The most 2020 play in Washington football history happened with 9:46 remaining in the first quarter on Saturday.
On their first offensive drive of a 27-21 win over Oregon State, the Huskies chose to punt on fourth-and-six from the enemy’s 40-yard line. That was their first mistake.
Freshman long snapper Jaden Green then sent the first snap of his collegiate career sailing above the outstretched arms of UW punter Race Porter. That was their second mistake.
Porter ran to retrieve the skipping ball at his own 12-yard line — a full 48 yards away — cut inside and booted it directly into the stomach of Oregon State outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. UW outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui attempted to scoop it up and run at the 15-yard line, but was bowled over instead. That was their third mistake.
After UW linebacker Jackson Sirmon’s attempt to retrieve the bouncing ball was also unsuccessful, Oregon State defensive back Jaydon Grant ended the madness by possessing the pigskin and diving into the end zone for a comprehensively calamitous touchdown.
That sequence, it seems, provides a perfect metaphor for what has been a bizarre and unrelentingly challenging year.
And yet, the Huskies persevered.
More specifically, Washington’s offensive line laid waste to Oregon State in the first half on Saturday. The Huskies rushed for a whopping 160 yards, 6.7 yards per carry and three touchdowns in the first two quarters alone — using a trio of running backs to batter the Beavers. The Huskies finished with 267 yards on 51 attempts. Senior Sean McGrew scooted into the end zone from 21 yards out to start the scoring, and Kamari Pleasant later added a 15-yard touchdown as well.
McGrew ultimately led the way with 91 rushing yards, 10.1 yards per carry and a touchdown, while Pleasant contributed 61 yards, 5.5 yards per rush and the aforementioned score.
“I think we came out juiced up,” said McGrew, who surprisingly received just three carries in the second half. “That was the first time we got to go against somebody else and hit another colored jersey, and I think we were extremely excited about that. Obviously we want to be the most physical team in the Pac-12 and establishing the run is going to be something that’s important in every game. So I’m glad we did.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Morris, who made his first UW start on Saturday, also bulled into the end zone from a yard out to extend the Husky lead to 24-14 with 3:49 left in the second quarter.
It was very close,” UW head coach Jimmy Lake said of the Huskies four-pronged quarterback competition. “But Dylan just does a really good job of not making mistakes. You saw that tonight. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes, didn’t turn the ball over, got us in and out of plays. The ball handling was good in the run game. He completed some passes when we needed to. We moved the chains. It was awesome to watch.
“He’s just got a really good demeanor and good leadership qualities. So he’s got a long way to go, just like a lot of our guys do. But I’m definitely proud of him for his first college football game.”
Morris didn’t make mistakes, but explosive plays were equally hard to come by. The redshirt freshman from Puyallup completed 14 of 24 passes for 141 yards in his UW debut, and Washington’s wide receivers piled up drops in critical situations — including would-be touchdowns for senior Ty Jones and true freshman Rome Odunze.
The offense was undeniably uneven, with a merciless running game carrying a vertically unmotivated passing attack.
But Lake, for one, didn’t sound concerned.
“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to win football games,” he said. “So tonight we did what we had to do to win a football game. That’s the beautiful thing about being a balanced offense, and we’ve got a long way to go. It wasn’t perfect.
“But offensively, you know what, if we saw an advantage — we (thought we) could run the football — we ran the football. And with another opponent, if we see an advantage where we (think we can) throw it a little bit more, we’re going to throw it a little bit more. That keeps defenses off balance.”
Meanwhile, UW’s defense — which was unexpectedly down starting defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa and outside linebacker Laiatu Latu — also struggled to contain the Oregon State running game. The Beavers rushed for 159 yards, 5.0 yards per carry and two touchdowns, a year after managing just 31 rushing yards and 1.4 yards per rush in a 19-7 loss to the Huskies in Corvallis.
(Of course, defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike and outside linebacker Joe Tryon’s NFL draft departures also contributed to that trend.)
“It wasn’t perfect on defense,” Lake conceded. “We’ve played some really good defense here for a lot of years. We don’t like giving up rushing yards like we gave up today. So we’ve got a lot of improvement (to make) around our whole team.”
But that UW rushing defense also stood up when it mattered most. On fourth-and-1 from the UW 5-yard line early in the fourth quarter, linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio and safety Asa Turner combined to stuff Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson and protect a 24-21 lead.
And in the closing moments, the Huskies again cashed in. On third-and-18 from the Oregon State 24-yard line, Morris scrambled for 14 yards, and Beavers safety Kitan Oladapo was called for targeting — thus extending the drive. After three consecutive running plays went for nothing, Peyton Henry nailed a 23-yard chip shot to extend the Washington lead to 27-21.
“Honestly, seeing him run the ball like that, and he obviously took a pretty hard hit and he popped up right away, that was awesome,” McGrew said of Morris’ scramble. “He’s a tough kid.”
With their backs against the wall, the Beavers attempted to mount a go-ahead drive with 1:40 left. But Turner intercepted a pass that bounced off the helmet of OSU right guard Nous Keobounnam on fourth-and-five to put it away. Oregon State quarterback Tristan Gebbia completed just 11 of 24 passes for 85 yards and an interception.
Still, UW’s performance on Saturday was not pretty — particularly on special teams. Besides the blocked put, the Huskies also allowed kickoff returns of 42 and 43 yards and Henry blew a 28-yard field goal. They managed just three measly points in the second half.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.
“I’m so proud of the way we did it,” Lake said with a smile. “It was hard. It was grimy, and we had to grind it out. I’m so proud of those guys.”
It was hard. It was grimy. It was marred by mistakes.
So, in other words, it was unabashedly 2020.