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Cal Football Opponent Previews: North Rival Washington Visits in Opener

Huskies and Golden Bears expected to duel near the top of the Pac-12 North

* First in a series of stories previewing Cal’s six firm opponents on their revised 2020 Pac-12 schedule. This story, which appeared on Cal Sports Report in April, has been substantially updated, reflecting changes since then.

Game 1: WASHINGTON at CAL, Saturday, Nov. 7

Original date: The Huskies originally were scheduled to visit Berkeley for Game 9 on Oct. 31.

Washington 2019 record: 8-5 overall, 4-5/tied 2nd in Pac-12 North

Series record: Washington leads 52-41-3. Cal has prevailed in the past two meetings, winning 20-19 in Seattle last season and 12-10 at Berkeley in 2018. The Bears have won three of the past five, but Washington won six in a row before that.

Washington coach: Jimmy Lake, 1st year

Recent changes: The Huskies lost two talented members off their defense when first-team All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Levi Onwuzirike and second-team All-Pac-12 outside linebacker Joe Tryon both opted out in favor of preparing for the NFL draft. The two combined for 86 tackles and 18.5 tackles for loss last season. UW’s quarterback competition widened with the arrival in June of graduate transfer Kevin Thomson, who grew up in the Seattle suburb of Auburn, Wash., and was Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year after passing for 3,216 yards and 27 touchdowns last fall at Sacramento State under coach Troy Taylor, the one-time Cal star.

Top players: Senior nickel back Elijah Molden (1st-team All-Pac-12, team-leading 79 tackles, 4 interceptions, 13 pass breakups) is the star defender who decided to stay at UW rather than opt out. He was MVP of the Las Vegas Bowl and is a preseason All-American. Also back are senior outside linebacker Ryan Bowman (2nd-team All-Pac-12, 34 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks), sophomore linebacker Edefuan Ulufoshia (45 tackles, 6 tackles for loss), junior placekicker Peyton Henry (2nd-team All-Pac-12, 19 for 21 FGs, 49 for 49 PATs).

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Strengths: The defense, which allowed just 19.4 points per game last season, should again be the team's anchor despite the offseason losses. With six starters back on defense, the Huskies should remain solid here. . . . Until the Huskies establish a dependable quarterback, the offense likely will lean on its run game, which features promising sophomore Richard Newton (498 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 10 games) and senior Sean McGrew (342 rushing yards, 6.2 average), who are expected to fill the void of departed senior running back Salvon Ahmed (1,020 yards, 11 TDs).

Weaknesses: The Huskies had two offensive players named to the All-Pac-12 last year, and O-lineman Nick Harris and tight end Hunter Bryant (both first-team picks) are gone. So are starting quarterback Jacob Eason (3,132 yards, 23 TDs) and top wideout Aaron Fuller (59 receptions, 702 yards 6 TDs). In other words, the offense is getting a total rebuild under new offensive coordinator John Donovan, who spent the past four years with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. . . . The spring duel for the No. 1 quarterback job was vaporized by the COVID-19 shutdown. There are as many as four candidates: sophomore returnee Jacob Sirmon, graduate transfer Kevin Thompson, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and freshman Ethan Garbers. None of the gout have ever started a game at the FBS level. Sirmon served as Eason’s backup last season, but the competition is far from settled.

What you should know about Washington: Washington’s five defeats last season came by a total of 26 points (5.2 average), with only one loss by a greater margin than six points. . . . First-year coach Jimmy Lake spent the previous six seasons at UW, serving as DBs coach, co-defensive coordinator and, for the past two years, as DC. He also is regarded as an excellent recruiter. . . . Freshman QB Ethan Garbers is the younger brother of Cal starter Chase Garbers. Ethan had a spectacular senior high school season, leading Corona del Mar HS of Newport Beach to a 16-0 record and the California Division 1-A state title. He passed for 5,034 yards and 71 TDs and ran for 12 more TDs. . . . Jacob Sirmon is the nephew of Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon. . . . The Huskies have posted 10 consecutive winning seasons and have played in a bowl game each of those seasons, including the Rose Bowl after the 2018 campaign.

Spring practice status: The Huskies were scheduled to begin their first spring session under Lake on April 1, but everything was shut down by the pandemic well before then. So UW, seeking to rebuild on offense and settle in with new leadership, got no benefit from spring practice.

UW 2020 Schedule: Sept. 7 at Cal; Nov. 14 vs. Oregon State; Nov. 21 vs. Arizona; Nov. 27 at Washington State; Dec. 5 vs. Stanford; Dec. 12 at Oregon.

2020 Season projection: Washington and Cal are viewed as near equals jockeying for the No. 2 spot in the Pac-12 North behind favorite Oregon. The Bears may have an edge in offensive experience, while both teams feel good about their defense despite offseason defections. Cal might benefit from facing the Huskies in the opener before UW’s new quarterback picture comes into focus.

Cal-Washington game prediction: Cal 24, Washington 20

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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