BY Art Thiel 12:52AM 11/29/2020

Thiel: Down 21, Huskies’ Morris picks it up fast

A spectacular second half followed a bad first half, as the Huskies ran off 24 unanswered points to stun Utah. QB Dylan Morris made the play of the night by solving a mistake.

TE Cade Otton scored the first of his two touchdowns in Washington’s 24-21 comeback win over Utah Saturday. / UW Athletics

In the middle of what would become one of the most remarkable game-winning drives in University of Washington football history, the thing fell apart. Momentarily, but ominously.

QB Dylan Morris, busy converting the worst game of his freshman year into his best, was in the shotgun scanning UW’s alignment against the Utah defense before a play on a second-and-10 at the Utah 44.

With 80 seconds left and the Huskies trailing 21-17, suddenly the football hit his right leg and fell at his feet.

Another mistake. After nearly error-free efforts in the Huskies’ previous two wins, Morris had three interceptions and a passel of dubious judgments against a formidable defense. This premature snap surely would doom the attempt at the Huskies’ most preposterous comeback in the past 32 years.

“Obviously the cadence was mis-communicated between the center (senior Jake Wattenberg) and  the quarterback,” said coach Jimmy Lake.

“I saw we were a little late off the ball,” said TE Cade Otton.

Morris probably should have fallen on the ball to avoid a turnover. Instead, he scooped it up and quickly deduced the pass play’s timing was shot. Then he spotted Otton.

“I just turned and D-Mo did a great job,” Otton said. “Picking up the ball, getting it out and getting a positive gain out of it was really heads up by D-Mo. The line protected him well, even though the snap was little off.  Those little things are often the difference in winning and losing.”

The little thing was a seven-yard completion to the Otton, a play likely to be overlooked in the cavalcade of sequences that had to go perfectly in order to return from a 21-0 halftime to a 24-21 triumph (box) Saturday night that had a national TV audience rapt.

Morris’s alert rescue from disaster set up the next five plays, including a final 16-yard pass to Otton for the game-winning touchdown with 44 seconds left. The bad-snap survival wasn’t the biggest or best play at Husky Stadium Saturday, but it told an emblematic story about the kid from Puyallup and Graham-Kapowsin High School.

“That moment right there really puts it in a capsule,” Lake said. “It’s a snap coming when it’s not supposed to, and he grabs the ball, looks downfield, gets back to his reads and throws a strike.

“That’s the type of calm that he has through adverse situations. That sequence right there really captures what Dylan Morris is about.”

We’d love to share what Morris thought, but Lake has freshmen in media quarantine, as was the habit of his predecessor, Chris Petersen, because as we all know, sports journalists are scarier than 260-pound defensive ends.

In any event, what Morris did was bounce back from a bad first half (10-18, 127 yards, 0-6 on third downs and no points), to a second half in which he completed 13 of 20 for 245 yards, six of eight third down conversions, two TD passes to Otton and all 24 points.

Starting from the 12-yard line with 4:31 to play, Morris shed all concern for his previous errors and completed six of nine passes, including the final four in a row, and three to Otton, the 6-5, 240-pound junior from Tumwater who is the passing game’s best (only?) weapon.

“It was incredible to be a part of,” Otton said. “It’s kind of surreal thinking about it. I’m so proud of all the guys. We knew what we needed to do.

“Dylan is just the same — not too high and not too low. He a steady leader of our team and it showed up in the second half.”

Sounds like chapter and verse from First Russellonians of the QB Bible.

As is often the case with the Seahawks quarterback, Morris had to recover from early setbacks — his first turnovers of the season — to pull it together late in difficult game against the perennially rugged guys from Salt Lake City, who lost seven players to the NFL draft in April and had 80 roster players who were freshmen or sophomores.

“They landed a lot of blows, and that’s what I told the team at halftime,” Lake said. “I said, ‘Hey, Utah just landed some left hooks, some right hooks, some body blows and we took ’em. Now we need to come out in the second half and we need to start throwing our punches, and we need to land a haymaker at the end.'”

A year ago at Husky Stadium, it was Utah who scored 21 consecutive points on the Huskies in a 33-28 win in which the defense clearly bullied the home team. This time it was the Huskies defense that stood on the visitors’ throats.

Among the Utes’ six second-half possessions, two were ended by interceptions (Elijah Molden and Trent McDuffie), one by a fumble (Kyler Gordon caused, Zion Tupuloa-Fetui recovered), one on downs and two by punt. Utah had 138 yards of second-half offense.

