It may have been easy to forget there was a football game.
For 4-6 Washington, Saturday’s 35-30 loss to Arizona State may have felt somewhat secondary — after offensive coordinator John Donovan was fired on Sunday, then head coach Jimmy Lake was dealt a one-game suspension less than 24 hours later.
The future for Lake — who was reprimanded for hitting and shoving linebacker Ruperake Fuavai during the 26-16 loss to Oregon last weekend — may not include coaching the Huskies’ final two games, as rumors swirl that his firing is inevitable. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory was named UW’s acting head coach, while wide receivers coach Junior Adams assumed interim offensive coordinator duties.
The challenge for Washington’s players this week was to maintain focus amidst the uncertainty.
“I think this week the team really just did a good job of blocking everything else out,” said cornerback Trent McDuffie, who contributed six tackles with two tackles for loss and a sack in defeat. “We didn’t care what else was happening, the business side of football, coaches, anything. We really just focused on us and coming together as a team and making sure we’re locked in and we do this for each other. Because at the end of the day, we’re the ones on the football field and we’re the ones who come in every day to play for each other.”
Likewise, left tackle Jaxson Kirkland added that “I just want to say how proud I am of this team, given the unique circumstances we lived in this week. It’s not easy on our psyches, coming in here each day with different coaches and whatnot. But I just loved how we locked arms.”
Of course, the result was not what McDuffie or Kirkland wanted.
But for Gregory, there were benefits to an otherwise tumultuous week.
“It’s been a great week, actually,” he said after the 35-30 loss. “It has not been difficult in any way, when you’re out there with these guys. This is what we do this for. This is it. I mentioned before, it’s easy when it’s easy. With the chaos, that’s the true measure of all of it. Our guys stepped up tonight and they battled their asses off.”
They may be asked to battle for Gregory, not Lake, the rest of the way.
But Kirkland, for one, will show up on Sunday regardless of who emerges as the Huskies’ head coach.
“I just take it one day at a time and one minute at a time,” he said. “We’ll see what happens, but all I’m worried about is breaking down this film and getting after Colorado this week.”
Starting running back Sean McGrew and wide receiver Terrell Bynum both missed Saturday’s game with apparent injuries. A pair of redshirt freshmen, in running back Cameron Davis and wide receiver Taj Davis, assumed their spots in the starting lineup. Cameron Davis finished with 81 total yards with a touchdown and a lost fumble, while Taj Davis caught one pass for 13 yards.
Perhaps more concerning, junior tight end Cade Otton left the game with an injury and later appeared on crutches. Gregory declined to provide an update after the loss. Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele missed the game with an unspecified injury as well.
- When asked about schematic differences between Adams and Donovan, Kirkland said “this week we ran it more outside the box and weren’t so predictable when we’re just running it up the middle a lot.” The Huskies finished with 95 rushing yards, 3.2 yards per carry and three rushing scores.
- On the subject of freshman quarterback Sam Huard splitting series (somewhat) with starter Dylan Morris, Gregory said “I’m not an offensive genius all of a sudden because I have this interim (head coach) deal. All it was, was, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we get Sam in there. That could give us a spark. Let’s make sure we get some good plays they both can do and simplify it.’”
- In the wake of UW’s second consecutive defeat, McDuffie spoke about the need to set the right example in a difficult season. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “So I think all it’s about is just the response and how you go from here — how you bounce back, what you say and what you do as a team. For me as a leader, it’s just going in there and looking these young guys in the eyes and telling them this is how college football can be. It’s on me to teach them that way, so that next year and the years following they can fix this thing and set a new standard. Because we know what the standard is and we haven’t lived up to it yet.”