Asked after falling 24-17 (box) to UCLA Saturday night at Husky Stadium if he was surprised that that the Washington Huskies continue to lose games at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, coach Jimmy Lake said, “I wouldn’t say that. No . . . these first three (conference) games, they can go either way. It’s a slugfest, going back and forth.”
In Pullman, after Washington State prevailed over Stanford 34-31 for their third consecutive win, Nick Rolovich was asked whether he was going to be the coach next week if he doesn’t get an exemption to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for state employees. He said, “I don’t know . . . I’m going to come to work tomorrow and get ready for BYU. This is not in my hands.”
To both gentlemen:
No. And no.
The Rolovich rebuke is easy.
He knows well that his public school is engaged in a national defense against a murderous public health menace by applying a tool free and available to all, which works according to the best available science data. His failure to cooperate threatens to damage an increasingly successful football season and throw his university into the forefront of a national controversy, perhaps as soon as Sunday. The decision to risk his job in order to avoid the jab was in his hands as soon as he announced in July that he wouldn’t follow the safety rules.
He chose poorly.
The rebuke for Lake is pure football, and plainly obvious.
The Huskies’ offensive and defensive lines are over-matched, which is why they are losing slugfests (his term). The gaps are not egregious; they lost by three at Oregon State last week, and seven Saturday. But the same personnel also lost to Montana and Michigan, and are the primary reasons the Huskies are 2-4 for the first time since 2015.
The Bruins rushed for 237 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. The Huskies rushed for 83 yards (10 in the first half) and 2.7 yards per carry. Those numbers tell the story of this game and the UW’s disappointing season.
The Cougars are about to lose their coach despite a winning season; the Huskies will be keeping Lake, mostly because it’s only his second year, plus the math of his contractual buyout.
Really, except for Oregon, there’s no big obstacle for Washington to win five of the final six games. The Pac-12 is so weak this year that the Huskies are still in the hunt for the North Division title.
But it’s unlikely because of the inability of the lines, both of which Lake touted as team strengths this season and a big part of the Huskies tradition, to turn games.
While it’s unreasonable for Lake to publicly scold individuals or groups of players, it is reasonable to call out Lake for making up stuff.
“What I want us to do better at is taking care of football and getting the ball back,” Lake said. “We were able to move the ball well offensively. And then we had a few drives stop because of turnovers.”
Actually, Huskies weren’t moving the ball steadily and had two turnovers — on their first and last possessions. The turnovers were symptoms, not causes.
Both were under-thrown passes from QB Dylan Morris that were intercepted. The first was because the O-line couldn’t keep Bruins DT Tyler Manoa out of Morris’s face, and the second was because of a bad play choice by the coaches — going for a bombs-away pass to WR Rome Odunze on first-and-10 at the UCLA 48-yard line with five minutes left, intercepted by Bruins DB Devin Kirkwood at the 5-yard line.
If the coaches had any confidence in the line play, they wouldn’t have gone for deep ball, and instead mixed the playcalling. With a 24-17 lead, the Bruins took the turnover and ran the ball 10 consecutive times (four kneel-downs) to finish the game. They knew the Huskies were semi-helpless to stop RB Zach Charbonnet (131 yards on 21 carries) and Dorian Thompson-Robinson (87 yards in 12 carries), another dual-threat quarterback that rendered the defense semi-inert.
Lake went on to explain how Pac-12 offenses have changed from pass-heavy spread formations to reliance on running games featuring play-action and pre-snap motion.
“You just see the nature of our conference changing, and really, college football,” he said. “It’s changing and we’ve noticed. You’re just not seeing the the completely wide open spread attacks very much.
“It’s a tough fight. Our guys know they’re close.”
Close? They had a bye week to prepare for a team that ranked second in Pac-12 rushing with 217.3 yards a game, after UW gave up 242 yards to Oregon State (4.8 ypg) and 343 to Michigan (6.1). They are not close.
On offense entering the game, the Huskies were 10th in conference rushing at 116.6 per game, despite a stable of four experienced backs from which big things were expected.
So if Lake is right, and the conference style is changing, then halfway through the season, it’s apparent the Huskies lines are unable or unwilling to adapt to changed circumstances.
You know, kinda like the Cougars coach.