On Monday, Jimmy Lake was asked to assess the streaks.
Two days earlier, the University of Washington football team’s offense had scored on four consecutive drives — three touchdowns and a field goal — in a 31-24 overtime victory over California.
After which, that same offense stalled on five consecutive drives — producing a three-and-out, a lost fumble, a missed field goal and two more three-and-outs — while managing 62 yards in 15 plays and efficiently squandering a 14-point lead.
So what caused the Husky offense to spontaneously combust?
“It came down to us not converting on third down,” said Lake, after already citing penalty issues and running back Kamari Pleasant’s fumble. “We have to execute better. We have to have better details and win those one-on-one battles. Cal did a better job of executing those details on those critical third downs where we weren’t able to convert and move the chains. Because we didn’t reach the red zone again until overtime.”
Some of those execution issues might fall on redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Morris. He completed 19 of 32 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, but went just 3 of 9 for 47 yards (with his last five passes incomplete) in the final five drives of regulation.
Though Morris — who has surrendered five interceptions in his first four games — avoided costly turnovers, he might have too often thrown the ball away instead of trusting his progressions.
“Throughout the game he did a really good job of going through his progressions and getting the ball where we needed to get the ball,” Lake said. “You guys saw those explosive plays that we had early in the game and moving the ball and putting points on the board and those touchdown throws.
“But there were definitely some plays in the second half where we — starting with me — have to make sure we give him a good plan to get the football to an outlet to get positive yards and take a profit. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do that. … We definitely can’t have as many (throwaways) as we had in the second half. We can’t have that. That’s one of the things we need to get better at.”
Of course, offensive coordinator John Donovan’s play-calling didn’t always put Morris in positions to succeed. On third-and-two from UW’s 33-yard line on its final drive of regulation, Donovan dialed up an inexplicable deep shot to wide receiver Jalen McMillan that unsurprisingly fell incomplete.
“We needed to move the chains there, and that’s on me,” Lake said of that play call. “We’ve got to make sure we have a play that’s ready to get two and a half yards to move the chains and keep possession.”
McGrew earns expanded role
UW’s inept offense was rescued in overtime by sixth-year senior running back Sean McGrew, who took a direct snap and bouldered across the goal line from 2 yards out for the go-ahead touchdown.
McGrew — who didn’t scratch the rotation in UW’s losses to Montana and Michigan — led the Huskies with 16 carries, 53 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns against Cal.
He also led in other ways — being recently elevated to the Huskies’ leadership council.
“He’s done a lot (to earn that honor),” Lake said. “There’s certain points of the year where we tell guys, ‘Hey, this is going to be your role for the team. Now you may not like it, but you’ve got to continue to work to try to elevate your role.’ And that’s all Sean has done since spring football. He probably wasn’t getting the reps that he wanted at running back, but all he did was he just continued to work, and continued to show that he needed to be on the football field. He showed us on special teams. He showed us on offense. He came into work every day with a smile on his face and was willing to put in the work wherever it was needed.
“So that’s one of the biggest reasons why we elevated him to the leadership council. He showed how a teammate should act when maybe you get information in a role that you don’t agree with.”
Now, McGrew’s role is continuing to expand — and he scored two touchdowns out of the wildcat formation last weekend. After the game, the 5-foot-7 tailback stated a desire to throw out of the wildcat as well.
Which, according to a seemingly sarcastic Lake, is a distinct possibility.
“He can throw,” Lake said. “He can spin it, so (opponents) better be worried about that. He might hand it off. He can throw it. He might hand it off, get it thrown back to him, run it. You can print it all. I want our opponent to read all of that. He can do all of it.”
Injury updates galore
Speaking of running backs, sophomore Richard Newton didn’t play against Cal, after leading the Huskies with 39 carries in their first three games.
Lake said Newton — who spent the game in uniform and on the sideline — was an emergency option.
“He was definitely banged up,” Lake said. “He was banged up, and we had to limit him during practice all week long. He was going to be more of an emergency option for us on Saturday. And so thankfully we got out of there with a win and didn’t have to put him in harm’s way. He’ll be good to go this week.”
Likewise, Lake said nickel back Brendan Radley-Hiles — who exited in the second half of the Cal game because of an apparent injury — will “probably” be back Saturday against Oregon State. Standout cornerback Trent McDuffie, who missed the first game of his career last weekend because of an ankle injury, remains “week to week.”
Oh, and remember All-America outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui — who went down with a torn Achilles tendon in April? Lake reiterated Monday that “ZTF” is on track to play in the 2021 season, though he declined to state a more specific timeline.
“It could be earlier (than late in the regular season),” Lake said. “He’s doing great. I’m so proud of him. His work ethic, his attitude … he never misses a day of rehab. His body looks great. He is not on schedule, he’s before schedule, like I mentioned during training camp. He’s still on that ‘before schedule’ mark.”
- Considering McDuffie’s injury, and his dual roles as a cornerback and punt returner, Lake was asked if he’d ever consider not using his best players on special teams to protect their health. “We play our best players on special teams. That will always be the case,” he said. “(McDuffie) is a threat back there as a returner. We know it affects game planning for our opponents. We’re trying to win football games. And our players know this, but the first question we get asked usually when the NFL scouts come around is, ‘Does so-and-so play special teams?’ Special teams is a huge part of the game, and we make a huge emphasis on it. Our players fight to get on special teams, from our starters to our backups.”