The stat sheet showed the University of Washington football team used two quarterbacks in the Arizona game the past weekend. It seemed more like three.
Bad Dylan Morris. Brief Sam Huard. Good Dylan Morris.
For a position that’s always been a ready punching bag for UW fans — admit it, you booed Warren Moon, Steve Pelluer, Hugh Millen and Cary Conklin mercilessly at Husky Stadium over decades past, because it’s tradition — a new level of quarterback discontent has reached full fury.
Morris, with plenty of inaccuracy at times and four defeats tied to his season resume, is now the object of steady scorn from those sitting comfortably on their couches or huddled high in the rafters. They will have another chance to heckle starting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when the Huskies (3-4, 2-2 Pac-12) play Stanford (3-4, 2-3) in Palo Alto, CA.
Some people have loudly concluded that the 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt freshman from Puyallup — a town that has traditionally been a good place for supplying the Huskies with starting quarterbacks — can’t throw, scramble or lead the offense to their satisfaction.
You don’t like Morris’ height, arm, mustache, style points.
Booing could be heard echoing from Seattle to Tucson the past Friday night following a scoreless first half in which Morris and his fellow Huskies went a frustrating 0-for-6 on offensive drives and trailed 13-0.
Morris nearly was stranded in the desert. He had his face bloodied on the first series. He was sacked three times in his first 10 plays. He watched Huard run the team for a series, maybe wondering for a second if the kid might get hot and leave him sidelined.
None of this was a real confidence-builder for the veteran.
The thing about Morris is this: He doesn’t hear you or me. He doesn’t really care what anyone thinks about him as the quarterback other than the guys who decide the position hierarchy. He can handle the physical pain and emotional stress. He won the job this year and last, and he’s not giving it to anyone if he can help it.
“He’s a fighter, he’s tough, he’s resilient,” coach Jimmy Lake said of his offensive leader.
He’s also not very well-liked by outsiders.
It mattered little to his critics that Morris settled down after halftime and finished with efficient overall passing numbers of 13-for-21 for 217 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, to drive the 21-16 comeback victory over Arizona. People all over the message boards were done with him.
So what happened to this quarterback for the first hour and a half?
Morris has been promoted all along as an error-free quarterback by the coaching staff, but that hasn’t really been the case this season. He leads the conference in interceptions with eight. He couldn’t find anything that worked against a not very sturdy Arizona team now weighed down by a 19-game losing streak.
“They gave us some different looks that we hadn’t seen,” Lake said of the Wildcats defense. “That always causes a little bit of confusion here and there . . . I know it’s frustrating, but as the game goes on you start to figure those things out.”
With Morris now front and center, the recent intersection of quarterbacks in Montlake gets more interesting as it plays out.
Two years ago, Morris redshirted while Jacob Eason and Jake Haener competed for the Husky starting job in fall camp. Once Eason beat him out, Haener transferred the next day to Fresno State, where he’s developed into a highly proficient quarterback, throwing for 4,603 yards and 36 TDs in 14 games over two seasons. Eason lasted one year at Montlake and has been bouncing around the NFL for two seasons, last week joining the Seattle Seahawks as a backup QB candidate.
A year ago, Morris won a four-player quarterback battle where team sources strongly suggested the job ended up in his hands only because Sacramento State transfer Kevin Thomson, a sixth-year player and the reigning Big Sky MVP, was hurt right before the opener.
Media members and UW fans were more than a little surprised when the relatively unheralded Morris opened the season as the starter against Oregon State.
He showed plenty of moxie by leading the Huskies from a 21-0 halftime deficit to a last-second, 24-21 win over Utah, one of the landmark games in school history. Yet his detractors, already growing in number, wanted only to talk about the two scoreless quarters.
Once the four-game season ended, all of the quarterback competition packed up and left. Promising freshman Ethan Garbers transferred to UCLA. Journeyman sophomore Jacob Sirmon landed at Central Michigan. Thomson, the forever student, left and took an unsuccessful stab at the NFL.
By simply being the starter, Morris was blamed for that mass turnover, too, especially the loss of Garbers, now pegged someday to be a Pac-12 star for the Bruins. Garbers initially signed with Chris Petersen’s staff, gave Lake a season to convince him their union would work and decided he didn’t like playing for a defensive-minded coach with an offensive coordinator in John Donovan who inspires no one with his vanilla schemes.
This spring, Sam Huard, the highest-rated QB recruit in program history, showed up early for school and dove into practice. No question about it, he has a gifted left arm. Naturally, he was forced to take a crash course on the college game.
Hopeful fans wished aloud that Huard would become the quarterback starter right away as a true freshman, same as Jake Browning, who’s now a practice-team QB for the Cincinnati Bengals. The coaches discouraged this, saying the southpaw needed more time to learn the system and get comfortable.
Huard made his college debut with a 10-play series in the 52-3 demolition of Arkansas State in the third game. Against Arizona, he was scripted to direct the third UW offensive drive but he came in on the second possession because blood was gushing from the nose of Morris. Had the game not been so close and frustrating, Huard might have received another series or two.
Impatient with a 3-4 season, fans continue to clamor for Huard to play more, or even take over. Lake and his staff choose to hold him back, which seems a little odd. Most college football rograms that land a five-star quarterback would want to hurry him onto the field as soon as he was enrolled and warmed up, especially in the face of losing more than expected.
Yet Lake and Co. won’t take the gift of this conversation-changer and run with it. Or pass with it. Against Arizona, Huard was instructed to hand off five times before permitted to throw a pass that fell incomplete. This is a guy who compiled more than 13,000 passing yards as a Seattle schoolboy. But that was it for him on this night.
It’s another odd twist to a season full of negative outcomes for the UW. In the QB case, the Huskies choose to play the unpopular quarterback with the diminishing reputation over the popular one with unprecedented accolades.
More of former Seattle Post-Intelligencer journalist Dan Raley’s work can be found here at si.com/maven