SEATTLE — When Jimmy Lake was named the successor to Chris Petersen at Washington in December, getting ready for a season opener against Michigan seemed his biggest priority.
Nearly 11 months later and still in the middle of a pandemic, Lake will finally get his opportunity as Washington’s coach when the Huskies open the season on Nov. 7 at California.
It should have been a seamless transition for the Huskies when Petersen decided to step aside and his defensive coordinator was promoted. But the pandemic kept Lake and his staff guessing about whether there would even be a season.
It’s created the kind of challenges no first-year head coach could have anticipated.
“To not be able to be around our guys as much as we usually are has been the most difficult thing,” Lake said. “We’ve been creative on some different stuff that we can use to make sure that we are staying in contact with each other and we can continue to connect. But I think that’s been the most challenging thing.”
When the Huskies take the field against the Golden Bears, they’ll do so dogged by questions — most notably who will be the starting quarterback. The four players competing for the job have never started a game at Washington and only one — transfer Kevin Thomson — has started a college game.
Washington also had two of its top defensive linemen opt out for the season, choosing to get ready for the NFL draft. The Huskies will also be replacing their leading rusher from last season, their top two pass catchers and two key starters on the offensive line.
But the Huskies may have the best secondary in the Pac-12 and best defensive player in Elijah Molden.
“It’s going to be different, it’s going to be a new transition, but I think we’re going to be OK,” Molden said.
Thomson has the most overall experience among the Huskies’ quarterbacks after playing three seasons at Sacramento State. He was the Big Sky offensive player of the year in 2019 after throwing for 3,216 yards and 27 TDs and added another 12 rushing TDs. Jacob Sirmon is the only candidate to have thrown a pass in a Washington uniform. Sirmon appeared in five games and threw three passes last season. The other options are redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and freshman Ethan Garbers.
Lake hasn’t ruled out the idea of playing multiple QBs in the opener and said it’s very possible he won’t announce the starter ahead of time.
Carrying the rock
The biggest boost for a new starting quarterback would be a strong running game. The Huskies will have a pack of running backs to choose from, led by Richard Newton and Sean McGrew. Newton had 10 touchdowns last season as a freshman and rushed for 498 yards, while missing three games due to injury. McGrew added another 342 yards rushing. Newton and McGrew will likely be the primary duo, but also expect redshirt freshman Cameron Davis to be in the mix.
Secondary to none
Molden is the leader of a secondary unit that should continue Washington’s run of producing exceptional defensive backs.
The depth of the group is possibly most impressive, with Keith Taylor, Cameron Williams, Trent McDuffie, Brandon McKinney, Asa Turner and Kyler Gordon all expected to play significant roles along with Molden.
“The defensive backfield is stacked with a lot of players that have played a lot of football and it’s going to be competitive,” Lake said.
Washington lost a pair of defensive stars when defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike and pass rusher Joe Tryon decided to bypass the season and get ready for the NFL draft next spring. At the time they made their decisions, the Pac-12 was set to play in the winter and not the fall.
Onwuzurike was a first-team all-Pac-12 selection last season, while Tryon was a second-team selection.
While the pandemic cost Washington its big season-opener against Michigan, the schedule sets the Huskies up for a potential run at the Pac-12 North title if they can get by California in the opener. Washington’s cross-divisional matchup is at home against Arizona. They get Stanford at home and their only Friday game is the Apple Cup against Washington State the day after Thanksgiving. It all points to a potential showdown on Dec. 12 in Eugene against Oregon that could decide the North.
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