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Huard: No. 15 UW Huskies will be tested by Cal’s explosiveness

Chris Petersen's UW Huskies will take on Cal and its coach, former UW assistant Justin Wilcox. (AP)

Every game at this point is pivotal for the 6-2 UW Huskies, who at 4-1 in Pac-12 play will fall out of the driver’s seat for the North Division title with a loss in any of their four remaining regular season games.

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That includes Saturday’s trip to Berkelely to take on the Cal Bears (4-3 overall, 1-3 Pac-12), a team that has the kind of explosive offense that could make things tough on the 15th-ranked Huskies.

Here are some keys to the game for Washington from ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard.

Mistakes could be magnified in a matchup of well-coached teams.

Cal is one of the better-coached teams in the conference in all three phases, and in the games where the Bears have given up points, it’s been much more about offensive turnovers (for example, four interceptions in a 42-24 loss to Oregon) and team shortcomings than it has been about the defense being overwhelmed. And while Washington has been efficient offensively, they have shown in eight games they are nowhere Bear explosive.

The Huskies will have to be smart on offense once again. Cal head coach Justin Wilcox, a former defensive coordinator at UW, implements a scheme very similar to Washington defensively that is diverse in its nickel and pressure packages. Cal will also have a new blitz package ready for Washington offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan and quarterback Jake Browning that the Huskies have not shown this season. Play-action pass should take center stage against a Cal defense that will commit resources to take the run game away.

Cal’s offense has a lot of moving parts.

The Bears use a two-headed quarterback system that will try to play to the strength of the talents of their young quarterbacks, Brandon McIlwain and Chase Garbers. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin will also mix tempo and personnel in attempts to create matchups Cal can take advantage of.

The UW offensive line deserves credit.

Last week the Huskies rushed for 201 yards in a 27-13 win over Colorado, without top running back Myles Gaskin, and that indicates that the offensive line may be the personnel unit on the team that has grown the most over the course of the year. Yes, the young running backs took care of the ball and ran hard, but rushing for 200-plus without your No. 1 RB was a testament to the five guys up front and the multiple tight ends that have also developed over the first eight weeks of the schedule.

As does the UW defensive line.

It was impressive to see the Husky defensive line, and Jaylen Johnson in particular, play their best half of football in the final 30 minutes against Colorado. The holes got a little smaller, the average run on early downs went for less. If UW is to finish the rest of the regular season unblemished, it will have to start with a defensive line that stops the run the way it did in the second half vs. the Buffs.

Against Cal, this feels like a Greg Gaines and Johnson kind of game. Young QBs for Cal, a beat up Bears offensive line, and the light at the end of the tunnel for the two linemen’s Husky careers is getting brighter. That all spells a recipe for dominating the point of attack more violently than they have all season long.

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