The Washington Huskies looked like the 1991 national champions on Saturday night.
The white block numerals, the dark purple tops, the bright gold pants …
But enough about the uniforms.
In a 24-17 homecoming loss to UCLA, the Huskies looked like champions, but played like chumps.
Three decades after the 1991 Huskies allowed just 1.9 yards per carry in an undefeated 12-0 season, coach Jimmy Lake’s crew surrendered 237 rushing yards and 5.8 yards per rush on Saturday night. The Bruins recorded three runs of 20-plus yards in the first half alone — one apiece by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown.
UW, meanwhile, mustered one such run in its first five games — ranking tied for last in the nation.
In a thorough thumping, Charbonnet led the way with 131 rushing yards and 6.2 yards per carry — while UW’s rushing defense struggled mightily for the third time in its first six games.
“There was some tackling (issues) for sure,” Lake said. “Give those guys some credit. They have good running backs. They have a good quarterback who’s extremely elusive. But we definitely have to tackle better. We have to swarm better. There’s no question, if we give up over 200 yards, we need to clean some stuff up.”
Three decades after the 1991 Huskies averaged 212.6 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry, John Donovan’s crew recorded 4 rushing yards and 0.3 yards per carry in the first half … punctuated by a Luke Wattenberg shotgun snap that sailed over the head of helpless Husky quarterback Dylan Morris for a 25-yard loss.
On the team’s second drive, after Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze stepped out of bounds at the Bruin 2-yard line following a 17-yard pitch and catch, the Huskies managed to lose 4 yards on their next two plays — both runs between the tackles by sixth-year senior Sean McGrew. Following a Morris incompletion intended for tight end Cade Otton, the Huskies settled for a 25-yard Peyton Henry field goal.
UCLA then put up 17 consecutive points — via a 17-yard Thompson-Robinson touchdown pass to wide receiver Kam Brown, a 39-yard Nicholas Barr-Mira field goal and a 1-yard Thompson-Robinson quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal in which it was unclear if the Bruin senior successfully burrowed into the end zone.
“No one called it a touchdown right away, and then they (the referees) ran in there and they conversed and said that he went across the line,” Lake said of Thompson-Robinson’s disputed score. “Of course, from my view, I thought his momentum stopped and he was short. But they called it a touchdown.”
But after struggling mightily early, the Husky offense (momentarily) sprang to life. Odunze made amends for two early drops by hauling in a 26-yard Morris rainbow for his first career score, narrowing the UCLA lead to 17-10 with 52 seconds left in the second quarter. UW scored again on its opening drive of the second half, as Morris plunged into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to cap a nine-play, 75-yard march. Sixth-year senior Kamari Pleasant made his presence known on the drive, piling up 47 yards on two consecutive runs.
“They came out in nickel, and I was just sticking to the keys like I do every single day in practice,” Pleasant said of his 32-yard scamper. “The hole opened up, I made one guy miss and got into the secondary and finished.”
Pleasant finished — but when it mattered, his teammates didn’t do the same. UCLA capped a 13-play, 90-yard drive with a 9-yard Thompson-Robinson touchdown to tight end Greg Dulcich to take a 24-17 lead with 8:19 left. And on UW’s ensuing drive, Morris surrendered his second interception of the night — underthrowing wide receiver Jalen McMillan on a pass UCLA cornerback Devin Kirkwood wrestled away at the UCLA 4-yard line.
After Lake this week designated his team’s turnover margin as the place where the Huskies most need to improve, Morris served up a pair of interceptions — giving him eight of them (with just eight touchdowns) in six games this season.
And after it was over, Lake was asked if he needs to consider a quarterback change.
“Not at this point. No, I do not,” he said. “We have to go back and watch the film and see exactly how it went down. So we’re not going to play perfect, but we have to see how our protection was, see how the route was. Interceptions aren’t always on the quarterback.
“So just to (have a) knee-jerk reaction and go, ‘Oh, the interception’s on the quarterback’ … sometimes it can be on the protection and a guy’s in his face and he’s not able to step into his throw. Sometimes it’s on the pass catcher going up for the football or whatever it may be. So we’ll continue to take a look at all that.”
Three decades after the 1991 Huskies averaged 3.9 sacks per game, Bob Gregory’s crew failed to record a sack — despite All-American outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui returning from a torn Achilles tendon. Instead, Thompson-Robinson completed 21 of 26 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 87 rushing yards and another score.
“It’s always difficult to defend a mobile quarterback,” said UW cornerback Trent McDuffie, who contributed three tackles in defeat. “Whenever the pocket collapses, they always have the ability to escape and get a few yards. So I think it just comes down to being able to contain him and getting him down when he does scramble.”
Morris, meanwhile, completed 20 of 30 passes for 184 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the Huskies’ second consecutive loss. Pleasant rushed for 80 yards and 8.9 yards per carry, and Odunze led all UW pass catchers with four catches for 58 yards and a score. But when UW’s fourth-quarter defense disintegrated, its offense couldn’t answer.
UW dressed its players like national champions on Saturday night.
But Halloween costumes don’t win football games.