No. 6 Washington seeks faster start versus Cal

Washington quarterback Jake Browning hasn't hit his stride this season.

But the sight of the California Golden Bears could prompt the start of a sustained groove.

Browning and No. 6 Washington host Cal in Seattle on Saturday when the Huskies (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) continue their bid to make the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season.

Browning had one of the top games in his career last season against the Golden Bears when he passed for 378 yards and matched his career best of six touchdown passes in a 66-27 walloping.

The junior has passed for 1,251 yards and 12 touchdowns against three interceptions this season. But the Huskies haven't been as consistent on offense and have been plagued by slow starts, the most recent being a seven-point first half against Oregon State last Saturday before breaking out for a 42-7 victory.

Browning connected on three second-half touchdown passes to standout senior receiver Dante Pettis but coach Chris Petersen said he didn't feel there was a different level of aggressiveness.

"No. I thought he was fairly aggressive in the first half as well," Petersen said.

"He might have been in a little bit more of a rhythm in the second half but I thought he was looking for things. There were one or two things that we ended up scoring on -- one pass he was a little bit high to Dante. I think Dante can make that catch and I think Jake can throw a better ball. We ended up scrambling and scoring a touchdown anyways.

"There's one or two things he probably would have preferred to go in a different direction with the ball, he might have gotten a completion. It's a lot of those little details that, for whatever reason, didn't add up in the first half."

The Golden Bears (3-2, 0-2) are struggling to slow down opponents through the air and rank 110th in pass defense at 273.8 yards per game.

Stopping Washington figures to be a challenge with Cal having allowed 30 or more points on three occasions -- including 45 in last Saturday's three-touchdown loss to Oregon.

"Really, really good football team," Golden Bears first-year coach Justin Wilcox said of the Huskies. "They are skilled. They are physical up front. Both fronts are really, really physical. Really well-coached. It will be a great challenge for us."

Wilcox and Petersen are highly familiar with one another as Wilcox served as defensive coordinator under Petersen for four seasons (2006-09) at Boise State. Wilcox also spent two seasons as Washington's defensive coordinator (2012-13) but followed Steve Sarkisian to USC just as Petersen was hired as Huskies' coach.

"I just think he's a good football coach," Petersen said. "I've known that for a long time, whether he's running the defense or a whole team. He knows how to coach the guys, get them going."

Wilcox is looking for answers after the consecutive defeats and is trying to establish a standard for the program.

The 40-year-old was less than thrilled with his team's performance against the Ducks.

"We can be better, and we've got to be better," Wilcox said. "It'll take every individual; it starts with me making sure we are doing the right thing -- every coach and every player in our program. That starts now, it's unacceptable"

One player the Golden Bears can always count on is senior inside linebacker Devante Downs, who leads the Pac-12 with 54 tackles. Downs also has three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The Cal offense is run by sophomore quarterback Ross Bowers, who has passed for 1,357 yards and nine touchdowns. But he has also been intercepted eight times.

Junior Vic Wharton III (25 catches, 389 yards) and sophomore Kanawai Noa (24 for 373) are capable receivers but the Golden Bears confirmed Sunday that sophomore speedster Demetris Robertson (seven touchdowns among 50 catches in 2016) is done for the season after undergoing surgery for a lower-body injury.

"Next man up," Wilcox said. "Unfortunately, injuries occur, and guys have got to step up. That's what has got to happen."

Washington's defense has been stingy -- ranking 11th against the pass (153.8 yards per game) and 19th versus the run (102.2). Junior inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven has a team-best 38 tackles and junior cornerbacks Jordan Miller (two interceptions) is leading the secondary.

Pettis is tied for most career punt return scores (eight) in NCAA history, with three of the scores occurring this season. He also is having a standout receiving campaign with 27 receptions for 368 yards and six touchdowns. Pettis matched career highs of 12 receptions and three receiving touchdowns against Oregon State last Saturday while accumulating 105 yards.

Junior running back Myles Gaskin is back in form with 468 rushing yards and a nifty 7.1 average after a slow start.

Washington has won seven of the past eight meetings.
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