percent
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