As a senior leader and the team’s top defender, Molden made clear to teammates at halftime the game was winnable.

“My message was, don’t go soft,” he said. “It’s easy to kind of hang your head, feel sorry for yourself. I think we were fighting that feeling. Everyone feels that deep down. You get that voice in your head that wants make excuses and stuff.

I think it was blocking that noise out, staying hard, coming out the second half with a sense of urgency.”

The most urgent was Tupuloa-Fetui, who filled a void left by OLB senior starter Ryan Bowman, who didn’t suit up and was presumed to be injured. Also missing was another likely starting linebacker, Laiatu Latu, who has yet to play in the first three games.

ZTF had four tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss and forced a fumble. Along with LB Eddie Ulofoshio’s team-high 14-tackles, the defense pressured SEC senior transfer QB Tyler Bentley into numerous errors in the second half.

ZTF, a sophomore from Hawaii, is emerging as one of the Pac-12’s premier defenders.

“That doesn’t surprise me, because he’s always harassing our offense in practice,” Lake said. “I’m telling him to stay away from the quarterback — he’s always buzzing right by Dylan and the other guys. Our opponents are having a really hard time keeping him covered up. To have that kind of production (seven sacks) in three Pac-12 games is phenomenal.”

The second-half explosion by both sides of the UW ball added up to the second-biggest comeback triumph in Huskies history, behind a 24-point rally in 1988 against Cal. The Huskies’ 3-0 mark tops the Pac-12 North, following Oregon State’s 41-38 upset of 15th-ranked Oregon Friday in Corvallis.

The Huskies continue to win at the auxiliary contest this year of COVID-19 avoidance. The Utah matchup was a hastily arranged replacement for the Apple Cup that was abandoned because of a virus breakout in Pullman, the same reason that canceled UW’s revised road opener at Cal.

Nothing can be done about the COVID-19 mess in which the Pac-12 finds itself. But whenever an opponent manages to get to town, the Huskies have won. Three times. They’ll try again at Husky Stadium Saturday against 1-2 Stanford.

Friday was the 100th anniversary of Husky Stadium. The Huskies may go a long while before they top the first day of the stadium’s second century.

LB Eddie Ulofoshio celebrates after one of his team-high 14 tackles. / UW Athletics


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YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    Nice writeup Art – the snap you described was one of those OMG moments and to see Morris handle it like it was a good snap was truly remarkable. And then to complete the pass! Possibly Locker or Tui, regarding “recent” UW QB’s, would have been so adept.
    Then Morris, cool as a cucumber, rolls to his left, against his natural throwing motion, and hits Otton in PERFECT stride for the 16 yard TD! This kid has a LOT of moxie (those under 40, look it up), and if he keeps this up we may see some backups opt out.
    The KJR 950 post game show was good and interestingly an integral part of the Utah O the first half was Bentley’s running – the guy was killing us with timely runs. One of the KJR guys pointed out that in the second half UW spied Bentley and that’s what shut him down.

    Art you mention Lake’s boxing reference at halftime – Not to divert from this great win, BUT WTF was Nate Robinson, local boy makes good, in a BOXING ring tonight? He got his ass handed to him, a total, ugly and sort of scary knockout in the 2nd round. Is the guy crazy? I watched him play for UW football AND basketball, and he is an incredible athlete, but this was a very sad turn of events. Following has his knockdowns, if anyone cares to watch. I’m sure you know him Art – PLEASE do whatever you can to talk the guy into hanging up the gloves.
    https://nypost.com/2020/11/29/nate-robinson-gets-destroyed-by-jake-paul-in-his-boxing-debut/

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    • art thiel

      The UW D responded well to Bentley, who was a solid QB in the SEC. He was pressed into errors.

      Yes, I know Nate, but he would never listen to me or anyone else. Maybe the mass mockery he’s getting on Black Twitter will humble him. But I doubt it. He loves the attention too much.

      • 1coolguy

        Possibly this terrible performance has knocked some sense into the guy? It is painful to watch the replay.

      • Bayview Herb

        Judging from the play calling in the 1st half, I’d fire the offensive coordinator. 1st & 2nd downs were always up the middle with a cloud of dust, then apredictable passing down. there were no guesses needed for the defence as no surprises were made. The first 1st down pass didn’t occur until the second half.

  • Bob Tillman

    I’m REALLY liking this Jimmy Lake guy.

    • art thiel

      From those who know him well, he seems destined for great things.

