You ever try to stay awake, sober, for an 8pm start-time to a college football game? It’s a lot of work! Of course, I’m 195 years old and staying up until all hours of the night isn’t as easy as it used to be (particularly when you regularly wake up anywhere from 3-5am most mornings). I’m not gonna lie to you, I made it until halftime, then had to DVR the rest of the game to watch it the following morning (at 5am, which is apparently a more appropriate time to watch a football game, because again, I am an old, elderly, deceased man).
You’d think the excitement of having college football back – and specifically the team I most care about – would be enough to carry me to the finish line. But, obviously, the effects of a COVID-marred season is taking its toll. There wasn’t the usual fire in the Husky text thread Saturday night, as I think many of us feel like this season is just one long exhibition more than a real sampling of what college football has to offer. Like NFL pre-season in its level of importance.
For me, it comes down to the Pac-12 having no shot to make the college football playoffs. Why they’ve stubbornly refused to expand – if for only this one year – is beyond all reason. We get a 4-team playoff and we can choke on it, as the usual gang of idiots monopolize those spots for another season.
So, what are we playing for, then? For fun, I suppose. For something to do on Saturdays for a few weeks. Obviously, for the players to showcase their skills, particularly for those who opt to go pro after this season (I don’t know what the rules are across all conferences, but I know the Pac-12 players have the option of extending their eligibility an extra season (2020 effectively not counting) if they do want to return in 2021. I’m not against it; I’m not complaining we have the Pac-12 back in our lives. But, I’m just saying it lacks that usual juice. The Huskies could go 6-0 this year (with 7-0 formally off the table) and it won’t make a lick of difference.
On top of the lack of stakes, it’s not like we can have proper tailgates. We obviously can’t attend the games. We can’t get any road trips together with our friends. Going to a bowl game seems dicey in these times where the COVID cases are climbing.
But, it’s football, and once the game got going, I was certainly enjoying myself. It’s not normal, but it’s close enough for now.
When I went to bed at halftime, the Huskies were ahead 24-21. The final score ended up being 27-21. I can only imagine how irritated I would’ve been staying up another however many hours of real time trying to make it to the bitter end, when as it was – being able to fast forward through halftime, commercials, and all the in-game stoppages – it was already pretty boring.
The global view of this game is that I’ll take a win any way I can get it! I thought, given the circumstances (late start, cold temperature, lots of rain throughout), the Huskies looked pretty good.
Redshirt Freshman Dylan Morris got the start for the Dawgs, who I suppose was a quasi-surprise given the 4-man competition. It sounded like the senior, Kevin Thomson, was in street clothes (indicating he’s got an injury), but I find it interesting Morris got the nod over Sophomore Jacob Sirmon (who actually did see a wee bit of playing time in 2019). Jimmy Lake said Morris was the best of the bunch at limiting either mistakes or turnovers (which I consider to be the same thing, in coachspeak), so that’s something. I thought Morris looked okay, but there were a lot of frustrating drops by the wide receivers (I remember this being a theme for the Huskies last year as well), and the team didn’t have him do too much (14/24 for 141 yards).
The running game was the star of the show. The Huskies had four running backs featured (plus Morris scrambles, plus a few fullback dives, plus some wide receiver jet-sweeps); the team as a whole combined for 267 yards on 51 carries and all three touchdowns, which is pretty outstanding! In a season-opener, with a new head coach, quarterback, and offensive coordinator, I don’t think you can ask for anything more from that side of the ball. Most importantly: there were no Husky turnovers.
The Huskies split carries pretty evenly between the three main backs. Kamari Pleasant did indeed get the start and looked good (12 for 61 and a TD). Richard Newton looked like the wrecking ball we all remember him as (15 for 41). And Sean McGrew looked like an absolute revelation! He was fast, he was explosive, and he was CRIMINALLY underutilized (9 for 91 and a TD). If this were a normal season – or if it eventually morphs into something resembling a normal season – McGrew would be taking the starting job and running (!) with it. My hunch is, if he keeps averaging 10 yards per carry, the coaches will have no choice but to give him the lion’s share of the carries. But, as everyone is getting used to playing again, it might not be the worst idea to have a big rotation going, to keep everyone healthy and fresh.
Terrell Bynum was the only receiver that really stood out to me in this one (4 catches for 66 yards, and another 2 carries for 33 yards), but there will be time for this unit to shine this season. Honestly, even though the Huskies gave up a blocked punt for a touchdown after the opening drive (our prized long-snapper delivered his first college snap about 10 yards over the head of our punter, who tracked it down, tried to punt it anyway, and got absolutely clobbered for his effort), we were pretty well in control throughout, so there was never a need to abandon the run. That won’t be the case every week; at some point, we’ll learn what Dylan Morris is all about.
The defense was solid. They really only gave up 14 points (and only three sustained drives, one ending early in the fourth quarter on downs after some iffy officiating in our favor). I would say the pass defense is as advertised – limiting the Beavs to 85 yards passing on 11/24 with an INT – but the rush defense had some holes (167 yards on 34 carries) and we didn’t get to the quarterback as much as I’d like. Nevertheless, we’ll throw out some individual kudos to Edefuan Ulofoshio (led the team in tackles with 10, and 4 passes broken up), Elijah Molden (our stud DB who was all over the place in this one), Asa Turner (our interception) and Zion Tupuola-Fetui (our only two sacks!) for really standing out. There were lots of good plays across the board though, so I look forward to shouting more guys out as the season goes along!
Next week, we host Arizona at 5pm, assuming nothing goes haywire. The Wildcats lost a close one to USC at home earlier on Saturday (after having their own opening game canceled because of Utah’s COVID outbreak) and I thought they looked pretty impressive. Of course, USC might also be underwhelming, but Arizona’s big quarterback was making all sorts of plays to keep drives alive, so I’ll be interested to see how we keep him in check. He isn’t quite the runner that Arizona has had in recent seasons, but he makes up for that with a strong arm (as well as enough mobility to keep defenses somewhat honest).
My guess is his skillset plays to our defensive strengths, but I am worried about his ability to keep plays alive with his legs (either in avoiding our pass rush, or outright running for first downs to keep drives going). I didn’t see anything from Arizona’s defense that particularly scares me, but it’ll be more important for our offense to just execute, regardless of what they throw our way.
The weather might not be a whole helluva lot better than it was last week, but with the earlier start time, I would expect more points out of the Huskies. It wouldn’t shock me to see this one turn into something of a shootout. Either way, we’ll get a MUCH better sense of how good this Husky defense is, as the Wildcats’ offense should be much more balanced than Oregon State’s.