In 2020, the University of Washington football team played in front of cardboard fans.
In 2021, University of Washington fans watched a cardboard team.
Unable and unwilling to muster the gumption to conduct business as a standard Power 5 conference team, the Huskies, attempting to celebrate the season-opening return of fans (64,053) to Husky Stadium, instead stunned them with a 13-7 defeat to a second-tier University of Montana team that played with an intensity absent in the big boys.
The humiliation — Montana last beat Washington in 1920 when the Huskies were the Sun Dodgers — will go down as one of the worst losses in school history.
In all the talk about realignment that has dominated college football’s preseason, no one has suggested that Montana join the Pac-12 Conference. But now, it’s possible to discuss the Huskies’ entry into the Big Sky Conference.
Ridiculous? What was ridiculous was Huskies offense.
After a 78-yard opening drive to a touchdown on a one-yard run by QB Dylan Morris, the Huskies failed to score again against a 22-point underdog.
They mustered 213 yards of offense the rest of the way. Morris threw three picks, was sacked twice, and the Huskies were four of 14 on third down.
“It’s extremely disappointing we weren’t able to put points on the board for such a long period of time,” said coach Jimmy Lake, whose 20th-ranked Huskies were the first ranked team to lose to a BCS team since 2016. “We couldn’t move the ball at all. The scored stayed 7-3 for a long time. We need to do something about it, and we didn’t.
“One time we got into field goal range and we almost hit it.”
Almost hit a field goal? Against Montana? Like it’s a feat? That’s like Tiger Woods in his prime being happy he kept his drive out of the taco truck at the local muni.
Asked if he was shocked at the outcome, Lake said, “I wouldn’t say shocked . . . “
Well, that would make him alone in the college football universe. In 2016, North Dakota State won at No. 13 Iowa 23-21. The Associated Press reported it was the fifth time it has happened since Appalachian State’s famous upset of No. 5 Michigan in 2007.
Said Bobby Hauck, Montana’s coach and a former assistant at Washington: “This is the Washington Huskies, OK? This is App State over Michigan.”
It probably climbs above the Huskies’ infamous 1985 loss to Oregon State, a 37-point underdog and one of the worst teams in modern college history. But at least the Beavers were part of big-time football, and didn’t have a 1-1-17 all-time record against Washington.
Lake offered little in the way of explanation for the epic upset, saluting Hauck and saying he’d have to look at the film. Nor did the Huskies provide any other player to the media except for LB Edefuan Ulofoshio, part of a defensive unit that was credible in holding Montana to 232 yards.
The relative silence speaks to a lack of professionalism and accountability. It was a bit like how the football team handled its last big public episode — little explanation on the public health issue of the COVID-19 outbreak in December that kept Washington from playing in the Pac-12 championship after finishing the stump season 3-1. They couldn’t must muster 53 healthy players for the game. Nor could they muster sufficient players for a bowl game. Saturday, they mustered little competence.
It’s a hard time for everyone in college sports. The Huskies were hardly alone in losing to underdogs Saturday. But not only did they lose to a team out of their class, their alleged strength, the line, didn’t control the line of scrimmage.
In his press conference Monday, Lake answered a question about the team’s best strength like this:
“The first thing is our offensive line. We are extremely veteran, talented and deep — very deep — on our offensive line. I would say that is a definite strength of ours. I’ll leave it right there.”
Asked after the game if he was surprised they lost the scrimmage fight, he said, “We can’t put it on just one unit.”
Others responsible included the wide receivers. Three noteworthy players, Terrell Bynum, Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze, didn’t play for reasons unknown, and starter Ja’Lynn Polk left the game with an arm injury after one catch for 13 yards.
Many were the contributors to the debacle, including Lake and new offensive coordinator John Donovan. All they have to do is fix everything in a few days before flying to Ann Arbor to play Michigan in its Big House of 106,000 fans.
If it’s any solace to Huskies fans, Michigan last year went 2-4.
Then again, Michigan is no Montana.