  • Chris McCoy

    Final thought: in the Browning / Peterson era, if we were playing a top team OR down against ANY team, the confidence game — the smell test — was low. I personally didn’t think we’d win any of those games.

    In the Jimmy Lake / Dylan Morris era, if they stick with pass first, I think they can win most of them.

    This is 9-10 win team in a full season.

    Very hard to beat when the freshmen QB moves in the pocket better than some NFL starters and when your OLB plays like Terrell Suggs/Steve Emtman.

    • Husky73

      Browning– greatest quarterback in the history of Husky football. Won more games, passed for more yards, passed for more TD’s. Chris Petersen– 55-26…better than Don James.

      • 1coolguy

        Haha – You don’t give up do you? Geez, move on.
        Browning’s record was the RESULT of the team around him and the coaching, PERIOD. Luckiest kid ever. He had a fine sophomore year, thanks to his incredible set of receivers where D’s could not double team – Ross, Pettit, Dissly, McClatcher, etc were a D’s nightmare.
        Then he was exposed in the Bama game. A boy among men.
        The best argument of his supposed amazing skill set is “Where is he now”?
        Again, great kid, very average QB.

        • Husky73

          Great kid. Greatest Husky QB.

          • Gary

            Haha, totally laughable!!!

      • art thiel

        I’ll take Marques Tuiasosopo’s all-around game. Browning’s big numbers were partly a function of changes in the game.

    • art thiel

      I seem to recall a few comebacks, but I do believe Lake’s energy and conviction represents a huge uptick.

      And ZTF is a revelation.

  • Husky73

    Does anyone know how the man is that was knocked unconscious on the sidelines on the last play of the first half?

    • art thiel

      KJR’s Elise Woodward reported during the radio broadcast that he was up and walking around, with a cut above an eye.

  • Husky73

    Running back Richard Newton was also MIA. I don’t remember him playing. Is he injured?

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    • art thiel

      Davis played, Newton did not. Lake and all coaches have descended into flat-out refusals to disclose any information about absent players. Injuries, suspensions, flunk-outs, we won’t be told. Competitive disadvantage, they say.

      I call BS. The public deserves transparency. But I’m sure no school will be the first to have a conscience.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      The postgame chat included Newton and Davis and I think Davis might have been nicked up; Coach Baird posited that absent hearing anything about an injury, Mr. Newton is in some kind of doghouse.

      Baird is closer to the program than any of us so he has credibility.

      By the way, after games like this, ALWAYS listen to KJR. This postgame had Softy, Baird, and Cam Cleeland and a fine time was had by all. You may take a –WILD– guess that Mr. Cleeland, a former Husky and pro tight end, had some nice words for Mr. Cade Otton, including “he made a lot of money for himself tonight” or to that essence.

      • Husky73

        Thank you. One of the best things about living 4 miles from Canada is that I can’t get KJR on my radio, and don’t stream.

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  • woofer

    The Pac-12 may be a second tier operation this year but Thanksgiving week it produced some truly fun games to watch. As exciting as it was, the Husky finish was exceeded in sheer wildness by the finishing moments in both the Oregon and Northern California rivalry games. The last moments of the Fog Bowl in Corvallis were high drama with the backup QB of the improbable underdogs punching the ball across the goal line for the win on his very first varsity snap. Pure Hollywood.

    The Husky comeback was surely a confidence builder and a testament to Lake’s motivational skills. But the Huskies won mainly because of the Utes’ mistakes. A sobering note was that Utah dominated the line play on both sides of the ball. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t recall that the Husky O-line ever succeeded in opening a hole for an interior run. That was a serious disappointment.

    • art thiel

      The Oregon-OSU game was great fun, marred a bit by a blatant but uncalled offsides by a Ducks defender at the goal line. Imagine the howls if the Beavs lost.

      The O-line had a few openings, but you’re right, big rush-game disappointment. Part of it was being behind for so much of the game. Part of it was being outworked.

      • Husky73

        Did you see the Stanford – Cal finish?

  • jafabian

    Incredible game. Admittedly I started channel surfing during the second half but when they pulled to within 3 I stopped. Hopefully a game this young team can build upon and carry into next season. Considering the stable of RB’s the Dawgs have I’m a bit surprised at how much they pass. If they established the run early they might not have been in the hole that they started with.

  • ll9956

    This game was a tribute to Jimmy Lake. To able to regroup your team after being down 21-0 in the first half and come away with a win is a most commendable achievement. He earned his stripes.