It screams it, everything about Saturday’s late-night matchup between No. 5 Washington and Cal.
Take a scroll through the “trap game” checklist and you’ll find nearly every single one of them with a neat little swoosh next to it.
– Is one team (Cal) coming off a long rest while the other (Washington) is rehabbing from a brutally physical game with Utah? Check.
– Is one team (Washington) the heavy, heavy favorite? By 16.5 points, to be exact. Check.
– Has the underdog (Cal) proven itself against ranked opponents? Twice, in fact, against then-No. 11 Texas and No. 18 Utah. Check.
– Has the favorite (Washington) been a bit lax when playing inferior opponents this season? Occasionally, as evidenced by the need of an overtime period to beat Arizona in September. Check.
– Does the favorite (Washington) have reason to perhaps glance over this game as an easy win while keeping its eye further down the schedule, where two tough and hyped-up matchups – against USC and on the road against Washington State – loom? Check.
– Is the game being played at night, during #Pac12AfterDark, in front of a hostile crowd for the visiting favorites? Check, check, check.
If there were ever an opportunity for Cal — and head coach Sonny Dykes, for that matter — to prove that it is not a Pac-12 middleweight, this is it. Dykes has done a fine job since taking over the program, improving from 1-11 to 5-7 to 8-5, and Cal is currently 4-4 despite graduating the most prolific quarterback, Jared Goff, in school history. But 8-5 is the school’s best finish in nearly a decade and, in an era when coaches like Les Miles and Mark Richt get the boot, 8-5 doesn’t cut it. Wins against a No. 5 and still undefeated team is what cuts it, and Dykes could not have wished for more favorable circumstances.
His team is not as good as Chris Petersen’s is at Washington… but it’s good enough, and it has proven so in the two biggest games of the season thus far, when it upset Texas – which does not look as good as it initially did – and Utah. Cal is at home, where it has won five straight games, including vindicating victories over the Utes and Oregon. As it goes with Cal, this will be a shootout. If it isn’t, that means things will not go very well in Berkeley.
The Bears, who have been gashed in every single contest this season, will not stop Myles Gaskin and Jake Browning, the precocious Washington running back-quarterback duo that has been the impetus behind UW’s 8-0 start. But it can keep pace. Quarterback Davis Webb, who has been the engine behind an offense averaging more than 40 points per game, should have his guy, Chad Hansen, back after missing two weeks with an ankle injury. It certainly never hurts to have 123.8 receiving yards per game back in the lineup, particularly when someone like Budda Baker is patrolling the secondary.
The Huskies are favored so heavily for a reason. There is no discernible way that Cal will stop their offense, particularly if they hand Gaskin the ball and ask him to run against a Bear defense allowing nearly 300 rushing yards per game. However, if there were a time and a situation and the correct circumstances for an upset to happen, this is absolutely, unequivocally the one.