Stan Szeta - USA Today
There's about four staples to the offense that Chris Petersen runs at Washington currently. It's a bit of a departure from a lot of teams in the NCAA, as while UW uses spread sets, there's a lot of different ways that they'll get into those formations. Here's the major tenets that the UW offense is built on.
1. They will run power/zone/counter out of just about any formation
"Lot of different personnel groupings and formations out of those personnel groupings, head coach Justin Wilcox said, "the run schemes, you see similar run schemes but the picture changes, so some team will line up and run one back power, they’ll run it out of one or two different looks and Washington will do it out of more than that."
Washington has a very good back in Myles Gaskin, and they'll free him up from almost anywhere, whether it's in a heavier formation with two tight ends and two guard pulls or a more spread out formation. Their guards, Nick Harris and Jesse Sosebee, are good pullers, and will kick guys out.
They like to move their TEs around in this vein, splitting them out, putting them in the backfield as an H-back. Ideally, this is what Beau Baldwin wants Cal's offense to be like with solid tight ends. It gives them some extra blocking oomph to work with.
2. If you see something one play, there will be a play run off of it later, and sometimes it'll be a trick play
"If you see something the first time," Wilcox said, "there’s a reason you saw it, because then there’s a complement to it that you’re probably going to see later on."
There's a play action fake off almost everything. They run some RPO stuff, some stuff with a trips formation to one side, that can be used for a double pass, a look that UW used last year against the Bears. Trick plays are a big part of how Petersen's teams came to prominence, but their base is to set you up with the basics, the power looks, stuff they can run play action off of, and to take advantage of undisciplined eyes from the defense.
3. There will be motion, lots of it
Jake Browning has become practiced in pre-snap reads, and the motion that they use, either bringing guys across the formation or shifting between formations, it allows them to identify coverages at the snap. It also can confuse defenses, get them out of their original formation and forces players to think that much more on the defensive end. It can help counteract defensive shifts before the snaps, and it uses more time from the coaches in preparation.
4. They will exploit one on one coverage
Browning threw three touchdown passes last week, and they all took advantage of one on one man coverage on the outside on Dante Pettis. One came on a fade, one on a slant, and one on a double move. The corner was helpless every time as Pettis ran right by a flatfooted defender trying to cover, even drawing a PI call on one of the TDs. They'll do this on the outside, and while Browning's arm isn't elite, he can still make the deep throws enough to hurt defenses if the wideouts get behind them.
He'll also take advantage with the tight ends, and while they have a couple key TEs out, Drew Sample being the big one, but the TEs that they have are extremely competent and big targets.
Browning - Accurate, knowledgeable in the offense, will get the ball out quick, has knack for finding an open man in the intermediate. Can run some, not as good of a scrambler as the past two QBs Cal has played in Darnold and Herbert, still needs to be contained.
Gaskin - Strong for his size at 190, can push his way forward against bigger defenders, quick off his cuts, gets around the edge well, again need to keep contain on him, can't get reach blocked or washed out on the powers.
Pettis - Developing into a strong number one target, defenders have to be aware of his double moves, can't be flat footed against him in single coverage, a very solid deep threat who can gain yards in space, have to wrap him up well, because he breaks out of tackles well.
Will Dissily and Hunter Bryant - The two TEs #98 and #19 respectively, Dissily is a big body good blocker on the outside, have to chop him down to tackle him in space and gang tackle, while Bryant is more of a WR/TE hyrbrid who splits out better and allows UW to go from 11 to 12 personnel while still running some hurry-up stuff if they'd like.
Coleman Shelton - Played a ton at center, the big piece around which the Huskies move extremely well. Lynchpin of the offensive line, one that announcers mentioned a lot during the UW-OSU game.
Keys for the Cal Defense
There's a couple obvious ones, like don't get pushed back at the line as often as they did last week, or don't take a bad step inside, and get washed out as the opposing team takes a run 70 yards for a score, but here are some other ones
Losing contain is one of the worst things you can do against UW. Gaskin can make you pay, Pettis can make you pay, Lavon Coleman can make you pay, and even Browning scored a TD on a run where OSU lost contain. Alex Funches and Cam Goode will be called on to do a lot this week, which they can do, but they're going to have to continually set an edge for Cal to be successful.
2. Dial up pressure early
UW has a solid offensive line, but it's not impenetrable. Some of the play-action fakes are slow to develop, and the Bears have to take advantage, either getting pressure from the four man rush, or getting clever with outside rushers from the nickel or A-gap blitzes with Devante Downs or Evan Weaver. Getting UW behind the chains early makes it easier to dial up the blitzes and disguised coverages that can force turnovers.
The moment you take a step up to try to defend the run on play action, that's the moment where Pettis or Quentin Pounds gets behind the safeties and scores on a deep ball. That's all on the players making their reads, and on the coaches having coached them up to read those keys.
4. Gang Tackle
It's simple, but gang tackling is the last piece of the equation. When you can get multiple people to the ball, it usually means you're pursuing well and you're slowing ballcarriers enough for minimal gains. That's exactly what's needed Saturday, as the defense needs to have a better showing in this area than they did in Eugene.