No. 15 Washington continues title hunt vs. Cal

Washington quarterback Jake Browning (3) is moving up the ranks in Pac-12 career passing yardage.Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

No. 15 Washington is back in control of its destiny in the Pac-12 North race heading into Saturday’s matchup at Cal.

Washington (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) is coming off a 27-13 home win against Colorado, a nice bounce-back game following an overtime loss at Oregon. And when the Ducks lost at Washington State on Saturday night, the Huskies elevated to a half-game lead in the North.

Washington State and Stanford are 3-1 in conference play. Oregon is 2-2.

“There’s just so much football left to be played,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said Monday, his team still facing games against the Cougars and Cardinal in November.

“You’re so worried about somebody and then you don’t take care of your own business. So that’s the first step. The main thing is that we won last week and certainly how that game went probably helped us. It’s not going to help us very much if we don’t take care of ourselves this weekend.

“I really mean this, I think we got a very dangerous Cal team. We know those guys. We know those coaches. I think those guys are very well coached.”

Cal (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) snapped a three-game skid last week by crushing Oregon State 49-7 in Corvallis, Ore. The news out of that was that Bears coach Justin Wilcox went back to redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Garbers, replacing Brandon McIlwain, who turned the ball over 11 times during the previous three games.

Garbers completed 17 of 26 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted, although he did lose a fumble.

“Chase has always been a real steady guy, and we thought we would give him an opportunity to give us a little bit of a spark,” Wilcox said. “Chase played pretty efficiently.”

Garbers’ task this week will be much more difficult. Washington’s secondary is among the best in the country, led by safety Taylor Rapp and cornerback Byron Murphy. Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is second in the nation with 13.5 tackles per game.

Garbers was able to settle in last week because the running game produced 305 yards, led by hard-running Patrick Laird, who had carries 22 times for 193 yards and scored two touchdowns. Should the Huskies — who allow 134.4 yards per game on the ground — limit Cal’s ground game early, they’ll be able to turn up the heat on Garbers.

Washington’s running attack, meanwhile, might still be without starting running back Myles Gaskin, who sat last week because of a shoulder injury. “Hope so,” was Petersen’s response Monday when asked if Gaskin would be available this Saturday.

But the Huskies showed off their backfield depth last week. Change-of-pace back Salvon Ahmed entered the week questionable but posted 73 yards with a touchdown on just nine carries. Sean McGrew had 12 carries and Kamari Pleasant ran 10 times.

“(Gaskin) is the guy we want in our backfield as often as possible, (but) I think we have a great group of O-lineman who can make it happen even if he’s not there,” said offensive tackle Kaleb McGary.

Cal is holding opponents to 3.75 yards per rush, just ahead of Washington (3.76).

Washington senior quarterback Jake Browning has 11,005 career passing yards — second to Boise State’s Brett Rypien among active players — and needs 245 to pass former Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson for seventh in Pac-12 history. Browning needs 304 to pass ex-Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday for sixth place.

Browning’s top target has been wideout Aaron Fuller, who has 42 catches for 652 yards and three touchdowns. Cal will be without defensive lineman Zeandae Johnson for the first half because of a second-half targeting penalty last week.

The Golden Bears, who held a players-only meeting the night before they ended a 14-game conference road losing streak at Oregon State, are seeking their first bowl game appearance since the 2015 season, when Jared Goff was quarterback. Cal needs two wins in five games to become bowl eligible but likely will be underdogs in all of them. Washington was favored by about 11 points early this week.

“We’ve just got to execute and don’t be too big on their ranking and them being the big dog in the Pac-12,” said Cal cornerback Cam Bynum. “If we play like we did Saturday against better competition, just carry it over, we’ll be fine.”

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