It might be too much to say that Bush Hamdan is haunted by its memory.
But nearly a year later, the Cal loss still stings.
For those that blocked out the whole ugly affair — and really, who could blame you? — here’s a brief recap: the Washington offense stormed out of the gates in its opening possession, piling up a 14-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Jake Browning to Ty Jones.
In an offensively offensive 12-10 loss on Oct. 27, 2018, Washington rushed for 91 yards and 2.8 yards per carry. The Huskies completed 48 percent of their passes for 159 yards and a pair of interceptions (including the poetically putrid go-ahead 37-yard pick-six). They finished with a measly 250 total yards, surrendered four sacks and went 4 of 13 on third down.
In an erratic opening season as the Huskies’ offensive play-caller, this was — for his critics, at least — Hamdan’s defining debacle. It was the most inexcusable evidence of an offense that had inexplicably regressed. Of course, it didn’t help that running back Myles Gaskin, tight end Hunter Bryant and wide receiver Chico McClatcher all didn’t play.
But, regardless of personnel, this was the most unseemly stain on an otherwise successful season. And for Hamdan, it was proof that significant improvements needed to be made.
“We certainly took a deep, deep dive on that game last year — just overall philosophy-wise,” Hamdan said on Wednesday. “We certainly have to take more chances. I really felt that we were just reacting, and our biggest push this year, really, is to be on the attack.”
Hamdan, likewise, attacked the offseason — and in doing so tore through the offensively incompetent 2018 Cal tape. But how often did the second-year UW offensive coordinator watch that specific game?
“Oof. I think every single day from that day on,” he said. “So no offseasons, no summer break. Again, we’ve made it a plan to be on the attack this year, and we hope to do that.”
They certainly did it against Eastern Washington last weekend, when UW erupted for 570 total yards and six touchdowns in a convincing 47-14 win. That included 349 yards and four scores in a dominant debut for UW junior quarterback Jacob Eason, 53 percent third-down conversions and touchdown strikes of 50, 23 and 18 yards.
But, again, that was Eastern Washington. This is Cal (1-0). This is a defense featuring “what may be the best secondary in college football,” according to Sports Illustrated. This is a unit that ranked second nationally in interceptions (21), ninth in passing defense (175.1 yards per game), 11th in pass efficiency defense (107.25) and 12th in opponent yards per attempt (5.9) last season.
This is a staff comprised of three current or former FBS defensive coordinators — head coach Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and co-defensive coordinator and associated head coach Peter Sirmon. This a group led by preseason All-American linebacker Evan Weaver, among others.
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All things considered, this is quite possibly the best defense the Huskies will see this season.
“I think the one thing is, people on the outside don’t realize how good Cal is on defense. They don’t. That’s the bottom line,” UW head coach Chris Petersen said. “Just look at their scores and look at their play over the past two years. They’re just, they’re good. And they’ve got eight of them back or nine and probably more who have a played. I think it’s a really, really good defense and you’ve got to have patience and those type of things. You’re going to have to earn it.”
Eason certainly earned every bit of praise directed at the 6-foot-6, 227-pound junior following his sparkling UW debut. But a week later, the degree of difficulty has shot through the tippy-top of the Husky Stadium bleachers. Consider, also, that the status of injured senior center Nick Harris remains ominously unclear. The Bears will bring blitzes, shifts, stunts and more than a few unexpected wrinkles.
For Eason to produce an Eastern sequel, he’ll have to adjust on the fly.
“They have a really good scheme. They just do a nice job,” Petersen said. “There’s a lot of defense there for you. There’s always that dilemma: you can see a lot of defense, but sometimes you can see a lot of holes in it. Sometimes a lot (of defense) can be an advantage for an offense. They might get you, but you’re going to get them and hit them — because guys are out of position, assignments, those type of things.
“Those guys don’t play like that, and they haven’t played like that for a year and a half at least. They have all kinds of different blitz schemes, and guys know where they’re supposed to be. So they keep you off balance with that, and then they cover well.”
Aaron Fuller does not need a reminder. In his most forgettable performance of the 2018 season, the 5-11 senior — who hauled in two spectacular touchdown catches last week — was limited to a single reception for 23 yards.
“(I just remember) a lot of bad plays — whether that’s loss of yards, penalties, things like that that killed us,” he said. “We couldn’t get in there and score. We had a couple turnovers and things like that that kind of stalled us out.
“But we’ve just got to fix those mistakes and carry that over to the next game.”
The next game, which will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, is an opportunity for Eason to prove that he can deliver comparable results against Pac-12 competition. It’s an opportunity for No. 14 Washington (1-0) and its seasoned offensive line to impose its will, and for an experienced crop of wide receivers to expose the formidable Cal secondary.
From a play-calling perspective, it’s an opportunity for Hamdan to attack — and hopefully, for Husky fans, produce a more impressive offensive tape.
“I just think overall, obviously when you have a poor performance like that, not putting those guys in better positions to be successful from a coordinator’s standpoint, you take a hard look at it and see how you can get better,” Hamdan said.
“It’s about us. I really mean that: I think it’s about us and our execution, regardless of who we’re playing. I obviously have a great amount of respect for this defense and this head coach is a guy I’ve played for. We know how good a test it is, and we’re excited for that.”