The Huskies are going to forget about the how for a second and focus on the what.
They’ll have a whole film session to pick apart a game that will likely have coaches screaming and players cowering.
Saturday night’s opener — which came 11 and a half months after their last regular-season game — had all the aesthetic beauty of a smog-filled L.A. sky.
It was ugly. It was at times cringeworthy. But it was just enough.
“So proud of those guys for not flinching during this tumultuous time,” said Lake, the longtime UW assistant making his debut as head coach. “We said some adversity was going to happen, and it did obviously in that game, we made some mistakes, shot ourselves in the foot a couple times.”
Washington’s 27-21 win over Oregon State didn’t kick off the Lake era with an exclamation point so much as an ellipses. It didn’t leave the fans watching on TV thinking they were going steamroll through the conference — it left them wondering if this was sustainable against a more qualified opponent.
The Huskies’ passing game was free of horsepower. Their run defense took a first-half sabbatical. And their special teams — almost the source of a season-opening defeat.
Lake’s first game as head coach couldn’t have had much more of an inauspicious start. After Oregon State stopped the Huskies on their first drive, UW long snapper Jaden Green snapped the ball over the head of punter Race Porter, who had his punt blocked, and watched the Beavers’ Jaydon Grant take it to the end zone to give OSU a seven-point lead.
Had this been a foe such as Oregon or USC, such a play may have been the opening punch of a four-quarter bludgeoning. But it was Oregon State — the team picked by the media to finish fifth in the six-team Pac-12 North — and UW recovered. On its first drive following that special-teams fiasco, Washington marched 75 yards down the field and scored via a 21-yard touchdown run by running back Sean McGrew.
The Huskies forced a punt on Oregon State’s next drive, then kicked a field goal to go up 10-7. They forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing Beavers drive, then scored a TD on a 15-yard run by running back Kamari Pleasant. The game looked as though it was going to be a blunder-turned-blowout for the Huskies, who scored 17 unanswered points.
But Oregon State kept nagging, and Washington kept giving them opportunities. The Beavers answered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter, during which the Huskies looked incapable of stopping the run. The Huskies scored on a touchdown on their next drive after Trent McDuffie returned a punt 45 yards to OSU’s 15, but the Beavers bounced back with a touchdown drive of their own at the end of the half and went into the locker room down 24-21.
Two things stood out: One was the absent UW defense, which had been a hallmark of its program over the past few years. The other was the number of dropped passes — whether it be from Terrell Bynum, Puka Nacua, or Ty Jones and Rome Odunze on would-be touchdowns.
Freshman quarterback Dylan Morris, who got the start and played the whole game, finished with 141 yards on 14 of 24 passing — but that statline could have looked more impressive.
Of course, to harp only on the shortcomings would be a disservice to what the Huskies accomplished Saturday. They ran for 267 yards. They allowed no points in the second half. And they forced a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter that would have triggered a two-day earache for everyone in attendance had fans been allowed.
With his team down by three and on Washington’s 5, Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson, who finished with 133 yards on 23 carries, was stuffed on fourth-and-one. Oregon State decided to go for it, but Jefferson was again stuffed, giving UW the ball back.
The game wasn’t over at that point, but the momentum had clearly changed. Two drives later, Washington marched 52 yards down the field, took 7:24 off the clock, then kicked a field goal to go up 27-21 with 1:45 left. Oregon State threw an interception on its final drive, and the Huskies sealed the game.
Afterward, linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui was asked if he’d prefer to open his season with a tight contest as opposed to a boat race.
“I think I’d rather have a game like this than a blowout because we’re able to just kind of see are hard work out on display out in front of us, and that mental toughness that they’ve been trying to pound into us,” he said. “For us to be able to come through for our coaches and Husky nation, it shows the sky’s the limit for this team and I can’t wait to find out where we go.
Again, the Huskies didn’t look particularly impressive, but they stepped up when they had to. The question is whether this is sustainable as the schedule gets tougher.