Shaq Thompson scored on a 100-yard fumble return and Cyler Miles and John Ross collaborated on an 86-yard touchdown play, but it was the Washington defense that dominated Saturday as the Huskies romped to a remarkably easy 31-7 victory over California at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.
UW rolled to a 28-0 lead by halftime, stuffed Cal at the goal line in the final minute and earned its fifth victory against one loss. For head coach Chris Petersen, it was his first Pac-12 victory.
“Our defense played great,” he said. “Cal’s got a really explosive offense and to hold them to seven points is an awesome job. At times we were explosive and at times we were terrible, but this was a great win. They are all hard to come by, so this feels wonderful.”
With Marcus Mariota and Oregon looming next week in Eugene, the Huskies crushed a California offense that had scored 164 points in its previous three games. Hau’oli Kikaha had nine tackles and three sacks as Washington held the Bears to 257 yards, only 225 through the air, and forced three turnovers.
Seventeen of Washington’s 31 points came off those miscues, including Thompson’s fumble return, the longest such play in Huskies history. The Miles-to-Ross 86-yard TD tied for the fourth-longest.
Miles, made to look bad by a terrific Stanford defense two weeks ago, rebounded with career highs in all categories. He completed 22 of 29 for 273 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Through six games, Miles has nine touchdown passes and no picks.
“There was a lot of things we worked on (during the bye),” said Miles, referring to UW’s off week. “We worked to crisp up our mechanics. I think I’m getting more comfortable every week.”
So, apparently, is the UW defense. Cal quarterback Jared Goff, who entered with 22 touchdown passes and three interceptions, found himself under constant pressure by Kikaha and Danny Shelton. He threw for 225 yards, about half his season’s average, but came close to throwing a touchdown pass only once.
After going three-and-out twice to start the game, California looked like it was going to embellish upon its 54.6 points per game scoring average over it past three contests. The Bears rolled through the Huskies without interruption on their third drive, busting two big plays — a 17-yard run by Daniel Lasco and a 25-yard Goff-to-Maurice Harris pass — to reach the UW goal line.
But Goff fumbled going in for the touchdown. Thompson plucked Goff’s bobble out of the air returned it all the way to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead. It was Thompson’s fifth touchdown of the season (four on defense), and the Huskies were in control the rest of the way.
After the Huskies barely missed converting a fourth down deep inside Cal territory with time ticking down in the first quarter, they forced a fumble and recovered on the Bears 25. On the next play, Miles threw atouchdown pass to Josh Perkins for a 14-0 lead.
Miles then directed one of his most impressive drives of the season, marching the Huskies 88 yards in 14 plays, which ended with an 11-yard TD pass to DiAndre Campbell. Washington ran on 10 of the 14 plays, with Lavon Coleman’s 15-yarder the long burst. Coleman finished with 66 yards on 15 carries.
The Huskies probably would have been content to take a 21-0 lead into the locker room, especially given the avalanche of points scored by the Bears. But inside of two minutes, Ross took a short slant pass and made five tacklers miss, turning it into a stunning 86-yard touchdown.
In the second half, after the Bears blocked a Cameron Van Winkle field goal attempt, California finally got its offense going, marching 66 yards in 19 plays to make it 28-7 with 4:21 left in the third quarter. Lasco scored from three yards out, but the good news for the Huskies was that the drive ate 6:59 of clock.
After Washington’s John Timu recovered a fumble early in the fourth, Cal’s third turnover, Van Winkle drilled a 43-yard field goal. Cal had one more shot late, but couldn’t punch it in on four tries inside the Washington 10-yard line.
Thompson’s fumble return TD in the first quarter broke the mark of 77 by Jim Noe against Colorado in 1953. Thompson also returned a fumble for a touchdown against Stanford two weeks ago . . . The 86-yard TD catch by Ross was his fourth scoring play of 50 yards or longer this season and the sixth of his career . . . Perkins drew an ejection at 9:39 of the fourth quarter for delivering a crack-back block that targeted the defender.
The Huskies travel to Eugene to face the Oregon Ducks at 5 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium. (Fox Sports 1). Washington has not defeated Oregon since 2002.
1st Qtr. (Huskies, 7-0): Shaq Thompson 100 fumble return (Cameron Van Winkle kick), 8:41.
1st Qtr. (Huskies 14-0): Josh Perkins 25 pass from Cyler Miles (Van Winkle kick), 1:44. Drive: 1 play, 25 yards in 0:07.
2nd Qtr. (Huskies 21-0): DiAndre Campbell 11 pass from Miles (Van Winkle kick), 5:23. Drive: 14 plays, 88 yards in 5:23.
2nd Qtr. (Huskies 28-0): John Ross 86 pass from Miles (Van Winkle kick), 1:29. Drive: 4 plays, 97 yards in 0:46.
3rd Qtr. (Bears 28-7): Daniel Lasco 3 run (James Langford kick), 4:21. Drive: 18 plays, 66 yards in 6:59.
4th Qtr. (Huskies 31-7): Van Winkle 43 field goal. Drive: 4 plays, -9 yards in 1:54.