Since the conclusion of the Washington Huskies’ unpleasantness in Ann Arbor, I kept thinking about a scene in the film Airplane! when flight attendant Elaine Dickerson addresses a cabin full of a skittish passengers.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your stewardess speaking. We regret any inconvenience the sudden cabin movement might have caused. This is due to periodic air pockets we encountered. There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?
It seemed coach Jimmy Lake’s compulsion to say or do little to acknowledge the incompetence that created the 0-2 start led Huskies fans to think that there was no one in the cockpit. A first-time head coach and an offensive coordinator with a modest resume did little to inspire confidence that anything other than a seasonal crash landing was possible, even against a second-tier outfit such as Arkansas State.
It turns out, Lake had operational control.
Saturday at Husky Stadium, he put OC John Donovan in the pressbox, QB Dylan Moore in the shotgun, RB Sean McGrew on the field and WR Jalen McMillen at the tip of the spear. The result, a 52-3 triumph over the Red Wolves (box), seemed to get the passengers in half-empty Husky Stadium to calm down.
It may last only a week.
Until more gets proven against a Pac-12 Conference opponent, such as Cal Saturday, no one is forgetting the upset loss to Montana, the helplessness in the Big House against Michigan, and the inferiority of Arkansas State.
But let’s not rush ahead. After 0-2, restoration of order may have been the mandatory minimum outcome, but that doesn’t nullify the need to celebrate.
“You could see it our guys’ eyes, the joy as the fourth quarter was going down,” Lake said. “It was awesome to see all the smiles.
“Like I mentioned to you last week, football teaches you so much.”
Well, UW is an institution of higher learning. But less formally, it is an entertainment extravaganza. Nothing in the first two weeks suggested anything was being taught well enough to amuse the purples or keep the teachers employed.
Brendan Radley-Hiles, the well-regarded junior transfer cornerback from Oklahoma who led UW with nine tackles, including two for loss, was persuaded that the pursuit of small things was critical in the salvage operation.
This week all about attention to details,” he said. “We overprepared. We made sure that we didn’t even miss any stone, you know, unturned.”
The over-preparation produced 598 yards of offense, 200 on the ground, which included 48 from Kamari Pleasant and 31 from McGrew, two healthy sixth-year seniors who disappeared from the game plans of the previous two weeks without explanation from Lake.
It produced 367 yards passing from Morris (23 of 39, one pick) that had precision downfield throws of 39 yards twice and a 42-yarder. And it provided a new star. Entering the game with one career reception, McMillen (6-1, 180 pounds, from Fresno, CA) had 10 catches for 175 yards and a TD — the first time a Pac-12 player has surpassed 150 receiving yards in a first half since former Huskies great John Ross did it against Cal in 2016.
The reversal of form was organized by Donovan, not from the field but from the coaches box atop the stadium, where most coordinators operate. Lake explained that during Donovan’s first year last season, he wanted to be on the sidelines closer to players.
“He didn’t know our players, how they’re going to react during a bad play or a good play,” Lake said. “I get that, (having been) a coordinator. You want to get a feel for these guys — can they handle this? Going (upstairs) is a more calm atmosphere. In a lot of ways, it’s easier to call it from the booth.”
Whether that was a big or small deal is unknowable. What was knowable was the healthy return of the speedy McMillen bolstered a position that has been a years-long weakness at Washington.
“He’s brings so much as a technician; he can open up the line and short space,” said Morris. “He’s comfortable for me to throw it out there for him. I know he’ll get it. The plays he made definitely brought some juice to the whole team.”
After one sack in the first two games, the Huskies defense had three, one producing a fumble that LB Bralen Trice returned 74 yards for the game’s final score. And sophomore safety Julius Irvin jumped a fourth-quarter slant for UW’s first interception, helping hold Arkansas State to 268 total yards.
The rout would have been more impressive but for a half-dozen dropped passes as well as three turnovers. Much work remains, but the air of incompetence has faded. This looked more like the Huskies Lake had been bragging up since last season.
“I’ll say that the momentum that we had come out of spring football and the momentum that we had coming out of training camp — that’s what it looked like,” Lake said. “I love how we responded.”
And Lake responded as if he’d flown a plane before.