This season is going to leave a mark

Turns out the Seahawks were only half bad without Russell Wilson. The Huskies, on the other hand, need to consider a switch at that spot or at the very least give Sam Huard some time on the field.

We saw what the Seahawks are without their starting quarterback on Sunday in Pittsburgh. The answer: only half bad. We also saw what the Washington Huskies are with their current starting quarterback in Saturday’s home loss to UCLA and the answer there: not good enough.

The good news for the Huskies? They have an alternative: freshman Sam Huard. It’s time to play him on Friday in Arizona. The good news for the Seahawks? They rebounded from an absolutely awful first half, showing they do in fact have a backbone even if it wasn’t enough to pull out an overtime victory in Pittsburgh.

Deep breath everyone. This weekend’s going to leave a mark on our expectations for the rest of this football season.

The Seahawks had their chances in Pittsburgh, which is a lot more than could have been expected after a first half in which they totaled 65 yards on offense and crossed midfield once.

But being better than awful isn’t going to provide much consolation after a 23-20 overtime loss to the Steelers that dropped Seattle to 2-4 for the first time since 2015. The Seahawks rebounded to make the playoffs that season. Hard to see that happening this year.

How dark is it going to get? Well, let’s ask Phil Connors. You know, Bill Murray’s character from “Groundhog Day” who was a weatherman for a Pittsburgh station in the film:

Well, maybe not that dark.

Geno Smith was OK stepping in for Russell Wilson, who missed the first game of his NFL career. Smith was as good as Ben Roethlisberger in this game, which might qualify as back-handed of a compliment as you can deliver this year. Roethlisberger has not been anything approaching good, but on Sunday against Seattle’s defense he was perfectly non-terrible, completing 29 of 40 passes for 229 yards. His longest completion was 23 yards. He threw for one touchdown and he lost a fumble in the fourth quarter when he lost control of the ball after a particularly aggressive pump fake. Smith was 23-for-32 passing for 209 yards. He also threw for a touchdown, and he lost a fumble, which came on Seattle’s final possession when he scrambled up in the pocket and had the ball chopped out of his hands by T.J. Watt, who’d been blocked by almost half of Seattle’s offense on the play. The Steelers recovered at the Seattle 16 and knelt twice before kicking the game-winning field goal.

Honestly, it’s hard to criticize the Seahawks offense all that much given their second half. After getting shut-out in the first, Seattle came out and ran the ball on nine of its first 10 plays in the third quarter, accounting for 60 of the 75 yards on the touchdown drive. The Seahawks scored a touchdown on their next drive, too, and kicked a field goal on the third possession of the second half, completing a comeback from a 14-point halftime deficit to tie the game 17-17.

In fact, Seattle was in position to take a fourth-quarter lead against the Steelers only to be penalized for offensive holding for something that was not in fact offensive holding. At least this time it didn’t cost Seattle a Super Bowl. Sorry. That probably stings for anyone who remembers that farce of a penalty against Sean Locklear in Super Bowl XL. The stakes were lower Sunday, but the penalty was just as bad. Roethlisberger’s fumble gave Seattle the ball at the Pittsburgh 35 with 11:32 remaining. Alex Collins rushed off left tackle for 16 yards on first down only to have Jamarco Jones flagged for holding Cam Heyward on a play in which Jones did not, in fact, hold Heyward. The drive stalled, Seattle punted.

Seattle was handed another opportunity in the final 2 minutes. Well, actually, Seattle was thrown the opportunity only to have it bounce off Jamal Adams’ helmet. With 1:53 left, Pittsburgh faced second-and-15 from the Seattle 46 and Roethlisberger tried to whistle a pass to Diontae Johnson. Adams read the pass and ran in front of the receiver, but he didn’t even get his hands onto Roethlisberger’s fastball, having it bounce off his helmet for an incompletion. The Steelers gained 12 yards on the next play and Chris Boswell kicked a 52-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh a lead.

To its credit, Seattle tied the game with a last-minute drive that wasn’t the most efficient you’ll ever see, and included one death-defying fumble by D.K. Metcalf that was recovered by Freddie Swain with just over 10 seconds remaining. After a replay review was triggered, Seattle had time to stop the clock with an incompletion and Jason Myers kicked a field goal to force overtime where Seattle played well enough to get a second possession, but didn’t really come close to winning it. Now the Seahawks go home and will host New Orleans on Monday night, and the question is how deep the hole is going to get before Wilson returns.

The Huskies are searching for bottom, too, after a 24-17 loss to UCLA at home dropped Washington to 2-4 overall, 1-2 in conference play. At least the Huskies made an opponent throw the ball to beat them this time. That was not true in Washington’s first three defeats of the season. Neither Michigan nor Oregon State passed for more than 50 yards in their victories over the Huskies.

UCLA threw the ball competently though that wasn’t why the Bruins won. Nope, it was a ground game that ground down Washington, averaging more than 5 yards per rush, and ultimately cinched the game in on a quarterback option run in the final 2 minutes.

UCLA ran 66 plays on offense, the Huskies ran 61. The Bruins gained 22 first downs, the Huskies gained 19. The difference was entirely about potency. The Bruins averaged 5.9 yards per rush, the Huskies averaged 2.7. Halfway through this season it is evident that the Huskies do not have the horsepower to compete with competent college football teams. At least not with the current starter in Dylan Morris, a reality underscored when he underthrew freshman Jalen McMillan for the interception that sunk the Huskies’ last chance at a win.

It's time to give freshman Sam Huard a look. This is not a knee-jerk reaction to Saturday’s game nor is it a desire to give the back-up a whirl in the blind hope that he’s an upgrade. This is about the future, and more specifically, making that future better and that’s not going to come with giving Sean McGrew a dozen first-half carries for 16 yards or whatever the heck that turned out to be. Washington’s offense is awful, but this team has talent on the edges. Young talent specifically in freshmen Rome Odunze and McMillan, and while I don’t know if giving the high-profile quarterback recruit – who enrolled last spring, remember – will get them excited about the future, I can guarantee it has a better chance than continuing with the status quo. This isn’t even a criticism of Morris because I don’t think he’s the biggest problem. I think it starts with the fact that this offensive line has had minimal knock-back on the ground game. The Huskies need to accept that and start working to build an offense that actually suits the talent they have on-hand, and that is going to include Huard at quarterback.

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