Abrupt end has No. 20 Washington hungry for redemption

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — It would be understandable if No. 20 Washington is entering the new season feeling a need to seek redemption considering the way the first year under Jimmy Lake ended.

Abruptly and with major disappointment.

Washington’s showdown with Oregon was canceled after a COVID-19 outbreak. Its spot in the 2020 Pac-12 championship game went to the Ducks and the Huskies were left home without a bowl game opportunity.

“We felt like we had a really good team in 2020. We obviously all went through a very adverse situation with the pandemic,” Lake said. “But then having our season cut short, we kept the virus out of our building for so long. As everybody can see, the coronavirus does not discriminate. Ended our season short. So there’s really a sense of unfinished business with our football team.”

Washington begins this year as one of the favorites in the Pac-12 North, while also trying to erase any disappointment lingering from last year.

“I think the team’s gonna be really hungry,” said quarterback Dylan Morris. “Getting those four games and then missing those last potential two, all that and the Pac-12 championship, left a kind of sick taste in our mouth. We’re ready to go for a full season to try and get that Pac-12 championship.”

The Huskies have possibly the easiest path of any Pac-12 team. Following a Week 2 matchup at Michigan, all of Washington’s toughest games take place at home.

It has a similar feel to 2016, when a talented team took advantage of a favorable schedule and crashed the College Football Playoff.

“I think this can be the best team that I’ve been a part of here,” tight end Cade Otten said. “I think we have the players. I think we have the characters to make it fun, but also have a high standard of character and attitude and work ethic. I’ve played with a lot of great players here. I’ve watched a lot of great players here. But I think this team can be special.”

UNDER CENTER

Lake put a quick end to any speculation about a quarterback battle on the first day of camp when he announced Morris as the starter. There was a debate whether Colorado State transfer Patrick O'Brien or highly touted freshman Sam Huard could insert themselves into the competition but the Huskies seem settled.

Morris averaged 225 yards per game passing and threw for four touchdowns during the four-game 2020 season.

“I think it’s gonna be really fun just to go out there and ball,” Morris said. “It’s gonna be really tough for defenses, I think, to stop us because we can do so many things.”

UP FRONT

The Huskies may end up with one of the top offensive lines in the country, highlighted by left tackle Jaxson Kirkland. Washington returns all five starters up front along with Otten, a do-everything tight end.

Kirkland is the anchor on Morris’ blindside, but the talent on the line is deep with left guard Ulumoo Ale, center Luke Wattenberg, right guard Henry Bainivalu and right tackle Victor Curne. The line should allow Washington to run with its rotation of backs and adequately protect Morris when the time comes to throw.

MISSING PIECE

One of the biggest revelations during the shortened season was Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who emerged as an elite pass rusher. Tupuola-Fetui had seven sacks in just three games and seemed poised for a breakout 2021 season but suffered a torn Achilles tendon during spring practice. Washington expects Tupuola-Fetui back during the regular season but its pass rush will take a hit.

Even without Tupuola-Fetui, the Huskies are expected to be solid defensively. The run of elite defensive backs continues with cornerback Trent McDuffie and Washington has a solid defensive end in veteran Ryan Bowman and standout inside linebacker in Edefuan Ulofoshio.

The biggest question for Washington may be how well the interior defensive line is able to muddle the middle and slow opponents’ running game, which averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season.

CHECK THE CALENDAR

While the Huskies open on Sept. 4 against Montana at home, it’s the following week at Michigan that’s among the most anticipated nonconference games of the season. The schedule falls in Washington’s favor after that. California (Sept. 25), Oregon (Nov. 6) and Arizona State (Nov. 13) all come to Husky Stadium. Washington’s biggest road test appears to be Oct. 30 at Stanford. Plus, the Huskies avoid Utah and USC, two of the favorites in the Pac-12 South.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.