Too many possessions. There were just too many.
Mathematically, it would have been justifiable to write off California with 5:54 left in the first quarter, after the Golden Bears booted a 30-yard field goal to whittle the Washington lead to one (7-6).
By that point, the Huskies had already taken four possessions – for comparison’s sake, Notre Dame had six the entire game against Navy earlier in the day — and though they didn’t amount to much, it was inevitable, just a matter of time until the points came pouring on.
This Washington offense was averaging 46.1 points per game, a total bested by only three teams in the country. That unstoppable force was not about to meet an immovable object. Cal’s defense had been allowing 41.8 points per game. Only four teams in the United States allow more.
A matter of time is all it was.
Five of the next six Washington possessions went for scores in what would become a 66-27 smacking. Despite how porous Cal’s rushing defense has been – allowing nearly 300 yards per game – it was through the air that Washington made its assault.
It took barely more than 30 minutes of football for Washington quarterback Jake Browning to toss his fifth touchdown of the night, three of which went to John Ross and two to Dante Pettis. By then the Huskies were up by 22. It may as well have been 200. Cal’s defense was not going to hold long enough for the offense, which was no beautifully humming machine itself, to erase that deficit.
It didn’t. Myles Gaskin capped a four-play, 80-yard drive with his first touchdown of the night, extending the lead to 49-20.
“It’s nice to get into a grove like that,” said Pettis, who finished with 104 yards and three touchdowns. “You move the ball down the field pretty easily and things feel good. Everyone is in the mojo right there. That’s how it was today.”
That’s how it has been virtually every day for the Huskies, though apparently only those on the West Coast have recognized it.
“Committee members,” the ESPN color crew said, “I hope you’re watching.”
Indeed. The Huskies had been vexingly left out of the playoff committee’s initial top-four list; Texas A&M was placed in the four slot. A few hours before Washington’s dismantling of Cal in Berkeley, Mississippi State did the Huskies a mighty favor by stunning the Aggies in Starkville.
“I think it’s good,” Browning said of A&M being fourth, even though it won’t last. “There’s a lot of football left to play. Put us outside the top four and make us earn it.”
After Saturday night, there would be no mistake: Washington has earned its place as a playoff team.
Browning is the only quarterback in the country to post two six-touchdown games, something not even Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, has been able to do. With the six touchdowns he threw on Saturday night, he broke the single-season Washington record for touchdowns thrown in a season, and he still has games against USC, Arizona State and Washington State.
Arguments can be made to slot Ohio State fourth, though it doesn’t really matter. The Buckeyes will eventually have to play Michigan, and only one is getting into the playoff. Should Washington win out, the Huskies will be playoff-bound.
It is, as Cal can testify, only a matter of time.