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With Cal Defense Next Up, Johnson In Top Form at Right Time

The Mississippi State transfer looked healthy and effective in Washington's final non-conference game.

After rushing for just 12 yards on 7 carries in Washington's season opener against Boise State, Dillon Johnson had a bounce-back performance at Michigan State. The senior from Greenville, Mississippi, had 8 carries for 71 yards against the Spartans in what was the best day on the ground for the Huskies' offense so far this season.

Johnson missed the majority of spring camp while recovering from a knee injury he suffered while still playing for the late coach Mike Leach and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. 

He also was brought back very slowly during fall camp and was held out of Washington's matchup with Tulsa, but looked healthy, according to running-backs coach Lee Marks, in his return against Michigan State.

On Wednesday, Marks said that Johnson is "very close to being at 100 percent," and that update couldn't come at a better time for the Huskies.

The California Golden Bears, led by coach Justin Wilcox, are coming to town to kick off Pac-12 play and Cal's defense gave Washington's offense a lot of trouble in Berkley in 2022. 

The Huskies escaped with a 28-21 victory but mustered just 102 yards on the ground on 32 attempts. With Johnson penciled in as Washington's starting running back, he could lead a much stronger rushing attack. 

In his first matchup with Cal, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. completed 8 passes to his running backs. Johnson is an excellent pass-catcher and has shown he can be a needed safety valve out of the backfield if his quarterback can't find anyone downfield.

Wilcox's defense didn't put a lot of pressure on Penix, sending three or four rushers for the majority of the game and dropping the majority of players in coverage into deeper zones in order to prevent explosive plays. 

That would allow Johnson, who has recorded 152 catches over his college career, to have a lot of space after the catch. The running back also could see the most carries of his young Husky career against Cal.

As he continues to get more touches, he won't face many tougher tests than the Golden Bears defense during Pac-12 play. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry over three seasons in the SEC and, if Wilcox and defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon don't commit extra defenders to stop the run, Johnson could have a big day.

If he can continue to build off his performance in East Lansing, Johnson could become the lead back Washington's coaching staff has been seeking since losing Cameron Davis for the season.

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