SEATTLE (AP) — California coach Justin Wilcox is on his own little reunion tour through the Pac-12 Conference.
Seeing old faces is the least of Wilcox’s concerns at this point, with California having lost two straight and facing another major challenge on Saturday at No. 6 Washington.
Last week, Wilcox returned to his alma mater Oregon and watched the Ducks hand the Golden Bears a 45-24 setback. Now it’s a trip north to Seattle and a matchup with his former employer — in multiple ways. Wilcox served as the defensive coordinator for Washington coach Chris Petersen for four seasons at Boise State. Wilcox was also the defensive coordinator at Washington for two years when Steve Sarkisian was the head coach.
“I just think he’s a good football coach,” Petersen said of Wilcox. “I’ve known that for a long time, whether he’s running the defense or a whole team. He knows how to coach the guys, get them going.”
Petersen and Wilcox were brief in their comments about each other this week. They’re dealing with their own team issues.
Washington (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) would like to end a string of sluggish starts. A year ago, Washington dominated most of its opponents early and cruised to victories. This year has been more of a struggle in the first half, highlighted by holding just a 7-0 lead at halftime last week at lowly Oregon State. The Huskies erupted for 35-point second half against the Beavers, but the slow starts are a concern for Petersen.
“We’re going to address it. We’ll talk to our guys,” Petersen said. “How do you fix the turnover situation when it’s not going in your favor? It’s the same thing — you practice on it, move things up in practice and get it going a little bit more. It’s not because they are not trying, so you’re always trying to be creative as coaches to fix every single problem that you have.”
California (3-2, 0-2) opened with three straight wins, but the Bears have since lost to Southern California and Oregon.
“We’ve got to execute more consistently. We’ve played well in spurts,” Wilcox said. “We just have to play better. It’s a matter of doing the same thing over and over and over and executing at a high level more than sometimes.”
Here’s what else to watch as the Bears and Huskies meet for the 98th time:
RUNNING DOWN A DREAM: Washington discovered its run game, which lagged through the first three weeks of the season.
Myles Gaskin is coming off consecutive 100-yard games after rushing for 113 yards on 15 carries last week against the Beavers. Lavon Coleman returned after missing the win over Colorado to add 70 yards against the Beavers. The Huskies are averaging nearly 5.9 yards per carry the past two weeks. Stopping the run remains a weakness for California. The Bears are giving up nearly 175 yards per game on the ground.
HOMECOMING: It will be a major homecoming for two of Cal’s most important players. Quarterback Ross Bowers is from nearby Bothell, Washington, and linebacker Devante Downs is from Mountlake Terrace, Washington. Bowers had a great start to the season but has been prone to mistakes the last couple of weeks as the competition improved. Bowers threw four interceptions against USC and was sacked against Oregon seven times.
Downs leads the Pac-12 in tackles, averaging 10.8 per game.
“It’s cool to see my family and friends, but it’s just another week,” Downs said.
TURN IT OVER: California forced nine turnovers in the first three games and won the turnover battle in each game. Not surprisingly, the Bears started 3-0. During the two-game losing streak, the Bears have committed eight turnovers in the two losses.
FULL MOON FEVER: Washington is getting a little tired of late kickoffs, but there’s not much relief soon. The Huskies will play consecutive games that kickoff at 7:45 p.m. PT. They’ve yet to play a game that started earlier than 5 p.m. local time. Petersen complained this week that the late starts are impacting the Huskies exposure.
Wilcox, too, wasn’t a fan of the late start. The Bears already have a late kickoff scheduled for next Friday when they host Washington State.
“They tell us when the games are. If it was up to us, we wouldn’t choose 7:45 p.m. But it’s not up to us,” he said.
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