You don’t get to see games like the one against the Utes last Saturday very often. It takes a special confluence of circumstances that necessitates having an elite defense … that just so happens to shit the bed for an entire half of football. Now, just saying that – without knowing any of the details of the game – you might think the Huskies got off to a great start, and then blew it. But, that’s what makes this such a rare occurrence! This was the exact opposite!
Defenses don’t normally get stronger as the game goes along. Having to react to the play-calling and tempo of an offense alone is exhausting, let alone all of the actual effort it takes to try to prevent them from scoring (when, not for nothing, almost all the rules are tilted in the offense’s favor). That’s why you often see teams scoring at a higher rate in the final two minutes of a close game; that’s when defenses are most gassed.
It takes a special sort of fortitude to bow up like that after looking so bad for an entire half of football. Utah took a 21-0 lead at the break, and they REALLY dictated everything to the Huskies. I thought the most uncharacteristic thing about this game was how many tackles the Dawgs missed in the first half.
The Utah running game was especially stout, finishing the day with 215 yards on 41 carries and 2 touchdowns. The Huskies didn’t have an answer for it in the first half, forcing a fumble (off a sack) on the very first drive of the game and a punt early in the second quarter. But, otherwise, the Utes marched at will, and it was a little embarrassing!
On top of which, the Husky offense seemed to sleepwalk throughout. Dylan Morris was far from great in this one, throwing 3 picks (albeit, one of them was a hail mary at the end of the first half). The first one was particularly Carson Wentz-esque! Just RIGHT to the defender, like he was the one running the route. And, to make matters worse, the running game never got going (only 88 yards on 26 carries, with a TD).
I fully expected – with all the stars they lost to graduation and the NFL last year – that the Utes would be pushovers. But, that’s a solid program, and they are VERY physical along both their offensive and defensive lines. If there was ever a blueprint on how to beat the Huskies, the Utes unlocked it: run the ball physically on offense and stack the box against us and force our inexperienced quarterback to try and beat you with his arm.
What I never would’ve expected – in just his third college start – was Morris doing just that. While the interceptions were unfortunate (and hopefully an anomaly), he did finish 23/38 for 272 yards and 2 TDs. Tight end Cade Otton was the best player on either offense, catching 8 balls for 108 yards and both of the airborne touchdowns (including the game winner with 36 seconds remaining). Puka Nacua also had some big catches in this one to keep drives alive (finishing with 6 for 67).
I’m sure Jake Browning had a few come-from-behind victories in his 4-year career as a Husky, but he’s certainly not known as someone who regularly pulled our asses out of the fire. Indeed, I would argue we haven’t had a quarterback like that since Marques Tuiasosopo. I’m not saying Morris is the second coming in that regard, but it’s a good sign that this early on in his college career, the moment wasn’t too big for him.
For as bad as the first half was, the second half was a trip! The Huskies got the ball and drove right down the field to cut the lead to two scores. Then, Elijah Molden picked off Jake Bentley, which led to the Huskies getting a short field. Unfortunately, we couldn’t convert – having to settle for a field goal – but by then you could sort of feel something special starting to build. The Utes were stuffed on fourth down on the Husky-side of midfield, and three plays later it was 21-17 (and we were still in the third quarter at that point!).
Things got straight up weird after that. The Utes finally figured out how to move the ball, driving it deep into Husky territory. Then, Kyler Gordon forced a fumble that was recovered by Zion Tupuola-Fetui, and we all thought this was it! Not only would the Huskies complete the comeback, but perhaps the rout would be on from here!
Not so fast, though. The teams traded punts, then what appeared to be a back-breaking third interception by Morris gave the ball to the Utes at the 50 with just under 7 minutes remaining. This could’ve ended things, but the defense stepped up once again to force a 3 & Out and a punt down to the Washington 12 yard line. With four and a half minutes to go, that’s when Morris stepped up for the biggest drive of his life. 88 yards on 12 plays, with a couple of huge third down conversions (including a 3rd & 10 play that went for 14 yards to Nacua), methodically marching down the field, culminating in a 16-yard TD to Otton. Three plays later, Trent McDuffie picked off Bentley for a second time to end it.
What else can you say about ZTF, by the way? He had all three Husky sacks in this one, to win his THIRD consecutive Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Award (yes, that’s 3 for 3 on the season). He just looks like a total fucking beast along the defensive line; absolutely unstoppable! Also, that Death Row secondary held the Utes to 144 yards passing (not that they needed to do a whole lot, with the way they were able to run the ball, but still); you could tell that as soon as they NEEDED to throw the ball, they wouldn’t be able to.
That’s going to be the key going forward: keeping opposing running games in check to the point where they have to throw, and then absolutely crushing their spirits.
At 3-0, the Huskies are FINALLY ranked, hitting 22 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Ducks lost to the Beavers, which has them 23rd now (*giggle*), but we’re somehow behind USC, who is holding steady at 20. I still contend the Huskies are the most complete – and therefore BEST – team in the Pac-12. What this game showed me is that the Utes are a lot better than I originally thought. Clearly, the Huskies have the conference’s best defense, and we might’ve just finished playing the second-best unit.
This Saturday, we’re set to host Stanford at 1pm (our fourth consecutive home game). The Cardinal apparently give up the most rushing yards in the world, so I would expect it’ll be easier to get our running backs going in this one. They sit 1-2 on the year (after having their game against WSU canceled), having just barely beaten Cal (in what will probably be the final college football game in the Bay Area in 2020 thanks to their new insane COVID restrictions). Stanford lost to Oregon and Colorado, who are two of the better-looking teams in the Pac-12, so they’ve really gotten the unlucky end of the scheduling stick this season. We’ll see if they’re really as bad as the numbers indicate, or if it’s a matter of playing really tough teams.
Either way, I expect the Huskies to win, and in much easier fashion than against Utah. Maybe that was a wake-up call. We weren’t able to do what we wanted to do, and really took a shot to the face in the first half. But, we rallied and showed what we’re made of, and I think that speaks well to the character of our players and the preparedness of our coaching staff.
Now, if we can just NOT ice our own kicker and take a horrific Delay of Game penalty before he pushes a 40-yard kick wide right, maybe we won’t have to lose our fucking minds!