There was only one acceptable result.
That much was clear based on the three-quarters empty Husky Stadium. That much was clear based on the pair of humiliations Washington suffered in its first two games of the season. That much was clear based on the ever-expanding scrutiny on the beleaguered UW coaching staff.
There was only one acceptable result — a blowout. And for once this season, the Huskies delivered.
Washington’s 52-3 victory over Arkansas State on Saturday wasn’t excellence so much as it was an exhalation. It was the outcome necessary to temporarily — very temporarily — shield the team from the vitriol it endured through its first two contests.
The Huskies’ offense — absent against Montana and Michigan — moved at will against the Red Wolves. The Huskies’ defense — non-existent against Michigan — muted Arkansas State.
The bludgeoning was so brutal that even freshman quarterback Sam Huard got a smattering of snaps in the fourth quarter. In short, for the first time all year — Washington looked like a team from a Power Five conference.
“I’m just proud of our guys for going back to work. We knew we had not played our best football, not even close to our best football,” Washington coach Jimmy Lake said. “These guys just kept at work, and stayed unified, and this will create a ton of momentum going into conference play.”
The official attendance at Husky Stadium on Saturday was 58,772. But the eye test suggested you could change the 5 in that number to a 1.
Surely the fact that classes at UW don’t start until next week contributed to the desolation. But the main factor was that fans had more or less abandoned this team.
Why get excited when the Huskies lose to an FCS school, as was the case in their 13-7 defeat at the hands of Montana to start the season? Why show up when the Huskies get pummeled on the interior, as was the case in their 31-10 loss to Michigan in Week 2?
Washington was not only desperate for a win but desperate to convince its fan base that it is at least capable of competing with a Pac-12 foe. Did the seven-touchdown hammering of Arkansas State do that? Maybe, maybe not. But it was likely enough to entice a few more fans to show up in the conference opener vs. Cal next Saturday.
Skeptics wondering whether Saturday’s result will translate to league play are justified in their doubt. Arkansas State did, after all, give up 55 points to Memphis in a five-point loss a week earlier.
Still, the fact that UW more than tripled its combined point total from the first two games is encouraging. And it ensures that embattled offensive coordinator John Donovan survives another week.
Quarterback Dylan Morris dropped several dimes Saturday, and went on to tally 367 yards and three touchdowns on 23 of 39 passing. Additionally, his performance opened up lanes for the much-maligned UW running game, which totaled 200 yards on 39 carries.
The Huskies were equally dominant defensively, forcing three turnovers and holding the Red Wolves to 220 passing yards and 48 rushing yards. It was the first time all season Washington had forced any turnovers at all.
After the game, Washington nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles was asked if it was necessary for the Huskies to win by a wide margin given their previous struggles.
“I wouldn’t say we were leaning toward that specifically, but our brand of football is dominant anyways,” he said. “What you saw today was execution on dominance. I’ll just leave it there.”
It is worth noting that the Huskies are particularly adept at containing spread offenses such as Arkansas State’s. Where they struggle is against run-it-up-the-gut type teams such as Michigan, a style that more or less defines Cal.
In other words, the offense dominated a team that gave up 55 points in Week 2, and the defense dominated a team tailor-made to its strengths. This doesn’t exactly signify an about-face for the Huskies.
But it was a welcome respite from UW’s disastrous start to 2021. It was a relief from the torture chamber that was those first two games.
Lake and Morris both stressed that, while the Huskies took joy in the victory, they’re going back to the drawing board immediately. There is still much to improve on, they say.
No doubt about that. But for the first time all season, there is something to build on as well.
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