The Huskies Dismantled The Wildcats & The Cougs Coug’d The Apple Cup

The Huskies won 44-27 on Saturday evening, but don’t let the score fool you. It was 37-0 after three quarters, climbing to 44-6 before a TON of Garbage Time points (against the Huskies’ backup defense) made the game look a lot closer than it was.

You really can’t say enough about, well, the starting defense at least. We had five sacks and seven tackles for loss. Zion Tupuola-Fetui had two more sacks to lead the way, Ryan Bowman had a sack, Edefuan Ulofoshio had a sack and five tackles from the linebacker spot. Elijah Molden had another strong game in coverage. Indeed, the defensive backs across the board had a fantastic night; they were as sticky as ever! The Arizona quarterback, Grant Gunnell, had – by the second half – the most despondent look I’ve ever seen on an opposing quarterback. He was getting beaten up in the pocket, he couldn’t find anyone even remotely open, and it looked like he wanted to give up and hide under a rock until the game ended. It’s to his credit that he was able to hang in there and rack up some cheap stats at the end; he finished with 259 yards passing on 27/39 with 3 touchdowns.

However, I went through and did the math: from the point where Arizona got the ball with less than a minute left in the third quarter, through the end of the game, when they scored all of their points, Gunnell was 17/23 for 219 yards. Meaning, when the game mattered most (for almost three entire quarters), he was 10/16 for 40 yards. At that point, you can kind of understand why this defense might have an opposing quarterback whimpering like a child whose sandcastle was just kicked over by a local bully.

Offensively, the Huskies absolutely steamrolled over Arizona’s defense. Dylan Morris came out firing early in the first half, ultimately throwing for 230 yards on 15/25 passing, with 2 TD’s. With such a huge lead to play with, once again Morris wasn’t asked to do a whole lot. But, I thought he looked a lot more comfortable back there. His accuracy in the short-to-intermediate range is tremendous! He’s making lots of smart decisions on when to run and when to hang in there and take a hit as he’s throwing the ball. If anything, his long-ball accuracy leaves a little to be desired (he was long on most of them, then seemed to try to over-correct and came up short, allowing those passes to be knocked away), but this is a minor quibble. I’m liking most of what I’m seeing from Morris; he’s certainly exceeded my expectations through two games.

Of course, the run game was just as elite as it was last week. As a team, the Huskies ended up running it 45 times for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns. For those keeping track, that’s a two-game total of exactly 500 yards on 96 carries (5.21 yards per carry average) with 7 touchdowns; that’s pretty insane! Richard Newton led the way with 81 yards on 8 carries (bolstered by a late 54-yard TD), but it was a team effort, with a committee of four backs sharing the ball pretty evenly. This is a DOMINANT running team, and a force to be reckoned with the rest of the way.

Before moving on, I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out some receivers. Tight end Cade Otton led the way with 7 catches for 100 yards and a TD. Puka Nacua had only 1 catch, but it went for 65 yards and a TD (the breakaway speed on that kid is top notch; I’d love to see him get the ball in space more often and see what he can do with yards after catch). Ty Jones had 2 catches for 33 yards and Terrell Bynum had 1 for 20 and another rush for 13 more yards. There were a few more drops though, that would have me pulling my hair out if I had any on my head. That needs to stop, posthaste!

There’s some bad news for all of you post-Thanksgiving Apple Cup fans: the Cougs apparently have too many COVID cases and thus not only had their game this past weekend canceled, but are also on the shelf for this Friday night’s would-be Apple Cup. That doesn’t mean there definitely won’t be an Apple Cup this season (the last year we didn’t have one was 1944); if things shake out as expected (i.e. more games get canceled due to COVID), the conference will be all too happy to reschedule it later this season. Indeed, it’s been bandied about that should the Huskies not be playing for the conference title in mid-December, the game could be shifted to that weekend, as opposed to playing whatever Pac-12 South team we would’ve played.

That leads to what will happen for the Huskies THIS weekend. There was chatter yesterday that we might get to play undefeated BYU (so, you know, it wouldn’t be the Apple Cup, but we’d still get to play the Cougars). I find this SO entertaining; there are rumors all over the map. Some outlets are saying that BYU is afraid to play a team as good as UW because they’re 9-0 and therefore in the hunt for a playoff spot. This is the first week where the College Football Playoff rankings come out, and some are saying BYU wanted to see where they stood first before agreeing to play the Huskies. Obviously, if they’re not in (or near) the top four when those rankings are released, they’ll absolutely want to play the Huskies to bolster their resume! But, if things are looking good for them, why would you risk a defeat and blow your chances?

Of course, on the BYU side, they’re officially saying all the right things. They apparently want this game against UW locked down sooner rather than later, but the Pac-12 has a rule saying we have to wait until Thursday, just in case any other Pac-12 teams have their games canceled because of an opposing COVID outbreak. Which, unfortunately, seems like it’s going to be the case.

I read, as of last night, that the Huskies are preparing to play Utah this week. The Utes are 0-1 so far, with two canceled games (they lost at home to USC this past weekend, and didn’t look particularly good doing it). Utah is scheduled to play Arizona State this weekend, but it sounds like the Sun Devils – whose last two games have been canceled – are not out of the woods of their own outbreak. Beggars can’t be choosers and all of that, but if I had my druthers I’d rather play BYU.

The Huskies didn’t quite get into the Top 25 this week, but from the “Others Receiving Votes” category, we received the most (meaning we’re effectively 26th in the AP rankings, and 29th in the Coaches Poll). So, a BYU game (8th in both polls) would’ve been HUGE from a national perspective. At this point, only Oregon (9th in the AP, 11th in Coaches) and USC (19th in the AP, 18th in Coaches) are ranked from the Pac-12. No one else is really even on the radar (though Colorado, like Washington, is 2-0). From what I’ve seen, the Pac-12 just doesn’t look great. USC is LUCKY to be 3-0 at this point, and only looked good this past weekend against Utah. Oregon struggled at home against UCLA. Cal has looked atrocious (even losing to the Beavs this past weekend). Stanford has yet to win a game. And ASU is about to have their third game taken away because of the pandemic.

Honestly, it feels like the top two teams in the conference are Oregon and Washington, which is a blessing and a curse. The Ducks should have no trouble going undefeated heading into our showdown on December 12th, and the more I’m seeing from the Huskies, the more I’m expecting us to do the same. The shame of it all is we’re still unranked; I was REALLY hoping we’d be in the Top 25 after killing the Wildcats (maybe a byproduct of how close the score ended up looking; if we’d beaten them 51-0, we might be in there right now). I know for a fact if we went on the road and escaped BYU with a victory, we’d jump right in there (and probably leapfrog USC in the process). At that point, going undefeated and winning in Oregon still might not make a difference, but it would be cool to whiff the Top 10, even in a wacky season like this one.

Regardless of who the Huskies play this weekend, there’s no doubt in my mind this is a great football team. It makes me long for what we could’ve done in a COVID-free universe, where we got to play our original schedule. Leading off with a win over the hapless Michigan Wolverines would’ve been VERY sweet, I can tell you that much.

The Huskies Actually Played A Football Game, Beating The Beavs

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.