Washington lost its leader on Saturday.
But for how long?
That remains to be seen, but the good news for Washington football fans is that senior center Nick Harris does not appear to be seriously injured. The 6-foot-1, 302-pound center and preseason Associated Press All-American — who has started 28 career games — left in the first half of UW’s 47-14 win over Eastern Washington and did not return.
“Any time you lose one of the guys you’ve relied on, really, for three or four years, it’s never easy,” UW offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said. “I think that guy is certainly the leader of this offense with how vocal he is. It was good to see Matteo (Mele) step up, but we’re hoping he’s OK.”
In Harris’ absence, 6-5, 305-pound redshirt freshman Matteo Mele was thrust into action in his first career. Besides a few inaccurate (but not disastrous) snaps, Mele made the most of his opportunity.
And for Chris Petersen and Co., his steady performance was not a surprise.
“Matteo has been getting a lot of reps in practice. He really has,” said Petersen, the Huskies’ sixth-year head coach. “We practiced it a lot, so it was good to get him really good reps. We’ll see about Nick and see how it goes.”
After briefly entering the medical tent, Harris watched the remainder of the game on the sideline with his fellow offensive linemen. The Huskies finished with 200 rushing yards (4.7 yards per carry) and did not allow a sack.
Bainivalu, Culp suspended
The UW offensive line was short-handed Saturday — even before Harris left the game.
Sophomore offensive tackle Henry Bainivalu and redshirt freshman Devin Culp did not appear against Eastern, and Petersen confirmed after the win that both players were suspended for the game.
The 6-6, 326-pound Bainivalu — who appeared in all 14 games last season — will be suspended for the next two games as well, Petersen added. A Skyline High product, Bainivalu was also ominously absent from UW’s Week 1 depth chart, forcing four redshirt freshman offensive linemen into the two-deeps.
Culp — a 6-3, 262-pound tight end — will return next week and is expected to contribute behind senior Hunter Bryant and sophomore Cade Otton. The Huskies are rather thin at that position following junior Jacob Kizer’s back injury.
Two Sirmons on offense
Washington does not have an offensive player who wears No. 43.
So who was that leading the way for a 1-yard Salvon Ahmed touchdown?
The answer is redshirt freshman linebacker Jackson Sirmon, who made three tackles in the win and doubled as a fullback on the goal line.
And, no, Sirmon does not have a wealth of experience on offense.
“He doesn’t (have a background at fullback). He’s just a really sharp guy,” Petersen said. “One, we thought he could learn the stuff that we do and have it not take away from his linebacking play. So we’ve been kind of developing that package for a while for him, and we’ll do more as the season goes.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jacob Sirmon, Jackson’s cousin, also entered the game in the fourth quarter and completed one of two passes for 21 yards.
Tafisi packs a punch
You didn’t just see M.J. Tafisi’s five tackles on Saturday.
You heard them.
The 6-0, 235-pound redshirt freshman linebacker made an impact in the win, both on defense and in special teams. His five tackles finished third on the team, behind a pair of safeties in senior Myles Bryant (8) and linebacker Kyler Manu (7).
At a precariously thin position for UW, expect Tafisi to continue to earn reps alongside Manu, Sirmon and senior Brandon Wellington.
And, if Saturday is any indication, he may soon be in line for a starting spot.
“He’s an instinctual player,” Petersen said. “He had been last year, and we felt that all last year on the scout team. You could tell, like, even when he wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing, he would make plays and slip blocks and he’s a really physical player.
“So it was awesome to get him in there with Jackson Sirmon, because those guys are going to play a lot for us.”