Days later, the result is no less baffling. Washington joined one of the most exclusive clubs in college football — the collection of ranked teams that have lost to opponents from the FCS.
Even more mind-blowing than the Huskies’ 13-7 loss to Montana was their point total: A single, measly touchdown.
And that touchdown came on the first possession of the game — the first possession of the season. They had eight months to script and practice it.
Once the opening drive came and went, UW’s coaching staff had no answers for that mighty Montana defense.
The last time the Grizzlies played a Pac-12 team, in 2019, they gave up 35 points to Oregon in a little more than three quarters, before the Ducks shut down their offense.
Yes, we know the Huskies were without their top four receivers.
So what? They still have wideouts who were major college recruits. They still had an All-American-caliber tight end, a quarterback who beat three Pac-12 teams last season and, allegedly, one of the best offensive lines in the conference.
The Huskies averaged 300+ pounds across their offensive front Saturday. Montana’s defensive linemen and linebackers averaged 230 pounds. Yet Washington managed a whopping 2.4 yards per carry.
After cruising 78 yards for the first touchdown, the Huskies gained 201 yards the rest of the game.
The second-half possessions went as follows: 28 yards, 18 yards, 23 yards, minus-seven yards, 20 yards and 25 yards.
After the opening drive, they didn’t run a single play inside Montana’s 25-yard line.
So incredible, in fact, that we wondered just how incredible.
We wondered whether Washington’s offensive performance Saturday stands as one of the worst in the history of the sport.
But before the Hotline’s crack research team got busy with the NCAA archives, we narrowed the scope.
First, we dispensed with the metrics often equated with offense (total yards, yards-per-play, yards-per-rush, yards-per-pass attempt) and focused on that old-school measure of offense: Points scored.
But because plenty of teams get shut out, we narrowed the scope a bit further.
To qualify as truly, historically epically awful, we focused on the number of points scored by teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision against opponents from the Football Championship Subdivision.
You know, FBS against FCS. (Or as that pairing used to be known: Division I-A against Division I-AA).
In other words: 85 scholarships against 63 scholarships.
Then we plunged into the NCAA record book and identified every occasion the big boys lost to the little guys.
We went all the way back to 1978, the year the Division I-AA classification was created for the lower-tier football programs within Division I.
In all, 107 teams from the FBS (or Division I-A) have lost to opponents from the FCS (or I-AA) over those 40-something years.
But not all the results are relevant. For example, the Ivy League was once considered Division I-A, and we weren’t interested in Columbia’s loss to Lafayette in 1981. The list also includes the time Cal State-Fullerton, which used to play football, lost to Boise State, which used to be Division I-AA.
So we filtered for teams ranked in the AP top-25 poll at the time of kickoff.
After all, any measure of the worst offensive performance should naturally require a good team to perform poorly.
In history, there have been six instances of ranked teams losing to opponents from the FCS/I-AA:
1983: Cincinnati over No. 20 Penn State
2007: Appalachian State over No. 5 Michigan
2010: James Madison over No. 13 Virginia Tech
2013: Eastern Washington over No. 25 Oregon State
2016: North Dakota State over No. 13 Iowa
2020: Montana over No. 20 Washington
OK, but that still doesn’t provide the answer we seek.
In its epic loss to Appalachian State, Michigan scored 32 points.
Oregon State scored 46 in its loss to Eastern Washington.
In neither instance was offense the problem.
So we filtered for points scored and found only two occasions — two out of 107 — in which a ranked team from the FBS/I-A lost to an opponent from the FCS/I-AA and scored fewer than 10 points in the process.
Penn State’s 14-3 loss to Cincinnati in 1983, and the Huskies.
By that measure, Washington cannot claim the bottom rung.
But there’s a caveat: Cincinnati was temporarily deemed a I-AA team in 1983 because of an NCAA procedural issue with its classification.
The Bearcats were classified as a I-A team the year before and as a I-A the year after.
And in that 1983 season, they played 10 opponents from the I-A level and lost to eventual national champion Miami by just 10 points.
In every respect but the designation, they were a Division I-A team.
Montana is not an FBS team. Montana is pure FCS.
Which means — if we use the AP rankings and points scored as the framing — Washington’s performance Saturday could be deemed, well, unprecedented.