Jimmy Lake was measured. He was calculated. He was uncontroversial. During the Husky football coach’s weekly news conference Monday, he said his team was not perfect no less than nine times.
His hat, on the other hand, spoke a little more loudly.
When he sat down promptly at 11:30 a.m., Lake wore a white hat with four words printed in clear black type and capital letters:
“RUN THE DAMN BALL”
“Good morning. Oh, am I still wearing this?” he said with a wry smile while purposefully pointing his hat toward the camera.
After discarding the overt piece of run-game propaganda, he answered 22 questions over the next 30 minutes. He talked about quarterback play and run fits and kickoff coverage. He congratulated UW alum C.T. Pan for his seventh-place finish at the Masters. As usual, he declined to detail UW’s injury concerns.
He said a lot, and very little.
But his point had already been made.
“We’re going to do whatever we feel we need to do to make sure we win the football game,” he said when asked if his offense is capable of more explosive passing plays. “So if that means we’ve got to run it, we’re going to run it. If it means we’ve got to be balanced, we’re going to be balanced. If we’ve got to throw it, we’re going to throw it. We’re going to do what the defense presents (to us), to where we think there’s going to be a weakness.
“Now, I will say this: we’re never going to be an Air Raid. We’re not going to sit back there and throw the ball all over the place for no reason. That’s not how you win championships.”
Translation: RUN THE DAMN BALL.
And in a 27-21 victory over Oregon State on Saturday night, that’s just what the Huskies did. They ran the ball 51 times for 267 yards, 5.2 yards per carry and three touchdowns, as opposed to just 24 pass attempts. They were led by senior Sean McGrew — who compiled 91 rushing yards, 10.1 yards per carry and a 21-yard score.
But, despite his effectiveness, McGrew received just three carries in the third quarter and zero in the fourth.
Inexplicably, Washington went away from the hot hand — and Lake admitted that mistake.
“He did a really nice job of setting up blocks, turning on the juice when he had to,” Lake said. “He did a great job of protecting the football, and of course, getting in the end zone. I’m just so excited about the spark that he gave us, and he gave us a huge spark. Then after we looked at it, you know what, he probably should have had some more touches down the stretch for sure. We’ll learn from that as a coaching staff.”
But whether it’s McGrew, senior Kamari Pleasant, redshirt sophomore Richard Newton or redshirt freshman Cameron Davis, expect the Huskies to continue to ride their running backs through some rainy November nights.
Even if it’s boring. Even if it’s ugly. Even if it isn’t always what their fans want to see.
And especially Saturday night against Arizona — which surrendered 173 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry and three scores in a defeat against USC on Saturday, and 207 more rushing yards against the Huskies in 2019.
Lake says he wants to be “multifaceted.”
But the hat says something else.
In his first college start Saturday, redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Morris produced a relatively modest stat line — completing 14 of 24 passes for 141 yards, with 21 rushing yards and a 1-yard score on a quarterback sneak.
But those stats might be deceiving. UW wide receivers Ty Jones and Rome Odunze failed to haul in end-zone passes that could have been caught, and Terrell Bynum and Puka Nacua dropped catchable third-down passes that would have extended drives.
Certainly, Morris — a 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt freshman from Puyallup — did not play a perfect game.
But Lake also acknowledged that he needs more help.
“Those (end-zone attempts to Jones and Odunze) are two balls that we should have caught, and those should be two touchdown throws that should be added to our freshman quarterback there,” Lake said. “There’s no question, our receivers need to play better. It’s no secret. They know they need to play better.
“They blocked extremely well. I think you guys saw that on Saturday night. I was very happy about that, besides the one holding call. And we made a couple catches here and there, but our play there has to be better. We are going to continue to move forward to keep getting those guys better.”
Lake also stressed a desire to more consistently involve junior tight end Cade Otton, who registered just one catch (and target) for 4 yards.
“Now here’s the deal: we’re not just going to force the ball to somebody. Our quarterbacks need to go through their progressions,” Lake said. “But Cade is one of our best players. He had an incredible night blocking, probably one of the best performances he’s had since he’s been here. It was just an impressive, violent, tough blocking night he put on. But yes, we need to get the ball to him. He’s a playmaker, and we’ll definitely have to correct that here moving forward.”
- Lake said John Donovan was awarded a game ball following his first game as the Huskies’ offensive coordinator. “I asked him to come here and implement a new offense, with all the things we’ve had to deal with no spring football and not being able to practice and all these things,” Lake said. “Him and our staff were still able to cobble everything together and trot out there a new scheme and a new direction with a freshman quarterback. So I was really excited about what he did, and I think they (the offensive coaches) did an excellent job on Saturday.”
- Unless a significant injury occurs during a game, Lake said he has made a strategic decision not to provide public injury updates. So the status of defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa, outside linebacker Laiatu Latu, safety Cameron Williams, quarterback Kevin Thomson and tight end Devin Culp — all of whom did not play against Oregon State — remains uncertain.
- UW redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui was named the Pac-12’s defensive lineman of the week Monday. In his first career start, the Pearl City, Hawaii, product made four tackles with a pair of strip sacks against Oregon State.
- Lake said UW’s special-teams units allowing kick returns of 42 and 43 yards was more a product of its coverage teams than sophomore kicker Tim Horn. “Tim had an excellent game,” Lake said. “We have to help him out. He kicked off really, really well. I was not pleased with our kickoff unit, which is another thing we’re trying to correct this week. Tim Horn actually ended up having two tackles, which is not good. I don’t want my kicker tackling. I just want him kicking the ball and watching our guys go tackle. So we’re already in the middle of correcting that, and we want to see a big improvement in that department come Saturday.”