SEATTLE — Go back more than 100 years and two names have always been associated with football on the West Coast as members of the same conference.
Washington and California.
The schools were among the original members of the Pacific Coast Conference that started play in 1916 and they have been constants through its various iterations. That connection between the Huskies and Golden Bears will come to an end after this season. Washington is headed to the Big Ten; Cal is off to the ACC.
So Saturday’s matchup between the eighth-ranked Huskies and the Golden Bears that opens the Pac-12 season for both comes with uncertainty over whether two schools linked for so long will ever meet again.
For those involved with this edition, the history of the matchup is secondary to the importance of starting conference play with a win.
“Each game the stakes become greater if you take care of business Week 1,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said.
Saturday will be the 101st time the sides have met and this may be arguably the most explosive offense Washington (3-0) has ever brought into the matchup.
The Huskies rolled up 713 yards of offense last week against future conference foe Michigan State, the second-most ever in a Washington game. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has thrown for at least 400 yards in each of the first three games and the Huskies enter the week second nationally in total offense and eighth in scoring offense.
“Michael Penix is an elite quarterback. He’s very, very accurate. He can run, he just doesn’t need to very much and they’ve got some really excellent players around him,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said.
For all that offensive potency, California (2-1) has traditionally been a troublesome opponent for the Huskies. The teams have split the past four meetings, all of which were decided by seven points or less, and Cal has held Washington to 31 points or less in all four games.
That’ll be a challenge this time around. If the Huskies can reach 40 points this week, it will be the first time since 1944 that they’ve scored 40 or more points in four straight games in the same season.
BACK IN TIME
Cal struggled early last week against FCS foe Idaho in part because Jadyn Ott was a spectator after getting banged up a week earlier against Auburn.
Ott being back in the lineup this week is going to be critical if the Golden Bears want a chance at pulling the upset.
In the two games he’s played, Ott has averaged 6.7 yards per carry, although the yards were a little tougher to come by in the loss to Auburn when he was held to 78 yards on 20 carries. He’ll be facing a Washington rush defense that is ninth in the conference so far.
While Ott should be back in the lineup, his quarterback is somewhat of a question. Both Sam Jackson V and Ben Finley are listed as possible starters.
“Both those guys have a chance to play,” Wilcox said. “Both different styles of quarterback. We feel like we’ve got to get better at that position — just like all positions — but we’ve got to get better at that position. We’ve got to be more efficient at that position.”
For as well as things have gone for Washington so far, injury concerns are starting to mount. The Huskies will be without starting center Matteo Mele and top reserve cornerback Devon Banks for the rest of the season due to injuries. DeBoer said this week that both underwent surgery for upper-body injuries. The Huskies were already without presumptive starting running back Cam Davis after he suffered a season-ending injury in camp.
Taj Davis will always hold a special place at Washington for the 62-yard touchdown catch he made in the fourth quarter of last year’s win at Oregon. But Davis was never going to have the chance to become a primary target with the Huskies’ deep wide receiver group all returning, so he transferred to Cal in the offseason. Davis has eight catches for 81 yards and one touchdown this season for the Golden Bears.
FUN WITH NUMBERS
The Huskies beat Boise State by 37, Tulsa by 33 and Michigan State by 34 to start the season. It’s the first time the Huskies have defeated three straight FBS-level opponents by 30 or more points since 1991, when Washington split the national championship with Miami.