ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Feel free to panic. Point those fingers with alacrity. But first, hold your nose and try to abate the stench emanating from Washington’s football team.
This Husky season is already hanging by a thread, and if you want to argue that the thread has snapped, it’s hard to counter. Call this one Big Trouble In The Big House.
Coach Jimmy Lake, two games into his second season – and six games into his head-coaching career as Chris Petersen’s successor — finds himself already facing a crisis that if unchecked could bring down his regime. If that seems harsh, well, their performance warrants it, particularly when juxtaposed against the rousing marquee victory turned in earlier in the day by their biggest rival, Oregon.
Pete Carroll famously asked Jim Harbaugh, “What’s your deal?” after Harbaugh’s Stanford team blew out – and ran it up – on Carroll’s USC Trojans. And after Saturday’s 31-10 win over Washington by Harbaugh’s Michigan squad, it’s fair to wonder what the deal is with a Husky team that has scuffled almost from the outset.
This one exuded its own unique brand of ugliness, a sequel that showed last week’s Montana debacle was no fluke.
A Husky season that began with such high hopes is now cascading into a full-blown disaster, though players and Lake insisted all is not lost. Yet Lake also said bluntly, “We’ve got to go do it. We can’t just sit here and talk about it. And we haven’t done it in 2021.”
One poor performance can be forgiven if it is followed by a rebound or rally of some sort. The Huskies followed Montana with an outing on Saturday night at loud, rocking, jubilant Michigan Stadium that rightfully will leave its fans wondering if this season can be salvaged.
In fact, it left a wake of questions and general distress that only figures to grow stronger. The Huskies are off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 2008, which will be cringe-worthingly remembered as the Ty Willingham 0-12 disaster.
That was one of the bleakest campaigns in school history. This year is starting to take on the same grim tone. Mind you, there is still a path to respectability. The Huskies have yet to play a conference game, after all. But it’s getting progressively harder to envision how they can get there.
It’s not hard to pinpoint where the bulk of the trouble lies – with an offense that finally showed its first signs of life late in the game when Michigan, leading handily, loosened its coverage. But by that time it was far too late to change the outcome of the game or the general perception of a bogged-down Husky attack.
Remember when the Huskies marched smartly down the field on their first possession of the season and scored a touchdown against Montana, seemingly as a gateway to an expected rout? Doesn’t ring a bell? Well, rack your brain and it might come back to you, but you can be excused if it’s hazy. Because what has followed has been maddeningly ineffective.
Their next touchdown – and still the only other one – didn’t come until the fourth quarter Saturday. The Huskies, with an offense predicated on establishing the run, rushed 32 times for a mere 50 yards – 1.6 yards per carry.
“Everything’s on the table,’’ Lake said. “We’ve got to look at everything to be able to move the ball and put some points on the board.”
Lake, who said on Monday that the blame for the Montana loss starts with him, will again have to bear the slings and arrows that come with back-to-back stinkers. Either he oversold the potential of this team with his lofty talk of competing for a league title and prestigious bowl game, or they have underperformed massively. Neither one reflects well on the head coach.
But certainly a large portion of the focus needs to be on Lake’s hand-chosen offensive coordinator John Donovan. The Huskies’ offense has been as unimaginative as it has been unproductive – and it has been wildly unproductive. Asked if they needed to re-examine their offensive philosophy – which in the first half seemed again to be built around running it up the gut, between the tackles, lather, rinse and repeat — Lake replied:
“Yeah, it’s definitely unacceptable. We need to coach better, and we need to make more plays. I mean, it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough at all. I go back, we did have some success and scored some points in 2020. And so we know it’s there to be made. And we know we have players and talent and schemes to get it done.
“But in these two games, the results … we did not score very many points. And you’re not going to win a lot of football games, putting the points up that we’re putting on right now.”
After the Montana game, the gauntlet was laid down for the Husky offensive line, which had been neutralized, if not dominated, by the Grizzlies. Once again, they were unable to open holes for their backs when the game hung in the balance in the first half. And for the most part, the Huskies were unable to keep Michigan honest by forcing them to respect their passing game. Opening it up in the second half, quarterback Dylan Morris finished a respectable 20 of 37 for 293 yards, no interceptions and a 22-yard TD to Terrell Bynum.
Beyond the offense, there were other indignities for the Huskies, including two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties – one for taunting, negating a third-down stop – that rendered major damage. The Washington defense, fairly stout early, could only hold off the Wolverines for so long and gave up 343 rushing yards. That’s the answer to the question: How do you lose handily to a team whose quarterback goes 7 for 15 for 44 yards?
Two games in, and the Huskies haven’t forced a single turnover. Two games in, and the Huskies are in big, big trouble.
Two of the team leaders, Bynum and defensive back Trent McDuffie, insisted the Huskies have the character, leadership and talent to turn things around.
“I still think we’re right there,’’ Bynum said.
“We’re on the cusp,’’ McDuffie added.
After the game, the Huskies and Wolverines walked side by side up the long tunnel toward their locker rooms. The Huskies turned dejectedly to the left. Michigan headed exultantly to the right. Now we’ll see which direction Washington turns in a last desperate attempt to save its season.
Editor’s note: Because discussion was not adhering to our Code of Conduct, the comment thread has been removed.