After eight quarters of three-and-outs, eight quarters of incompletions, eight quarters of creatively bankrupt 1-yard runs between the tackles, eight quarters of criticism, eight quarters of questions, eight quarters of ill-timed penalties and ineffective adjustments, eight quarters of porous pass protection, eight quarters of befuddling personnel decisions, eight quarters of strenuous requests for sweeping staff changes …
The dam finally broke inside a half-empty Husky Stadium.
And when the dam broke, mercifully, some points poured through — 28 of them in the first two quarters and 52 overall. An offense that managed just 17 total points in season-opening losses to Montana and Michigan sprang to life Saturday, amassing 582 total yards in a 52-3 win over Arkansas State.
Dylan Morris broke the dam (for the most part, at least). After struggling at times in his first two starts of the season, UW’s starting quarterback completed 23 of 39 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions — swinging an imaginary baseball bat after dropping a rainbow to wide receiver Jalen McMillan for a 33-yard score.
“I’m really proud of Dylan Morris for the way he orchestrated that game,” UW head coach Jimmy Lake said. “We were going to have to throw the ball a little bit to open up some running lanes, and he did that effectively.”
Jalen McMillan broke the dam. The second-year freshman busted it wide open, recording seven catches for 152 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone — the first time a Pac-12 player has surpassed 150 receiving yards in a first half since John Ross accomplished that feat against Cal in 2016. McMillan — who missed the Montana loss with a hand injury and played sparingly against Michigan — entered the game with one career catch and ended it with 10 more catches for 175 yards and a score.
Of course, the Huskies also rushed for 200 yards and 5.1 yards per carry, with three rushing scores.
McMillan’s early success opened the door — or rather, dam — for his teammates.
“Having Jalen McMillan back was a huge boost. I mean, how about that game?” Lake said. “He definitely early on allowed us to run the football with what he was doing threatening those guys down the field in the pass game. Even when the ball didn’t go his way, they had to start playing looser, and now all of a sudden there’s these huge running lanes for all of our running backs.”
Speaking of running backs, Sean McGrew broke the dam.
Oh, right — remember him?
After Lake insisted the sixth-year senior hadn’t impressed enough in practice to contribute in their first two games, McGrew responded with 31 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just six carries Saturday — releasing a guttural growl after jump-cutting and crossing the goal line for a 13-yard score in the first quarter.
Cade Otton broke the dam. The first-team All-Pac-12 tight end scored his first touchdown of the season on UW’s second offensive drive, slipping behind the secondary on fourth-and-1 for a wide-open 13-yard score. Otton — who finished with two catches for 23 yards — pointed to the purple “W” on the side of his helmet while he waited for his teammates to celebrate the score.
UW’s defense broke the dam — producing a comprehensively impressive performance against a team ranked second nationally in passing offense (450.5 yards per game) and fifth in passing touchdowns (9) in its first two games. On Saturday, the Red Wolves’ aerial attack was consistently contained, as quarterback James Blackman completed just 16 of 38 passes for 176 yards without entering the end zone. The Huskies’ busiest defensive back was transfer nickelback Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles — who amassed nine tackles, two tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a sack.
“Every single game, he has improved,” Lake said of the Oklahoma transfer. “So he played solid in game one, played better in game two, and this was his best game so far in game three.
“Our next anchor is, we want to continue to grow and develop — all of us, staff included. Bookie has definitely taken that advice and that standard we have around here. He grinds tape. He sends me pictures of formations and says, ‘Hey, what about this?’ That’s what our great players do. They like to study it and become better. It’s going to be no surprise: He had a really good game today, and I guarantee tomorrow he’s going to be fighting and scratching and clawing to try to get better for this next week.”
Since we’re on the subject: Points are not the only things that poured through the dam. A UW defense that managed just one sack in its first two games claimed three Saturday, one of which forced a fumble that outside linebacker Bralen Trice returned for a 74-yard score. And, after UW failed to snag an interception against Michigan and Montana, sophomore safety Julius Irvin jumped a fourth-quarter slant to do just that.
And yet, Washington’s offense — while prolific — was far from perfect. Morris threw two more interceptions, giving him five on the season, and running back Cameron Davis coughed up a fumble as well. The Huskies also produced a slew of disappointing drops, including a would-be touchdown from Morris to tight end Devin Culp. And on the other side, standout cornerback Trent McDuffie left the game with an apparent ankle injury.
Score aside, this was not an error-free effort, and Washington is still 1-2. There’s no guarantee Saturday’s apparent improvement will translate against Cal or Oregon or Arizona State.
“For me, with my job and my role on this team, I haven’t performed well enough, with the costly turnovers,” said Morris, who has thrown four touchdown passes and five interceptions through three games. “My job is getting this offense rolling and in a rhythm. And just talking to those guys, I haven’t performed well enough. That’s what I’m working toward.”
Without a doubt, there is work to be done.
But after eight quarters of catastrophes, this felt like progress.
There needs to be more as Washington enters Pac-12 play.
“It is what it is. We’re at where we’re at,” Lake said of his team’s 1-2 start. “What I do love is we’ve gone through some adversity these first two games, and have seen what we’re about as a team, and I love how we responded. I love how we responded.
“You know what? Sometimes you need to go through hard things to find out who you are, and that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re still going through adversity. We’re not happy with where we’re at. We’ve still got a lot to improve on, with conference play coming up next week.”