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University of Washington Huskies Football
Sports >  UW football

Analysis: Making the case for all four contenders in Washington’s quarterback competition

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 4, 2020

Washington quarterback Kevin Thomson, left, passes next to quarterback Jacob Sirmon during football practice on Oct. 16 in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
Washington quarterback Kevin Thomson, left, passes next to quarterback Jacob Sirmon during football practice on Oct. 16 in Seattle. (Associated Press)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – For six weeks, Jimmy Lake has declined to announce a decision regarding his ongoing quarterback competition.

Guess what? Time’s up.

With the season opener at Cal looming Saturday, four contenders – graduate transfer Kevin Thomson, redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and freshman Ethan Garbers – could theoretically take the opening snap (though Garbers would qualify as a seismic surprise). Lake said last week that concealing the starter’s identity until Saturday would give his team a strategic advantage. Internally, at least, that decision has undoubtedly already been made.

But, before the new starter – whoever he is – assumes the spotlight, let’s make a compelling case for each contending quarterback.

The case for Kevin Thomson

Experience is everything.

Forget arm strength or recruiting stars or all the bogus measurables we assign to our signal-callers. The only thing that matters is statistics. What have you done?

In Thomson’s case, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound graduate student was the 2019 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year and an FCS All-American at Sacramento State. He threw for 3,216 yards and 27 touchdowns with just eight interceptions in 12 games last season, and rushed for 619 yards and 12 more scores. “The guy can run, and he can throw it, and he’s smart, and he’s played football,” Lake said last week. The evidence is out there. The statistics are indisputable.

And, experience aside, Thomson also provides a dual-threat element Washington’s offense has noticeably lacked in recent years. With three new starters on the offensive line, it’s critical the Huskies’ quarterback can improvise and barrel out of broken plays – and Thomson offers that ability.

I know what you’re thinking: After Jacob Eason started in 2019, then took his talents to the NFL, do we really need another rental? But, because the NCAA paused all players’ eligibility for the shortened season, a successful Thomson could theoretically start for the Huskies in both 2020 and 2021. He could serve as a dependable dual-threat passer while five-star freshman Sam Huard learns the offense next fall.

He’s the most experienced, the most seasoned, the most versatile – the most deserving.

Kevin Thomson is the starting quarterback. There can be no other choice.

The case for Jacob Sirmon

OK, first off, that “statistics” argument is inane. In 2018, Alex Smith was a more experienced quarterback than a second-year gunslinger named Patrick Mahomes. But any guesses why Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid replaced Smith with a less-experienced signal caller?

Because Mahomes was more physically talented. Because he gave his team a better chance to win long term. Because sometimes experience isn’t everything.

So it’s true: Sirmon has yet to make a college start. But that doesn’t mean he’s not the man for the job. At 6-5 and 240 pounds with a right arm that might as well have been built in a football factory, Sirmon is the definition of a pro-style quarterback. He can stretch the field and maximize the explosiveness of wide receivers Puka Nacua, Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and more. He can make every NFL throw. All he needs is confidence and reps, and you can help with the latter.

And as it pertains to program culture, can you really afford to continue starting transfer QBs? Sirmon grew up around this program. He loves this program. He has spent two seasons giving every little bit of himself to this program, with the understanding that he could eventually earn an opportunity.

It comes down to this: if you continue to court four-star quarterbacks, but none of them develops, isn’t that ultimately an institutional failure?

You have a choice to make. Don’t bet the house on Alex Smith.

Jacob Sirmon is the starting quarterback. There can be no other choice.

The case for Dylan Morris

Appearances can be deceiving. For example, you could say – rightly – that Dylan Morris is undersized. The former Graham-Kapowsin High School standout is generously listed at 6-foot and 200 pounds; he’ll never have the kind of frame that inflicts fear in opposing Pac-12 defenses.

But that doesn’t mean UW’s opponents should not feel afraid. After all, Morris’ right arm appears bigger than the rest of his body. He can fire 60-yard passes that hit Huskies in stride. He also earned a 4.0 GPA last fall and is intelligent enough to digest every nuance of first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan’s pro-style scheme. He’s smart. He’s accurate. He’s respected by his teammates, so much so that he was named Offensive Scout Squad MVP last season.

Though UW fans obviously didn’t see Morris on the field during his true-freshman campaign, the local product earned rave reviews in practices and meetings. He doesn’t have Sirmon’s size or Thomson’s mobility. He doesn’t need to. He makes plays and avoids mistakes. He maximizes his ability. He wins.

He certainly did that at Graham-Kapowsin, throwing for 9,815 yards and 99 touchdowns in four spectacular seasons as the varsity starter. Heck, he led the Eagles to an 11-1 record as a freaking freshman. This man is a leader, and he has been since he was 15 years old. Isn’t that what you need in an unprecedented season?

This decision is not an “upset.” It’s inevitable.

Dylan Morris is the starting quarterback. There can be no other choice.

The case for Ethan Garbers

To quote another unyieldingly enthusiastic Pac-12 coach, “You play … to win … the game.”

And Ethan Garbers – baby face be damned – is a winner. He led Corona Del Mar High School to a 16-0 record and a California state title in 2019, and he did so while throwing for 5,034 yards and 71 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Remind me, who was the previous UW quarterback from California to put up those kinds of numbers?

That’s right, another winner: Jake Browning. Remember him?

Which isn’t to say Garbers is the next Browning, of course. No, he’s actually more mobile than his predecessor. Garbers rushed for 573 yards and 12 touchdowns last season as well.

And sure, we’ll admit, a true freshman would inevitably make his fair share of mistakes (just like Browning did in 2015). But if there’s any time to do that, it’s in this weird, asterisk-associated excuse for a 2020 season. And before Huard spices up the quarterback competition in 2021, you’d better know what kind of talent you already have in your room.

Besides, think of the headlines. UW takes the field for its season opener, and the Huskies vanquish former UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and Co. behind true-freshman quarterback Ethan Garbers – who beats his older brother, Cal QB Chase Garbers, in the process.

In this particular family feud, a true freshman is the No. 1 answer.

Ethan Garbers is the starting quarterback. There can be no other choice.

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