Oregon’s loss at Arizona means UW’s loss at Cal changes nothing in the big picture for the Huskies, who remain in the thick of the Pac-12 North race. A 12-10 loss at Cal leaves Adam Jude with plenty of questions, though.
The good, the bad and the lingering questions from Washington’s scratch-your-eyes-out 12-10 loss at California on Saturday:
The big picture
As weird as Saturday’s performance was, there is this reality for the Huskies in November: The Pac-12 title is theirs for the taking. Whether the Huskies can (drastically) turn things around (on offense) and make a serious run at the Rose Bowl is another question, but the scenario is simple: Win their final three regular-season games and they take back the North title. It was Underdog Saturday in the Pac-12 — yes, underdogs went 5 for 5 around the league — and Oregon’s loss at Arizona means UW’s loss at Cal changes nothing in the big picture for the Huskies. Here are the Pac-12 North standings going into November (league record only):
Washington State: 4-1
Oregon State: 1-4
The UW-Stanford game Saturday at Husky Stadium (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) shapes up to be a loser-out game in the North race. The Huskies then have their bye, followed by a home game against Oregon State (Nov. 17) and the Apple Cup in Pullman (Nov. 23).
After coming to Seattle, Stanford’s November schedule features a home game against Oregon State, and road trips to Cal and to UCLA. WSU’s November schedule: vs. Cal, at Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. UW.
An obligatory pat on the back to the defense, which didn’t allow Cal to score a touchdown and had a season-high four sacks. One nitpick: No turnovers. Through nine games, UW’s defense has forced just nine turnovers, and the Huskies have a minus-4 turnover margin as a team.
The offense, Part I
Maybe the biggest takeaway from the Huskies’ disastrous showing Saturday should be a reminder of just how good Myles Gaskin has been for so long — a you-don’t-know-what-you-have-until-it’s-gone realization. But then, the Huskies are starting to make this Clunker on The Road an annual pre-Halloween tradition, aren’t they? Washington ranks 10th in the Pac-12 with an average of 23.8 points per game in conference play, the program’s worst offensive season since 2008. Sure, we should note all the injuries that continue to pile up on offense — among others, starting left tackle Jared Hilbers was not available Saturday — and maybe Justin Wilcox’s intimate familiarity with Chris Petersen’s offense was a factor. But, again, it’s not like the offensive struggles were out of left field. The Huskies have been one of the worst red-zone offenses in the country most of the season, and with a chance to take a late lead Saturday they had to settle for a field goal after a first-and-goal situation from the Cal 9. And that was that.
The offense, Part II
Washington’s opening drive on offense covered 64 yards on 14 plays and ended in a quick 7-0 lead. And that’s what made the Huskies’ offensive woes the rest of the game even harder to comprehend. “We all thought after that first drive we would just keep doing that and rolling and scoring,” junior center Nick Harris said. Didn’t happen. Without Gaskin, the Huskies were held to a season-low 91 yards rushing — which, oddly enough, was the exact same rushing total from UW’s 13-7 loss at Arizona State in October 2017. After that opening touchdown drive, UW’s final nine drives ended like this: interception, punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt, interception, punt, punt, field goal.
Is there an open competition at QB?
All indications are Jake Browning will start Saturday when Stanford visits Husky Stadium. But it’s a question that will linger all week, no matter what Petersen or anyone might say (or not say) in support of Browning. Jake Haener, a redshirt freshman who had never appeared in an FBS game, was put in a difficult situation for the first significant snaps of his career, backed up at his own 11, trying to protect a one-point lead. You can understand what Petersen was thinking in making the QB change when he did late in the third quarter: It felt as if the Huskies were losing at that point, and the urge to do something — anything! — made sense in that moment. From the larger perspective, however, asking a redshirt freshman to do something he had never done, and in that situation in particular — just as Petersen had asked of his redshirt freshman kicker in the closing seconds of regulation at Oregon — was too much, too rash, too drastic. And Haener’s pick six gave Cal its only touchdown. The Huskies should, and almost certainly will, give the ball back to Browning this week, but doubt and uncertainty aren’t going away. (An aside: For those who have asked, or will ask, the two true freshmen QBs did not appear in fall camp as remotely close to being *ready* to help this team. Yeah, that was mid-August, during the last open practices, but I really don’t sense those being realistic options at this point with this much on the line for this team.)
Will Myles Gaskin be back for Stanford?
For the second week in a row, Gaskin dressed and went through pregame warmups. But Petersen acknowledged that it had been determined Friday that Gaskin wouldn’t play for a second consecutive week as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury. It’s a decent bet he’ll be back against Stanford, and there’s a chance Hunter Bryant and Trey Adams could join him for their 2018 debuts.
How healthy is Salvon Ahmed?
Craziest stat of the game? The most explosive player on UW’s roster, Salvon Ahmed, had nine touches against Cal — and finished with minus-4 yards. Minus-4. Ahmed hyperextended his knee at Oregon on Oct. 13, and it’s clear coaches are being cautious with him.