The missing didn’t matter.
At least, for a half.
Arguably UW’s top two players, cornerback Trent McDuffie and tight end Cade Otton, didn’t play in the Huskies’ Pac-12 opener against Cal on Saturday night. McDuffie’s absence was unsurprising, after the 195-pound sophomore left last weekend’s 52-3 win over Arkansas State with an apparent ankle injury. As for Otton, a UW spokesperson confirmed he’s currently in the program’s COVID protocol (but declined to divulge further details).
Together, the two had played in a combined 54 consecutive games.
That streak is over.
The Huskies replaced it with a winning streak, topping Cal 31-24 in overtime — after managing just three measly points in the third and fourth quarters.
On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the opening possession of overtime, UW running back Sean McGrew took a direct snap, faked a hand off and plunged over the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown — the sixth-year senior’s second of the game. And when Cal attempted to answer on first-and-goal from the 2, inside linebacker Jackson Sirmon and safety Cameron Williams combined to force a Damien Moore fumble that outside linebacker Ryan Bowman recovered to instantly end the game.
“Everyone’s got nicks and injuries and all kinds of things going on,” UW head coach Jimmy Lake said after the game. “That’s football. But if you guys noticed Cam Williams, both of his hands were wrapped up. He’s got two hands that are wrapped up like a boxer’s tape, and he came over the top and laid his shoulder right into the running back and popped the ball loose.
“Just an extraordinary play by Cam, just doing what he could with the body parts that were still working.”
Heroics aside, the game should have ended a whole lot earlier. After scoring on four consecutive drives and assuming a 24-10 lead, the Husky offense suddenly stalled — ending consecutive drives with a three-and-out, a Kamari Pleasant fumble, a missed 47-yard field goal by placekicker Peyton Henry and two more three-and-outs. UW managed a grand total of 62 yards in its last five drives in regulation, culminating with an inexplicable Dylan Morris deep shot on third-and-2 in a tie game that fell incomplete of wide receiver Jalen McMillan with 1:35 left.
“That’s something I’m definitely going to have to dive into the film for sure to see what the hiccups were there,” Lake said, when asked why his offense disappeared down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers stormed up the gut to tie the game at 24-24 with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter. The Bears then had a chance to win in regulation, but Dario Longhetto’s 55-yard field goal attempt fell short as time expired.
“Watching it come up short, I just knew, ‘All right, they gave it a good effort. But it’s our time to win now. We’ve got to take this,'” McGrew said. “We’re at home. We’re at our house. We can’t lose. That’s not what Dawgs do.”
Without McDuffie, sophomore Kyler Gordon — UW’s other starting cornerback — got right to work on Saturday, jumping a comeback route for his first career interception on Cal’s third offensive play. The Huskies cashed in seven plays later, when Morris turned to his left and unleashed a laser that wide receiver Taj Davis snagged in tight coverage for a 19-yard score.
In the third quarter, with Washington holding a precarious 24-17 lead, Gordon struck again — leaping to snag a second interception before dragging his feet to stay in bounds.
After Pleasant fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter, Gordon extinguished his third Golden Bear drive of the game. On fourth-and-2 from Washington’s 42-yard line, Garbers completed a quick pass to Moore — but Gordon wrestled down the 220-pound running back short of the sticks.
In all, Gordon led the Huskies with 10 tackles to go with the two picks.
And yet, the Huskies still missed McDuffie — and Garbers completed 30 of 41 passes for 319 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, repeatedly targeting walk-on cornerback starter Mishael Powell. He added 71 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground as well.
“It’s just annoying, but it is what it is,” Bowman said of Garbers’ ability to extend plays. “We would love if he would just sit back there and we could blow him up. But he’s taking off the first chance he gets. He makes it work for himself, but it’s definitely annoying.”
Without Otton, sophomore Devin Culp — who dropped a wide-open touchdown against Arkansas State — made the most of his second career start, posting five catches (on six targets) for 81 yards. Following Gordon’s first interception, on fourth-and-2 from Cal’s 28-yard line, Morris found Culp over the middle for an eight-yard gain to move the chains. The 6-4, 250-pound target from Spokane added receptions of 27 and 26 yards in the next two drives as well — barreling down the seam of the Golden Bear defense.
“We gave Devin a game ball there in the locker room while we were celebrating,” Lake said. “We talk about our guys seizing the opportunity when the opportunity presents itself, and here goes Devin.
” … I’ve seen all the work he’s put in behind the scenes, and I gave him a huge hug at the end of the game, told him how proud I was of him and told him how much I loved him. He should feel proud of the work he did tonight.”
On Saturday, those who showed up for work ultimately mattered more (than the ones that were missing. Morris, for example, completed 19 of 34 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns — flourishing early, before fading somewhat late.
McMillan — who missed the Montana game with a hand injury, before breaking out with 10 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas State — added a six-yard score early in the second quarter. And Rome Odunze — his fellow second-year freshman, who missed UW’s first three games with an injury — recorded three catches for 56 yards as well.
McGrew — who missed the Montana and Michigan losses, because the Husky coaches decided he didn’t deserve to play — made his first start of the season, and took a direct snap into the end zone for a five-yard score with 1:27 left in the first half. The sixth-year senior finished with 53 rushing yards, 3.3 yards per carry and two critical touchdowns.
“He’s very slippery,” Lake said of McGrew. “He knows how to set up his blocks. He knows how to hit pause, and then hit go, hit pause and then hit go. He’s given us a tremendous boost these last couple games.”
Added McGrew: “Just give me the opportunities to get in the (end) zone. I feel like (when I’m called on) I’ve got to get in there and I’ve got to make plays and keep executing and getting in there as much as possible.”
When he was given the opportunities, McGrew didn’t miss.