There’s always another obstacle.
Washington’s first scheduled opponent, Cal, was forced to cancel their season opener after one positive COVID-19 case necessitated a flurry of contact tracing.
The Huskies’ next opponent, Oregon State, had a player test positive during the week and only narrowly avoided a second consecutive UW cancellation (four if you count previously scheduled season openers against Michigan and Stanford).
Last week, the Apple Cup was also canceled due to COVID-19 issues at Washington State, and the Huskies hosted the 0-1 Utah Utes — who didn’t play their first two games because of positive cases and contact tracing in their program — on short notice.
And now, Stanford (1-2) — who UW is scheduled to host inside Husky Stadium at 1 p.m. on Saturday (FOX) — is searching for a place to practice, after Santa Clara County instituted a three-week ban on professional, college and high-school athletics last weekend.
On Monday, UW coach Jimmy Lake confirmed the Huskies are preparing solely for Stanford — rather than entertaining the possibility of another replacement opponent. He added that, “from what I understand, they’re researching facilities in the northwest to be able to practice and prepare to play their game up here in Seattle on Saturday.”
At time, the obstacles can appear overwhelming.
But No. 23 Washington (3-0) is preparing to play Saturday nonetheless.
“(Athletic director) Jen Cohen and our administration, they’re going back and forth on what we can do to be of service and to help those guys (Stanford) out in this unprecedented year. We will for sure do anything we can to help those guys out and make sure we get that game in on Saturday, because that’s what both teams want. Stanford wants to play. University of Washington wants to play. Let’s make sure we let these young men who put all this hard work in end it with a game on Saturday.”
Disappointing run defense
Through three games, UW ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (151.33 yards allowed per game) and fifth in opponent yards per carry (4.45). And on Saturday, the Utes punctured the UW defense to the tune of 215 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry and a pair of rushing touchdowns.
After reviewing the film, Lake said that “on defense we didn’t tackle very well. And they did a nice job again of getting us out of gaps, creating little creases in our defense — things we had to shore up, which we obviously did in the second half.”
(To be fair, the Utes still rushed for 81 yards and 4.5 yards per carry in the second half.)
Some of the struggles last Saturday can be attributed to the unexpected absence of senior outside linebacker Ryan Bowman, who missed the game for an unspecified reason. When asked how the Huskies attempted to compensate for that loss, Lake declined to divulge specific strategic adjustments.
“We have a bunch of plans in place (for when a player can’t play),” he said. “We’re always ready for the next man up. But of course, in this climate right now, we have to always be ready for that, and we have to be ready for the next coach up as well. So this has been well thought-out, just because of the pandemic and injuries.
“If we’re missing coaches, if we’re missing players, we have the next guy up ready to go. Those guys have to be ready to carry the flag and continue on the mission and make sure that we do everything possible to win the football game.”
Without Bowman, Lake noted that a pair of true freshman outside linebackers — Sav’ell Smalls and Cooper McDonald — certainly did their part. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Smalls contributed a career-best five tackles in the win.
“I was really excited about those guys taking the next step in their game,” Lake said. “It may not have showed up so much in the stat sheet but we saw their keys and reads getting better, their chase to the ball getting better, their pass rush moves getting better with Sav’ell Smalls and Cooper McDonald. We’re expecting those guys to raise their game to another level again this week.”
Why no Newton?
In UW’s 44-27 victory over Arizona on Nov. 21, redshirt sophomore running back Richard Newton led all Huskies with 81 rushing yards, 10.1 yards per carry and two touchdowns.
A week later, an apparently healthy Newton didn’t play.
Instead, the 6-0, 210-pound punisher stood on the sideline in uniform as Washington managed just 88 total rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry in the narrow 24-21 win over Utah.
So, what gives?
“Things like that are going to happen,” Lake said, preferring again to avoid specifics. “We pride ourselves on our guys performing in practice and making sure they’re able to execute in practice. We know that’s going to transition over into games. We’re always evaluating and assessing, and we’re going to put the guys in there that we feel give us the best chance to win the game.”
Still, seniors Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew and redshirt freshman Cameron Davis didn’t do a whole lot — at least, compared to their dizzying productivity in wins over Oregon State and Arizona.
“We feel we could have done some more (in the running game) for sure,” Lake said. “We feel like we could have stayed on a couple blocks a little bit longer. We feel like our running backs missed a couple open holes where they could have stayed more vertical and hit it. So there’s definitely things to clean up, just like every single week. But again, give a lot of credit to Utah.
“We’ll learn from some of the mistakes we made last Saturday and we’ll try to grow and make sure we give a better performance in our rush offense.”
Oh, and here’s one reason to believe Washington will do just that: through three weeks, Stanford ranks last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (229 yards allowed per game) and 11th in opponent yards per carry (5.73).
Tupuola-Fetui, Morris claim more weekly awards
Now, this is starting to get repetitive.
On Monday, the Pac-12 announced that UW redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui has been named the conference’s defensive lineman of the week for the third consecutive time, while quarterback Dylan Morris took home freshman of the week honors for the second straight game.
Tupuola-Fetui was named Athlon Sports’ National Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts as well.
The 6-3, 280-pound pass-rusher has won the same Pac-12 weekly award following each of the first three starts of his Husky career. He recorded six tackles with three sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in the win over Utah and has amassed seven sacks and three forced fumbles in his first three games. The Pearl City, Hawaii, product currently leads the country with 2.33 sacks per game.
Morris completed 23 of 38 passes for 272 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions against Utah — hitting Cade Otton for a 16-yard, go-ahead touchdown strike with 36 seconds left. The 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman from Puyallup has completed 59.8% of his throws with 643 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, three interceptions and one rushing score in his first three collegiate starts.