The University of Washington football team settled on a new quarterback for the Apple Cup, letting the Sam Huard era begin.
On what should have been a glorious coming-out party, the Huskies still couldn't find anyone, old or new, to play defense up front. No one to push back against Washington State. Get in the way of Max Borghi or Jayden de Laura. And they tried everyone and every formation they could think of to stem the flow of yards.
This season-long defensive shortcoming dogged the UW all the way to the end, leading to a 40-13 defeat to the Cougars — and snapped its seven-game win streak over its Pullman rival over eight years.
An unmerciful season, which was marred by the in-season firings of coach Jimmy Lake and offensive coordinator John Donovan and a total team collapse, came to an embarrassing end for the Huskies (4-8 overall, 3-6 Pac-12).
"It was chaos," said sixth-year senior running back Sean McGrew, who played his final game after having hand surgery during the week.
Huard took over for Dylan Morris, who had started 15 consecutive games, but his starting debut got off to an exceedingly rough start. On his first three plays, the Huskies lost 2 yards on a pass to Rome Odunze, tight end Devin Culp fell down on a throw intended for him and running back Jay'Veon Sunday dropped a flat pass.
It was a continuous struggle and a painful baptism for the lefty from Bellevue, Washington, who threw four interceptions while completing 17 of 31 passes for 190 yards. But he didn't come out. The departing staff left him in there to season him for the next coach. The coaches left him in to suffer and learn how to deal with it
"I looked him in the eye and asked him if he was good," interim coach Bob Gregory said. "He said, 'I want to stay in there, coach.'' "
Oh, but the bigger story of this one was that sorry UW defense.
The Huskies used anywhere from one to four down linemen at a time. They used seven of their eight linemen on scholarship, everyone except Draco Bynum. Combinations of Tuli Letuligasenoa, Taki Taimani, Jacob Bandes, Faatui Tuitele, Noa Ngalu, Voi Tunuufi and Kuao Peihiopa. Nothing worked well.
On WSU's opening offensive series, Borghi zipped through a gaping hole over the right side, shook off a tackle by safety Asa Turner and bounced off cornerback Mishael Powell at the 10 and completed a 32-yard scoring run standing up.
The game was three and a half minutes old.
Borghi finished with 129 yards rushing on 22 carries, the seventh runner to crack the century mark against this defense.
With no one in his face, de Laura picked apart the Husky secondary with 27 completions in 32 attempts for 245 yards.
On their second possession, the Cougars went down the field without much opposition, using backup tailback Deon McIntosh instead of Borghi and the arm of de Laura to reach the UW 6. A delay-of-game penalty, incomplete pass and run that lost 3 yards forced them to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Dean Janikowski, the first of four for him, and a 10-0 lead.
On the second play of the second quarter, Borghi shot through the line and zipped 54 yards for what appeared to be a totally demoralizing score against the home side. The Cougars, however, were guilty of holding.
For the UW, it was only a brief reprieve. After getting the ball back, Huard threw the first of his interceptions to nickelback Armani Marsh, setting up the Cougars on the Husky 34. This led to another Janikowski field goal, this one from 25 yards and good for a 13-0 lead.
With their new guy behind center, the UW wasn't able to register a first down until Kamari Pleasant ran for 4 yards on a fourth-and-1 situation at midfield with 4:33 left in the first half.
That seemed to loosen up the home team some, with Huard lobbing a 29-yard completion to Ja'Lynn Polk to set up a late first-half touchdown. Pleasant, a sixth-year senior making his final college appearance, scored by picking his way through the Cougars defense for 10 yards, capped by a lunge over the goal line.
WSU (7-5, 6-3), still in the Pac-12 North Division race and guaranteed a bowl game, clearly dominated the opening half, but went to the locker room leading just 13-7.
No reason to worry for the guys from the Palouse. They took their first possession of the third quarter and marched 78 yards for another Borghi touchdown, this one from 1 yard out, and it was 20-7.
The Huskies responded by turning the ball over in three plays, with Huard getting picked off by Derrick Langford Jr. at the UW 41. Janikowski kicked his third field goal, this one from 41 yards.
Next came the best and worst of Huard on consecutive plays. He tossed a 55-yard pass to Odunze, putting the UW on the Cougar 25. On the very next snap, he threw an interception directly to linebacker Justus Rogers, who like the opposing quarterback hailed from suburban Bellevue, and the opportunistic defender returned it 60 yards to the UW 29.
Asked why the Huskies went with Huard in the finale, Gregory said, "To give us a spark, give us something different. We had to do something different."
McIntosh, originally a Notre Dame tailback and a grad transfer, scored on a 3-yard run early in the fourth quarter and the margin was pushed to 30-7
The Huskies finally answered back, with Huard lofting a 16-yard TD pass to Odunze that the receiver pulled in with a sensational one-hand grab. A two-point conversion pass was intercepted and the score was 30-13.
Janikowski was good for one more three-pointer before Marsh stepped in front of a Huard pass for the second time and ran this one back 28 yards for a score and the final margin.
"He'll come back a thousand times stornger," McGrew said of the young quarterback.
Huard got through his debut with his ego bruised. The Cougars reclaimed long-overdue respect. And any defensive tackle who thinks he can do better for the UW was urged to send some tape and a resume.
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