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Sunday, November 28, 2021

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Apple Cup is no time for UW interim coach Bob Gregory to experiment at quarterback

The most pressing question entering the Apple Cup seems – at least from Washington’s point of view – whether the real freshman Sam Huard will start in the middle.

The five-star recruit has been the subject of a season-long plot for the Husky family, and there is speculation that he will take his first Friday offensive against Washington State.

But the most important question is: Should Howard started all the huskies?

And the answer to said question is simple: only if you give them the best chance of winning.

It’s hard to argue that 2021 has been nothing short of a lost season for Husky, who sit at 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the Pac-12. They lost to FCS Montana in the opening game, struggled throughout the conference roster and watched their coach, Jimmy Lake, fire only 13 games in his tenure. But winning the Apple Cup for the eighth time in a row could help salvage what was essentially three months of disappointment. It wasn’t time for interim coach Bob Gregory to experiment.

It is difficult to assess how effective Gregory has been for Washington since taking over Lake earlier this month. The Husky lost 35-30 at home to Arizona and 20-17 on the road to Colorado with Gregory at the helm. It is possible, if not probable, that more talented teams could have outdone Washington. But if there’s one ambiguity I’ve had with Gregory, it’s that he temporarily pulled starting QB Dylan Morris on both losses.

The first switch came after Morris drove the Mummies into the end zone in their first two campaigns against the Sun Devils to take a 14-0 lead. He looked the best of the freshman who got the graduation application all season long. But in two of the next three engines, he put Gregory Howard in center midfield. Washington ended up hitting both times.

I honestly have no idea if Howard is as good or better than Morris at the moment. It was hard to extract much from his baseline two days before Saturday, when he finished 3 of 5 passes for 20 yards. What I do know is that the attacking momentum disappeared as soon as Morris – who had made a lot of mistakes this season – was out of the game.

In fact, the same thing happened seven days later. The Husky scored only three points after their first and second drives against Colorado, but that wasn’t because the ball wasn’t moving. Morris fumbled in the snap on the 3-yard Buffaloes line on the initial UW possession, which Colorado reclaimed and ran back for the touchdown. Morris led the Husky to the Buffalo 10 team after they had the next ball possession before settling on a field goal.

Yes, there was a fatal mistake but the offense was a hum. Thereafter, Patrick O’Brien replaced Morris for the next two driving leads, each finishing with a three and an exit. Morris threw a touchdown pass when he got back into the game.

It’s impossible to know what would have happened if Morris had been in the field to get those four properties sidelined. But I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that maybe – just maybe – Washington could play a role in a pot game if he stays in it. That still means something to UW players and their fans — and you can bet the Apple Cup, too.

When it comes to who starts on Friday – and that may be true for other center groups as well – Gregory will likely wrestle with whether to give younger players a try or put his best product on the field. If this is the case, then he should choose the latter. If the Husky had not played their rival within the state, the story might be different. But they are – and winning should be priority #1.

If Huard is the Huskies’ best quarterback right now, put him on the field. But if he is simply the footballer with the most potential, he will have every spring and fall of next year to prove why he got the first job.

This was the toughest year for the UW football program in recent memory. But whether they’re winless or undefeated – if we’re talking about the Apple Cup, there’s still a lot to play for.

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