ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jackson Sirmon said Washington would stop the run.
Seriously, he did. He wasn’t smiling when he said it. But he’s far from the only Husky who hasn’t kept his word.
On Wednesday, Sirmon — a 6-foot-3, 235-pound inside linebacker — sat at a table with a microphone inside the Husky Stadium tunnel, with a bandage wrapped around his right elbow.
“We’re going to stop the run,” he said, when asked for Washington’s defensive focus on the road at Michigan. “They want to run the ball, and we’re going to stop the run. We’re excited to do that.”
Likewise, Michigan was excited to rush for 343 yards and four touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry in a 31-10 win on Saturday night. Following a converted fake punt early in the second quarter, Blake Corum was excited to bound untouched up the gut for a 67-yard score — raising a celebratory peace sign as trailing safety Kamren Fabiculanan rapidly faded. The Wolverines were excited to open the second half with eight consecutive runs in a soul-stomping 73-yard touchdown march.
Corum was excited to rush for a career-best 171 yards, 8.1 yards per carry and three touchdowns, while Hassan Haskins added 155 yards and a touchdown (just the third time since 1940 that two Michigan running backs exceeded 150 rushing yards in the same game).
In his first press conference after being named UW’s defensive coordinator, Bob Gregory said way back on April 9 that “we’re not going to win a lot of games if we give up 200 yards rushing.”
OK, so maybe that part was true.
“We went into this thing trying to run the football, and the (other) goal was to stop the run,” Lake said after Saturday’s loss. “We did not get those done, and Michigan did.”
Indeed, the rushing game was Washington’s biggest problem on Saturday night.
But not just Michigan’s running game.
Before the undeniably embarrassing 13-7 loss to FCS Montana last weekend, Lake was asked to highlight his team’s greatest strength.
“The first thing is our offensive line,” Lake said. “We are extremely veteran, talented and deep — very deep — on our offensive line. I would say that is a definite strength of ours.”
Against Montana, that line leaked like the hull of the Titanic — allowing 65 rushing yards and 2.4 yards per carry. Against Michigan, the incompetence only compounded — as the Huskies rushed for 15 yards and 0.8 yards per carry in an atrocious first half, before finishing with 50 yards and 1.6 yards per rush.
“We’ve got to run the ball better,” Lake said after the Montana loss. “We’ve got to protect our quarterback better and put more points on the board.”
They certainly do.
And they certainly didn’t.
Outside of UW’s inability to run the ball, quarterback Dylan Morris was also sacked three times — 2.5 of them by standout defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. Morris completed 20 of 37 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown, but the Husky offense failed to score on its seven first-half drives (extending a streak of 19 consecutive empty drives across its previous seven quarters). That drought mercifully ended with a 28-yard Peyton Henry field goal with 5:54 left in the third quarter. Morris added a 22-yard floater to Terrell Bynum with 12:04 left in the fourth.
“We did have some success and scored some points in 2020. So we know (plays are) there to be made, and we know we have players and talent and schemes to get it done,” Lake said. “But in these two games, the results are the results. We did not score very many points, and you’re not going to win very many games putting the points up that we’re putting up right now.”
“You’re asking a receiver,” Bynum added with an exasperated chuckle, when asked if UW should have established the vertical passing game earlier. “I always think that. But shoot, whatever JD (offensive coordinator John Donovan) calls, we believe in it. We’ve just got to execute on it. We can’t be down on the plays. We just have to do what’s said.”
But the damage, in every sense, was already done. Washington fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2008 … when the Huskies finished 0-12 in Tyrone Willingham’s dreadfully forgettable final season in Seattle.
“What I told those guys is, ‘Now we need to see some results,’” Lake said. “Because those guys have been working hard and they’ve been staying unified. They’re fighting to continue to grow and develop, and now we need to show some results. Those results need to be shown quickly.”
In the third quarter on Saturday, a crowd of more than 100,000 maize-clad fans belted out a spirited rendition of The Killers’ classic anthem, “Mr. Brightside.”
And it’s true, UW’s defense allowed Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara to complete just 7 of 15 passes for 44 yards. In his first game back from injury, Bynum caught five passes for 115 yards and a score. And inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio certainly did his part, contributing a team-best 13 tackles and one tackle for loss.
But, no matter what anyone says: Along the lines, at least, there’s no bright side here.