BERKELEY — California is looking to avoid a repeat performance against Washington.
A year after a promising season was derailed by a lopsided loss to the Huskies, the Golden Bears come into the rematch on a roll.
Cal (3-0) survived last week at Texas with help from a missed extra point and has won the first three games of the season for the first time since 2011.
The Bears were on a similar roll a year ago when they took a 4-1 mark into a home game against Washington only to fall flat. Cal drove down the field to open the game only to have quarterback Jared Goff fumble at the goal line and Shaq Thompson return it 100 yards for a score.
That sent the Huskies off to a 31-7 win and Cal to six losses in the final seven games of the season to fall a win short of a bowl game.
“They whipped us physically up front on both sides of the ball last year,” coach Sonny Dykes said Tuesday. “I think our guys were embarrassed. Certainly we didn’t do a very good job getting them ready as coaches. They came in here and humiliated us. Just physically beat us up, outcoached us and outplayed us.”
The Huskies have been just about the only defense to slow down Goff and the Bear Raid offense the past two years. Cal has averaged more than 43 points a game since the start of last season playing anyone other than Washington and Stanford is the only other opponent to hold Cal under 30 points.
Goff fumbled three times and failed to throw a TD pass against a defense that had four players picked in the first round of the NFL draft.
The Huskies took away the deep pass from Cal last year and that seemed to sap the Bears’ energy.
“It seemed like we were going through the motions,” receiver Stephen Anderson said. “We weren’t coming out as aggressive as we should have. They dropped their safeties back like 20, 25 yards and they made us earn it all the way up the field instead of having the opportunity to take those shots.”
Cal is looking to open the season with four straight wins for the first time since 2007. That was also one of the last years the Bears were nationally relevant. They rose to No. 2 in the rankings after four games and were poised to move into the top spot for the first time ever before an end-of-game meltdown in a 31-28 home loss to Oregon State.
The Bears have a 43-55 record since that game, including just nine wins in the last three seasons.
But that has all started to change this year behind Goff, who is playing the best football of his career as a junior. Goff is completing 73.1 percent of his passes, an increase from 62 percent a year ago, and has also gotten a significant boost in yards per attempt from 7.8 to 9.7 this year.
Goff has also gotten help from an improved running game that generated 280 yards on the ground at Texas for the biggest rushing performance in Dykes’ three years at the helm. That came despite the absence of injured starter Daniel Lasco, who could return this week.
Khalfani Muhammad ran for 164 yards and a touchdown and Vic Enwere added 73 and two scores, making it tough for defenses to just key on Goff and his stable of talented receivers.
Even the defense has improved with a league-high nine forced turnovers and eight sacks through three weeks. Now the Bears want to take that nonconference success into the Pac-12 season.
“Our guys understand they are nowhere close to where they want to be but we’ve made significant strides,” Dykes said. “They just want to keep getting better.”