Washington's offense lifeless again, this time in blowout loss to Michigan

Washington lost 31-10 to Michigan on Saturday night and is 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 2008.

That was the year the Huskies went 0-12 under Tyrone Willingham. This team won't be that bad. The defense has too much talent. The offense, on the other hand, is looking completely inept. And that might be putting it kindly.

The Huskies started the season ranked 20th in the country, only to lose 13-7 in their home opener to Montana. That’s an FCS team. In the loss, Washington scored on its opening possession and then never sniffed the end zone again. The Huskies averaged fewer than four yards per play, punted five times, turned it over on downs twice, missed a field goal and tossed three interceptions.

Again, this was against an FCS team. Predictably, things did not magically get better in the Big House against Michigan.

Against the Wolverines, Washington’s offense was just as unimaginative, predictable and ineffective as it was against Montana. John Donovan, Washington’s offensive coordinator, tried to establish the run early. Unsurprisingly, the group that had 65 yards on 27 carries (sacks included) against Montana could not muster much success against Michigan.

Washington went three-and-out on its first three possessions and gained a total of three yards in the process. Five of those nine offensive plays were called runs.

While the defense fought valiantly to keep UW in the game, the offense ended up starting its first five series with handoffs. The first four series resulted in punts. The fifth series saw some success in the pass game until Donovan, for some reason, called a run play on fourth-and-4 from the Michigan 31. You can guess how that one went. Loss of two yards, fumble, Michigan ball.

By that point, Michigan led 10-0, a lead UM took into halftime. At that point, it was a lead that felt insurmountable.

Washington quarterback Dylan Morris (9) throws a pass in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Washington quarterback Dylan Morris (9) throws a pass in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

By early in the third quarter, Michigan had increased the lead to 17-0. The Wolverines were content to run the ball over and over again as long as the Huskies couldn’t stop it. Michigan finished the night with 343 rushing yards while QB Cade McNamara went just 7-of-15 for 44 yards through the air. That kind of outing won’t cut against the better teams in the Big Ten, but it was plenty against Washington.

Washington did find a bit of a rhythm offensively in the second half. It was mostly via the passing game and some tempo. But it was too late at that point. Michigan’s lead was 24-3 early in the fourth quarter, and 24-10 was as close as Washington would get.

Those second-half scoring drives snapped a streak of 19 consecutive possessions without points for Washington, who finished with 50 rushing yards on 32 attempts. If that’s a way to gauge improvement, then Washington is in a rough, rough place.

Jimmy Lake, in his second season as Washington’s head coach, might soon have to make a decision about Donovan. Donovan had a track record of running ineffective offenses at Vanderbilt and Penn State, so he was a curious choice for Lake from the beginning.

Lake is a first-time head coach who took over for Chris Petersen. He had the chance to make his imprint on the program and choose an identity. In the world of uptempo spread offenses, it’s pretty baffling that this is what he chose.