At this point, every completed college football game feels like a minor miracle.
The Washington Huskies have already had three separate season openers canceled. In the SEC — where it “just means more,” whatever that means — four games this weekend have already been postponed. As another wave of COVID-19 canvasses the country, the college football season teeters on the edge of a cliff.
So, after his team concluded its morning practice on Thursday, UW head coach Jimmy Lake was asked a relatively straightforward question.
Given the circumstances, how confident are you that Saturday’s season opener against Oregon State will be played?
“I’ll tell you this: We prepare like we are going to play the game,” Lake said. “We just finished practice. It’s all eyes on Oregon State and we are ready for those guys to get here, and we’re excited to play the game. That’s just how we have to go about our business. We can’t have one foot in, going, ‘OK, it might be played. It may not.’ Because then when it’s played we definitely won’t be ready. But the Dawgs are prepared. We are ready. We just had an excellent week and a half of practice preparing for these guys. We’re itching to play. We’re excited to play.
“At this moment, I feel 100% confident that this game is going to take place on Saturday night.”
And the moment — roughly 11 a.m. on Thursday — is important to note. Because, roughly an hour later, Oregon State announced that one player has tested positive for COVID-19 and three others are in quarantine, though the game is still scheduled to be played. The positive case occurred on Monday and the football team has had zero positive antigen tests since, according to athletics director Scott Barnes.
“We are absolutely playing Saturday, so no issue there,” Barnes told The Oregonian.
A source also indicated UW’s administration remains confident Saturday’s game will go on.
That’s also despite the fact that, on Wednesday evening, UW reported 13 active positive cases of COVID-19 in its athletic department — four more than the week before. That could be connected to the Husky baseball program, which paused offseason workouts last week following an uptick in positive cases.
When asked if his team is currently at full strength, Lake said simply:
“Good to go.”
Apple Cup kickoff time announced
The Apple Cup game between UW and Washington State in Pullman on Nov. 27 will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and air on ESPN, the latest start time for the rivalry game since 2014.
Thus far, UW’s four Pac-12 games where kickoff times have been announced — including the Cal game that was cancelled — were all scheduled to start no earlier than 5 p.m. PT.
Which begs the question: Would Lake prefer to play a game or two in the afternoon?
“I have no preference,” he said. “At this point we just want to play a game, and it does not matter what time we play. The landscape of college football is dictated by when they want to put us on TV, and that’s just the business that we’re in right now. If they want us to play at 9 in the morning, we’re ready to go for that. If they want us to play at 8 o’clock at night, 7:30, 5, just let us know what time it is, and make sure you guys tell the fans so they can tune in and watch.
“We’re excited to play football, and we’re grateful that we get to practice this game, go meet and now get ready to go play a football game. We will play at any time. It doesn’t matter.”
Sav’ell Smalls’ debut
If the Huskies do indeed host Oregon State on Saturday, the game will double as a UW debut for five-star freshman outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound freshman from Kennedy Catholic is listed second on UW’s depth chart, behind sophomore Laiatu Latu. Those two, along with senior Ryan Bowman and redshirt sophomore Zion Tupuola-Fetui, will be challenged to replicate the production of departed standout Joe Tryon — who led UW with 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season.
So, what’s a fair expectation for Smalls’ immediate impact?
“It’s a work in progress,” UW defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Pete Kwiatkowski said last week. “He was a high-school senior last year. Now he’s playing college ball, and he’s coming along fine. It’s steady progress and he’s not where he’s going to be next year, but I’m pleased with where he’s at now.”
When asked for more clarity on Smalls’ specific role, Kwiatkowski added: “I fully expect any person who’s in the two-deeps on defense to be on the field, whether it’s in the rotation or in special teams.”
Expect Smalls to be in the rotation on Saturday night.
Bowman the fullback?
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released his 2021 NFL draft rankings on Wednesday, and Ryan Bowman was listed third overall … at the fullback/H-back spot.
Which is interesting, of course, because Bowman plays outside linebacker.
According to a source, the ranking stems from the fact that the 6-0, 280-pound Bowman might be asked to practice at fullback at the Senior Bowl in January. The former walk-on and 2020 Preseason All-Pac-12 second-team selection has never played or practice at that position at UW.
“I could see Ryan as an awesome fullback/H-back,” said UW junior tight end Cade Otton. “He’s an awesome player, and I go against him every day. He’s a really good athlete, really good player, so I could see him being able to do that.”
Redman earns a role
Another true freshman who made the most of his opportunities in fall camp was 6-6, 245-pound tight end Mark Redman.
And, in the wake of Hunter Bryant’s departure, Otton, Redman, Jack Westover and Devin Culp could all see significant playing time at tight end on Saturday night.
“For a true freshman he’s done a pretty darn good job. He really has,” UW offensive coordinator John Donovan said last week. “He’s a big kid, smart. He’s physical. He’s a good athlete. He can run. He is going to be a heck of a player here.
“He’s shown enough now for us to be excited about him. If he’s going to play then we’ve got no problem with that. So I’ve been impressed with him not only as a player but as a person. That’s a credit to his parents. I’m excited to get him out there and see what he can do.”
- You’d be hard-pressed to find a Husky who had a more hectic fall camp than Cade Otton. The 6-5, 240-pound junior is set to step into a starting role following Bryant’s departure, and he had to digest UW’s new pro-style scheme as well. And, on top of the COVID-19 protocols and game cancellations, he also got engaged on Oct. 20. So you could say 2020 hasn’t been all bad. “It’s been the craziest time of my life, for sure,” Otton said this week. “But I’m so thankful for this. I feel extremely blessed by everything that’s happened during this time and I’m just so excited to finally get out there on Saturday and be able to play with my brothers. It’s going to be incredible.”