Cal takes on Washington today, opening Pac-12 play on the road in Seattle. Cal completed their non-conference slate with a 3-0 record, including an expected blowout win over Presbyterian last week by a score of 63-12. The Bears by no means played a perfect game last week – check out the highlights here. Once again, there were too many penalties, plus a pick-6 and blocked punt for TD that resulted in Presby’s only points. Today’s game against the Huskies gives the Bears a great opportunity to prove that those mistakes have been fixed. It also gives the Bears a chance for “get back” against the team that prevented them from bowl eligibility last year: Cal lost 16-13 on Chris Polk’s TD dive on 4th & Goal – the very last play of the 2010 season.
Here are Cal’s keys to the game:
1. Maynard Needs to Have a Big Day
As noted in our preview, Zach Maynard is facing one of the Pac-12’s most dynamic QBs, Keith Price. Price is currently tied for the national lead in TD passes with 11, but he is also nursing two sprained knees. The Huskies’ sophomore QB has several playmakers around him: RB Chris Polk & WRs Jermaine Kearse, James Johnson, and Devin Aguilar. Maynard counters with 9 TD passess of his own, and like Price, has an array of weapons on offense – including Keenan Allen & Marvin Jones. For the Bears to be successful today, Maynard doesn’t necessarily have to outplay Price, but he needs to have a big day of his own against the Huskies’ much-maligned pass defense. A performance similar to the Colorado game – multiple TDs and key 3rd down conversions, in a hostile stadium – should result in enough points to put Cal in position for a victory.
2. Cal Defense Must Show Up
Cal’s defense is currently ranked 21st in the nation – but this is somewhat padded by last week’s complete domination of Presby’s offense, which they shut down to the tune of 48 yards. Despite Price’s injuries, the Huskies arguably have the most explosive offense the Bears have seen so far this season. The Bears’ D needs to bring their “A-game” today – the secondary, in particular, cannot repeat their poor showing in the Colorado game. Coach P will likely focus on stopping the run first, but he’ll also be mixing up blitzes and coverages to pressure Price into mistakes.
3. Minimize Penalties and Special Teams Miscues
Cal currently is among the worst nationally in penalties and penalty yards. Special teams have been a problem as well: 3 blocked PATs and a blocked punt returned for a TD. The Bears need to stay focused and cut down on mental mistakes today, especially considering that Husky Stadium is one of the Pac-12’s loudest and toughest road venues. If the Bears are able to minimize their mistakes, it should go a long way in helping break their 2-game losing streak in Seattle – Cal hasn’t won there since 2005.