I wouldn’t say that Washington has a bad defensive football team. But being the 50th best team nationally in total defense doesn’t say too much about Washington. Washington football hasn’t been a defensive juggernaut over the last six and a half season. In fact, before last year, they hadn’t cracked the top-50 in total defense in five years (the highest they reached was 70th in 2010). Last year, they ended the season ranked 31st, which is still not elite, but it was a massive improvement over the 2011 season (where they ended up 106th nationally).
This year, Washington has allowed over 30 points in every single loss this season. The defense has gotten progressively worse over the last three games (all of which have been losses). In those games, they’ve gotten outscored 129-76. Those numbers tell me than the Huskies are going to be in a heap of trouble against the Cal offense.
The stat that sticks out the most for me, is the turnover margin stat. Washington only has ten turnovers on the season and sport a +1 in the turnover differential column. That number is astronomically low. It sits tied for 59th nationally.
The defensive unit is a bit bizarre though. The are very good against the pass, ranked as the 17th best pass defense. We cannot argue those numbers are skewed due to their opponents being bad (they’ve taken on good quarterbacks from Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State). However, when it comes to the rushing attack, this defense is horrible, ranked as the 88th best team. That’s worse than Cal (who’s ranked 82nd).
So, what’s my point? My point is that Washington has a team that has good players, but may not have the best system. Washington football may still be on the upswing, but (at least defensively) they are still not at the top of the mountain. We may hate the job Sonny Dykes and Andy Buh have done this year, but at least they have some kind of excuse (injuries, depth, bad recruiting, dismissals). Washington has one of the best coordinators in the country on the defensive end (Justin Wilcox) and more than a few good players on that side of things, yet cannot stop anyone from scoring at least 30 points.
When it comes to players I will be paying attention to, I have to start with former Cal recruit, Shaq Thompson. Thompson was slated to be an elite talent who’s physical play was bound to lead to amazing play out of the secondary. While he is no longer a safety, Thompson has quickly started to fit into the kind of player he was hyped to be. Thompson, now a linebacker, is the team’s second leading tackler, 47 tackles (28 solo) with 1.5 tackles for a loss. He will be a key in deciding whether this game will be the one where Cal finally runs the ball well.
I cannot do a Washington preview without mentioning senior Sean Parker and sophomore Marcus Peters. Parker and Peters have combined for six interceptions. They account for 75% of the team’s interceptions this season. The tandem can quickly pick the ball off and score before anyone even realizes the ball switched possession. They can, and probably will, destroy whichever Cal quarterback is tasked with trying to beat them throughout the course of the game.
When it comes down to it, Cal (on paper) should have the advantage in this match up. They may be going up against a good pass defense, but Cal has more than enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to try and negate the explosiveness of the Huskies in the secondary. Cal will need the run game to show up. Once again, their chance for a victory is dependent on Brendan Bigelow, Daniel Lasco and Khaifani Muhammad. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid that the game is going to come down to them. But, I at least am somewhat hopeful in regards to this being the game where the rushing attack reemerges.