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Cal’s passing defense will challenge UW

After the combination of Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant rushed a combined 166 yards in Washington’s victory over Colorado, head coach Chris Petersen called the group a “three-headed monster.”

The three backups picked up the slack for Myles Gaskin, who injured his shoulder in the loss against Oregon. He spent last Saturday standing on the sideline; it was the first game the senior had missed in his career.

Ahmed said Wednesday Gaskin had been practicing this week. And on Monday, Petersen said he hoped Gaskin would be back for Saturday’s game against Cal.

But if he can’t go, the running game will be back in the hands of Ahmed, McGrew and Pleasant.

“We know we got to step up,” Ahmed said. “We practice during the week for that kind of stuff and make sure when we get in the game, we’re ready to go. Know we’re dialed in, taking care of our jobs. We know what we got to do.”

Cal ranks first in the Pac-12 and ninth nationally in passing defense, allowing just 166.4 yards per game. The Golden Bears are also second in the conference in interceptions with 10.

That’s why Ahmed stressed the importance of establishing the ground game early, no matter which running back — or combination of running backs — is getting the majority of the carries.

The Golden Bears are giving up 154.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks seventh in the Pac-12.

“Show what we’re capable of,” Ahmed said, “not just to ourselves but to everyone else. I think that’s going to be something we’re focused on.”

They aren’t a selfish group, Ahmed said. And if Gaskin can’t play, being able to rotate through running backs with fresh legs gives the Huskies a different kind of advantage.

“You got the D-Line and linebackers tired and you got a guy that’s ready to go, waiting for his opportunity,” he said. “I think that’s really important to our team and really important to our running back room that we got a lot of different guys that can do different things and make plays.”

When it comes to the passing game, Cal’s defense will challenge a UW team searching for more big-play opportunities.

“I still think we have some explosive guys,” Petersen said. “We’re always trying to find a way to shake guys loose and the best way to attack a defense. Cal … is really, really good against the pass. You do take those things into consideration. So how do you attack them the best you can and let your playmakers go?”

Husky quarterback Jake Browning said there are similarities between UW’s defense and Cal’s approach.

“I think they do some similar stuff,” Browning said. “This is kind of a copycat league in general, so I think our defense has been playing pretty well for a long time, so people are going to try and copy that just like when we see people do stuff on offense we think is good, we just copy it. That’s kind of how it goes.

“I think we’ve gone against some pretty good defenses, but this is definitely one of the better ones so I’m excited to go against them.”

The biggest parallel between the two defenses is the amount of passing yards allowed, said wide receiver Aaron Fuller. The Huskies are No. 2 behind Cal in Pac-12 passing defense, giving up 174.3 yards per game.

“They really know their job and they do it well,” Fuller said. “They don’t give up much.”

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