Washington entered its season opener against Montana without all three of its starting wide receivers — Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan.
It took one offensive play to add a new name to the injury list.
Ja’Lynn Polk — a second-year freshman who transferred to UW from Texas Tech — suffered a chest injury while recording a 13-yard reception, head coach Jimmy Lake announced Monday. Following the game, Polk underwent emergency surgery and has since been released from a local hospital.
“He’s in good spirits,” Lake said. “But this will be a long-term injury. We will probably not get him back until postseason play.”
When asked to elaborate further on Polk’s injury, Lake added only: “Yeah, I’ll just leave it as a chest injury. We’ll just leave it right there.”
Bynum, Odunze and McMillan, meanwhile, have each been classified as week-to-week. Lake said, “We will get them back at some point. We’ll see how those injuries progress.”
It’s obviously an unfortunate setback for Polk — a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from Lufkin, Texas, who recorded 28 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games as a true freshman at Texas Tech last fall. Upon arriving in Seattle, Polk made an instant impression on the Husky coaching staff.
“I am so proud of that young man. He has put so much work in,” Lake said of Polk last week, prior to the injury. “I don’t know, it might go back and forth who’s first in the building, either Eddy (Edefuan Ulofoshio) or Ja’Lynn Polk. He is here first thing in the morning and he is just ready to grind, ready to learn, ready to watch his reps from the day before. (He’s asking), ‘How can I get better? What’s the install in for the day?’
“What I love about him is the mentality that he brings every single day to practice. He’s tough. He goes up and he makes the tough catches with DBs draped all over him, grabbing him, pulling his jersey off, and he still makes those catches. He knows who to block in the run game. I told him the other day, with his mentality, he could play DB for us. He really could. He could play safety, he could pay nickel, he could play corner. And I want all of our receivers to be that way.”
While it’s unclear whether Bynum, Odunze or McMillan will return for the nonconference matchup at Michigan on Saturday night, the fact remains that UW is dreadfully, almost desperately thin at wide receiver. Taj Davis (six catches, 59 yards) and Giles Jackson (four catches, 15 yards) each started in the 13-7 loss to Montana, while Sawyer Racanelli shuffled into the rotation as well. True freshman Jabez Tinae did not participate and might be ticketed for a redshirt season.
This is the latest obstacle for Husky wide receivers coach Junior Adams, who lost five players to the transfer portal this offseason (Puka Nacua, Ty Jones, Marquis Spiker, Austin Osborne and Jordan Chin) before adding two (Polk and Jackson). UW signed a single 2021 freshman in the four-star Kennedy Catholic prospect Tinae.
All told, UW entered fall camp with eight scholarship wide receivers — but had just four available for the majority of the Montana game.
So, with that said, can the Huskies succeed with so few scholarship pass-catchers? And would Lake consider moving players at other positions to wide receiver?
“So, that’s what we’re working through,” he said in his weekly news conference Monday. “Again, (we were working through it) a little bit last week as well, knowing that three of those guys weren’t going to play in the last game. So we had a few adjustments here or there, and now we’ve got to make even further adjustments. …
“So that’s what we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to build a plan to make sure that we can still go out there and operate, put points on the board and try to get a victory.”
Against Montana, those adjustments included tight end Devin Culp often operating in the slot — though he recorded just one catch for 5 yards. In fact, the Huskies managed just three completions of 15 yards or more — a 15-yarder to Davis, and 16- and 25-yard strikes to dependable tight end Cade Otton.
Meanwhile, third-year UW quarterback Dylan Morris — who Lake reiterated “is our starting quarterback” — completed just 27 of 46 passes for 226 yards with a rushing touchdown and three interceptions.
The fact is, UW needs to discover a more dynamic vertical passing game against what is presumably a far stouter Michigan defense.
And the Huskies might need to do it without their most reliable wide receivers yet again.
McGrew missing in action
Washington’s carries against Montana were split exclusively between sophomore Richard Newton (17 attempts, 62 yards, 3.6 yards per carry) and redshirt freshman Cameron Davis (four attempts, 8 yards, 2.0 YPC).
Meanwhile, sixth-year senior Sean McGrew — a preseason Doak Walker Award candidate who led the Huskies with 227 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry and four rushing scores last season — was essentially a healthy scratch, and fellow senior Kamari Pleasant contributed only on special teams.
Monday, Lake was asked if there was a specific reason why McGrew was stapled to the sideline.
“No, there wasn’t at all,” Lake said. “Sean is obviously a really good running back and has done a lot of things around here. No. I would expect Sean to get some reps here moving forward. I think it just happened the way it happened.
“We were trying to get Rich going a little bit. I think he had over 15 carries or whatever it was, and just trying to get him into a rhythm. So it was more to that, nothing that Sean was doing. It was more trying to get Rich back into a rhythm during the game.”
Unexpected offensive line issues
Lake also was asked to address his offensive line — the same one he has said is the Pac-12’s best — after it created just 65 rushing yards and 2.4 yards per carry, while surrendering three sacks, in the Montana defeat.
“We did not expect that result at all,” he said. “I think what we more expected is what happened on that first (nine-play, 78-yard touchdown) drive — not that the whole first drive was perfect either, and it’s never going to be perfect. But I think we were expecting more of the same. And for that not to happen was unfortunate.
“That’s what we’re here to fix. It starts with coaches. We’ve got to coach better. And once we coach better our players have to play better. But it starts with me first. We’ve got to give these guys a good plan to go out there and execute. We know (defenses) are going to change it up, and when they change it up, we’ve got to be ready to have that next response ready to go.”