TUCSON, Ariz. — The first 45 minutes of Washington’s 21-16 win over 0-7 Arizona on Friday night — which extended the Wildcats’ 19-game losing streak, the longest drought in the nation — looked worse than Montana, worse than Michigan, worse than most Washington football fans could have previously imagined. They looked like a Jackson Pollock painting of poor play calls, errant passes and atrocious run fits, splattered across a turf canvas on national television.
The Huskies rebounded to score three second-half touchdowns and escape with a Pac-12 win over the perpetually winless Wildcats.
But for the first three quarters, it looked like rock bottom.
It looked like a failed opening drive ending with a blocked Race Porter punt, which Arizona rover Isaiah Taylor swatted after rushing unencumbered along the right side of the Husky offensive line.
“Another unfortunate play,” UW head coach Jimmy Lake said. “Our shield blocked the wrong person.”
It looked like visibly uncomfortable (and inaccurate) quarterback Dylan Morris, who was sacked three times in Washington’s first three drives … against a defense that managed eight sacks in its first six games.
It looked like Arizona running back Stevie Rocker Jr. sprinting around the left edge for a 52-yard gain, after Wildcat wide receiver Stanley Berryhill III added a 34-yard run on the previous drive. (Arizona’s longest run of the season was previously 23 yards.)
It looked like Arizona — a team that hadn’t scored in seven consecutive quarters, before Jamarye Joiner plunged across the goal line with 8:16 left in the first half for a 1-yard score — taking a 13-0 lead into the locker room.
It looked like Joseph Butler — the father of Husky outside linebacker and former five-star recruit Sav’ell Smalls — tweeting at halftime that he was “crushed right now watching this debacle!!! It’s completely over and I don’t care what you die hard UW fans and alumni say. Jimmy (Lake) & Company need to be fired right now!!!”
It looked like red fireworks shooting out of the end zone after each successive Wildcat score.
It felt like a white flag.
Like comprehensive surrender.
How else do you explain the Huskies being out-gained 150-65 in what Lake called “a frosty first half” offensively? Or UW averaging 1.5 yards per carry in the first 30 minutes against a defense that surrendered 196.7 rushing yards and 4.72 yards per carry in its first six games? How else do you digest Arizona’s 218 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per rush?
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up,” Lake said. “Run defense is very poor right now. Our run fits and tackling … it’s unfortunate that we’ve played that bad the last three weeks. So we have a lot of work to do in that department.”
Regardless, these resurrected Huskies are happy to accept the result.
Morris got UW on the board in its opening drive of the second half — hitting wide receiver Terrell Bynum with a line drive for a 16-yard score that decreased the deficit to 13-7. Morris — who momentarily left the game in the first quarter with a bloody nose, before returning to replace freshman Sam Huard seven plays later — stormed back in the second half, completing 13 of 21 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
“We were able to loosen up some coverages and get some guys sprung open, and Dylan did a nice job of getting the ball to our receivers,” Lake said.
Optics aside, there were bright spots on defense as well. Outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui recorded his first sack in his second game back from a torn Achilles tendon, and defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa recorded a fourth-quarter interception to turn the tide.
“When I first caught it, I didn’t even think I had it in my hands until I looked down and everybody kept hitting me,” the 6-2, 300-pounder said of the first interception of his life. “I’m like, ‘Dang, I really got this.’ That was about it, man. I just knew that was a big play for my team. It was a huge turning point.”
Following that pick, redshirt freshman running back Cameron Davis took a toss for a 9-yard score and his first career touchdown to decrease the deficit again to 16-14. The play was preceded by a 51-yard strike from Morris to Bynum (the Huskies’ longest offensive play of the season).
After forcing an Arizona punt, Washington went ahead for good — as Morris completed another 51-yard bomb to Bynum, before locating wide-open wide receiver Rome Odunze for an eight-yard score.
Bynum — a 6-1, 190-pound junior — finished with five catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in the win.
“We just weren’t hitting on the shots we were taking (in the first half),” Bynum said. “It’s hard to really open the offense up when we’re trying to take shots and we can’t connect on them. But it just takes one play. That’s all we were really harping on. We were talking about that at halftime. We just needed one big play, and we knew we would keep going.”
The big plays came — better late than never.
It went from rock bottom to rare road win.
But those first 45 minutes will be hard to forget.