Dylan Morris looked elite.
That’s the word Cade Otton used, and honestly, it’s hard to argue. In Saturday’s open scrimmage – which was attended by roughly 1,500 fans inside Husky Stadium – the second-year starter from Puyallup completed 17 of 26 passes, throwing for 214 yards with two passing touchdowns as well as a rushing score. The highlight was a 27-yard touchdown strike up the seam to wide receiver Rome Odunze – who corralled the pass and held on, despite being sandwiched by Husky safeties Julius Irvin and Cameron Williams. Morris later slung a short completion to running back Kamari Pleasant, who coasted into the end zone for a 15-yard score that capped off a meticulous 99-yard march.
Of course, this excellence is accompanied by caveats. Since it was a scrimmage, Morris’ opponents were prohibited from tackling the third-year freshman from Puyallup. And many defensive starters – including linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio and cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon – played sparingly to prevent potential injury.
Even so, Morris continues to surge as the season opener against Montana approaches on Sept. 4.
And, scrimmage or not, Morris’ improvement is not a mirage.
“It’s been just fun to watch,” Otton said. “I think you see the growth. It hasn’t been something where it’s been stagnant or you’ve seen him regress. He’s been constantly getting better, constantly making better reads, constantly having more control of the offense. You’re seeing an elite quarterback coming in today and moving the ball down the field, and I’m excited to work with him going forward.”
Speaking of work, freshman quarterback Sam Huard continues to receive more of it, with graduate transfer Patrick O’Brien sitting out a second consecutive practice with his right hand in a brace. Huard operated as the Huskies’ backup quarterback on Saturday, while freshman walk-on Camden Sirmon took the entirety of the third-team snaps.
And Huard produced a few highlights of his own – notably a rainbow that wide receiver Sawyer Racanelli ripped away from safety Asa Turner for a 16-yard score that effectively ended Saturday’s scrimmage. The former five-star quarterback from Kennedy Catholic completed 17 of 32 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown, in the most meaningful snaps of his young Husky career.
But whether it was Morris or Huard, wide receiver Taj Davis dominated UW’s defense. With Jalen McMillan (who, according to his social media, has had surgery on his right hand) and Terrell Bynum (who watched from the sideline but did not appear seriously injured) both sitting out Saturday’s scrimmage, Davis received reps with both the starters and the second-team offense – churning out a whopping 12 catches for 183 yards.
With Bynum and Odunze assumed starters at wide receiver, Davis, Ja’Lynn Polk and Giles Jackson could each conceivably slide into the final spot.
But while Polk also produced on Saturday, it was Davis who seemed occasionally un-coverable.
“We always talk about, practice execution becomes game reality,” UW head coach Jimmy Lake said. “He was doing it in practice, doing it in practice. It showed up in the spring game. He’s been doing it in practice in training camp, and now he shows up in one of our biggest scrimmages of this training camp. Just like everyone, he’s still got things to improve on. But it’s awesome seeing Taj take the next step in his game.”
A game simulation
It goes without saying that Saturday’s scrimmage won’t show up on Washington’s 2021 schedule.
But don’t tell that to sophomore inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio.
“I was honestly playing like it was a game, because it felt too much like a game,” Ulofooshio said. “We went to the hotel (on Friday night) and coach Lake made this great speech and I was like, ‘I can’t believe this isn’t a game right now.’ We went on the bus (to go to the stadium) and went through the whole regimen and everything.”
But while Saturday’s proceedings were designed to simulate a regular season game, Lake admitted that didn’t fully apply to the team’s play-calling.
“Those are internal things where we say, ‘Hey, we know we ran this play last year. It’s already on film. It’s OK if we show it again,’” he said. “You guys have noticed, we’ve been way more open this year than any year in the past, and we’ve probably been way more open than other teams in the country. But now this is the last day (the media or fans can watch practice). You’re out after this.
“It’s funny, because we’ll run things on defense that we’ve run for the last eight years. So there’s really not a secret in some of the stuff we’re doing. But now as no one will be at practice for the next two weeks, definitely the installs will go in for our first game. It’ll be different plays, different schematics that are just for our first opponent.”
And, besides the absence of an actual opponent, Saturday’s scrimmage differed from the experience on Sept. 4 in one other obvious way.
“It feels like something from a past life, playing in front of 70,000 (fans),” Otton said wistfully. “You kind of faintly remember the roar of the crowd and the electricity, and you can’t hear yourself think. You can feel the noise. I just kind of replay that in my head. It’s different when you’re in the moment. So I’m excited to get that feeling back, to have Husky Nation back in the stadium. I can’t wait.”
• Seahawks general manager John Schneider attended Saturday’s scrimmage.
• Irvin and Williams worked as the starting safeties on Saturday, and it’s looking more likely that they’ll also be the starting tandem on Sept. 4. Lake was unwilling to make that leap, however, saying only that “those guys are going to be playing against Montana, for sure, and early. But there could be some other guys as well that could be thrown into the rotation.”
• Morris’ first pass of the day was knocked down by sophomore defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa, who proceeded to wag his finger in defiance.
• Saturday’s biggest hits were delivered by redshirt freshman cornerback Mishael Powell, who upended wide receiver Giles Jackson to force an incompletion and later popped tight end Quentin Moore to add an exclamation point on the end of a 19-yard catch. Second-year freshman inside linebacker Carson Bruener also exploded up the middle to corral running back Caleb Berry for a tackle for loss.
• Besides their primary positions, safety Julius Irvin and nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles took occasional reps at cornerback as well.
• Inside linebackers Drew Fowler and M.J. Tafisi and defensive linemen Kuao Peihopa and Voi Tunuufi all recorded sacks on Saturday.
• Running back Cameron Davis was UW’s primary kick returner, while wide receivers Rome Odunze and Giles Jackson returned punts.
• Redshirt freshman Julius Buelow again operated as the starting left guard on Saturday, while sophomore Ulumoo Ale – the returning starter at that position – worked with the second team at right guard.
• Kicker Peyton Henry converted 1 of 2 field goal attempts on Saturday, knocking through a 36-yarder before drilling a 29-yarder off the left crossbar. Tim Horn made a short field goal as well.
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