No. 20 Washington Huskies to deploy deep backfield, many returning starters vs. Montana

Washington’s opportunity to win last season’s Pac-12 football championship and play in a postseason bowl game faded when the Huskies’ final game was canceled due to an abundance of positive COVID-19 tests on the roster

The 20th-ranked Huskies look to get back to the conference championship game as contenders for the Pac-12 North title. Their 2021 season begins Saturday against the Montana in Seattle.

Washington, which went 3-1 in its abbreviated 2020 season, returns 10 starters on offense and eight on defense, along with returning players at kicker (both field goal and kickoff), punter, holder and long snapper. Among those back is quarterback Dylan Morris, who started all four games last season.

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Washington Huskies vs Montana Grizzlies preview

The Huskies’ strength will be an experienced offensive line, one that did not allow a sack last season except for a play on which the quarterback ran out of bounds for lost yardage and wasn’t hit. Head coach Jimmy Lake noted that group first when asked about the top units on his team.

The Huskies are 96-28-5 in home openers and have won their past last 11 home openers dating back to a loss to No. 11 LSU in 2009.

Washington is 17-1-1 all-time against Montana, with the most recent matchup a 63-7 Huskies win in 2017.

“We’re excited to go out there in front of our fans and not play in front of cardboard cutouts and actually feel the energy and feel the juice from the greatest fans in the country,” Lake said Monday.

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They Huskies haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 35 points in a game since a 44-30 loss at UCLA in 2014, a 75-game span. No other team in the FBS has a current streak longer than 34 games.

The Washington running back situation could be by committee, with Sean McGrew, Richard Newton and Kamari Pleasant involved.

“The stable is deep,” Lake said. “We have a bunch of players that have played a lot of football for us in our running back room. It’s always nice to get a fresh guy back there going at our opponent.

“You see our depth chart there, guys with a bunch of carries that have made a bunch of plays over the years, and you’ll see those guys on Saturday.”

Montana held its latest season in the spring and played only two games, lopsided wins over Central Washington and Portland State. The Grizzlies of the Big Sky Conference are ranked No. 9 in the FCS Top 25.

The Grizzlies’ head coach is Bobby Hauck, a former Washington assistant who is in his second stint in charge in Missoula. He led Montana from 2003-09, winning seven consecutive Big Sky titles, before leading for the head-coaching job at UNLV, which he held for five years. He returned as Montana’s head coach in 2018.

Hauck is grateful for a chance at a first full season in two years.

“When you get something you love taken away from you, whether you’re a player or coach or anybody that’s out here involved with us, when that gets taken away from you, I think there’s a little more excitement to get back at it. And I think to a man, everyone here is excited,” Hauck told the Montana athletics website.

–Field Level Media