There were no available excuses against UCLA.
Washington’s coaching staff had a bye week to prepare for its Homecoming opponent. Head coach Jimmy Lake said, “This is probably the most healthy our team has been all year long.” Tight end Cade Otton and nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles were both available, as were wide receivers Terrell Bynum, Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze. Heck, All-American outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui even made his season debut six months after tearing his left Achilles tendon.
On paper, this was the team Lake expected to contend for a Pac-12 title.
Which is proof that, sooner or later, changes must be made.
Perhaps a change will come under center, where Dylan Morris appears to have regressed in his second season as UW’s starter. Last week, when asked where his team must improve the most, Lake said, “The biggest thing that we have to fix is our turnover ratio, which is not very good right now, and we know turnover ratio is a huge indicator on wins and losses.”
In the 24-17 defeat Saturday against UCLA, Morris threw two more interceptions — giving him three more (eight in six games) than any other quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference. The second pick was an underthrown deep ball that should have been a game-tying touchdown to Jalen McMillan, but instead essentially ended the game.
Through six games, Morris has completed 60% of his passes, throwing for 1,446 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. When asked if errant deep balls have been a recurring concern in practice, Lake said, “No, it hasn’t been a concern. I just showed (the team) a bunch of plays over the bye week of him throwing dimes for touchdowns against our defense, and against our starting defense, and against our scout team. That hasn’t been an issue whatsoever.”
Though that might be true, practice execution has not translated to game reality (to borrow from Lake’s book of coachspeak classics).
For his part, Lake said Saturday night that he’s not ready to consider a quarterback change, but added that “we’ll continue to take a look at all that.”
Let’s say, for a moment, that he does make a move. What are Washington’s other options under center? Five-star freshman Sam Huard appears to have secured the backup job, but Lake might not want to burn his redshirt (by appearing in more than four games) in what looks more and more like a lost season. For the time being, Lake could either ride with Morris or turn to graduate transfer Patrick O’Brien — who brings legitimate FBS experience and started 12 games at Colorado State across the past two seasons.
The Huskies could theoretically stick with either Morris or O’Brien the rest of the way, or give Huard a few late-season starts in winnable games against Colorado and Washington State while still preserving his redshirt (and hopefully providing positive momentum heading into the spring).
At this point, Morris might legitimately be the best quarterback the Huskies have.
But what does that say about Washington’s situation under center? And what does it say about this staff’s ability to develop quarterbacks?
Speaking of which: changes will almost certainly be necessary on UW’s coaching staff. It’s difficult to come to any other conclusion, considering UW’s 2-4 start; considering an offense that ranks 109th nationally in yards per carry (3.43) and 114th in rushing (111 yards per game); considering a pass rush that sits 109th in sacks per game (1.5) and 111th in tackles for loss per game (4.5); considering a defense ranking 103rd in rushing D (191.3 yards allowed per game) and 109th in opponent yards per carry (4.78); considering two classes of underwhelming recruiting results.
Considering, well, everything?
“We have to be way better,” Lake said of UW’s porous run defense, which has allowed more than 200 rushing yards in three of six games this season. “It starts with us coaches making sure we put these guys in good positions to stop the run. It’s the nature also of our conference and some of the teams that we’re playing and how they’re changing what they’re doing.
“Offenses are evolving. When we entered the conference in 2014, it was a lot of spread and a lot of pass. You guys see it, if you’re watching, there’s a lot more runs going on throughout the whole conference. Teams are becoming more run-based. You’re seeing a lot of teams giving up more rushing yards. So we’ve got to be better at it. We’ve got to make sure we’re tackling better and make sure we’re putting our guys in position to slow it down.”
Offenses have evolved.
Has UW’s defense done the same?
And if not, don’t changes need to be made?
Saturday, after his team fell to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Pac-12 play, Lake was asked if this coaching staff can put its players in positions to succeed.
“Yes,” he said.
Thus far, the results have not said the same.
And six games in, the Huskies are out of excuses.