I could have gone out and interviewed a handful of Washington players about this weekend’s game, but I didn’t see the free-wheeling Jay Roberts on the roster -- an old Huskies linebacker no longer with us who always said exactly what he thought, unconcerned about repercussions. I didn’t want to hear cautious, well-rehearsed comments about the threat posed by North Dakota, so instead I've settled on another history lesson.
Twenty-seven years ago, Don James pulled me aside and asked why I had been so harsh in the newspaper that morning with my story on a hapless Kansas State football team set to visit Husky Stadium that weekend. If I remember right, I called the Wildcats “the worst college football team in America.”
The Washington coach was worried my words might inflame his opponent. James also said he was a big fan of then-third-year Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who eventually showed himself to be a great leader and turned the Wildcats into a successful program—and Snyder’s still on the job.
I told James, that no disrespect to Snyder’s team or the man’s coaching ability, but I had an obligation to print the truth to my readers and I had concluded the following: That this was a bad football game on the 1991 schedule.
The Huskies were the fourth-ranked team in the country, emerging from a dramatic win at Nebraska with an inspiring fourth-quarter comeback. They had a team that would share the national championship with Miami that season. Nobody was going to beat them and you knew that simply by going to practice and watching a whole bunch of future NFL players run through the drills. Kansas State, on the other hand, had suffered through losing season after losing season and was a 39-point underdog coming to Seattle.
So much for inciting the Wildcats to an upset of major proportions: Washington won 56-3, a game that still stands as the ninth-most lopsided victory in modern school history.
North Dakota isn’t necessarily a bad football team. It just plays at a lower level and its players are smaller, slower and less talented. The Fighting Hawks have no chance against the ninth-ranked FBS team in the country.
Consider these comparative 2017 scores: A year ago almost to the day, the Huskies pounded Montana 63-7. A month later, North Dakota went into Montana and got punished 41-17—that’s an 80-point difference with a lot of those same players involved in this weekend’s contest.
I’ll close with the five biggest blowouts in modern Washington annals (post World War II), two coming in recent seasons, thinking North Dakota might make this list:
1)1974, Washington 66, Oregon 0—While Don James and Chris Petersen wouldn’t engage in this sort of practice, coach Jim Owens ran up the score on the Ducks on purpose at home. Oregon won 58-0 the year before. Big Jim exacted his revenge.
2)1971, Washington 65, UC-Santa Barbara 7—The Huskies spotted the visitors an opening touchdown and ripped off 65 unanswered points. They used 66 players. They let Sonny Sixkiller play a little more than a quarter.
3)1951, Washington 63, Oregon 6—The Hugh McElhenny-led Huskies let out their frustration on the road after losing to USC in a close one at home the previous week. They scored nine touchdowns. They used all 37 players they took to Portland.
4)2017, Washington 63, Montana 7—The game was tied 10 minutes in and then the seventh-ranked Huskies put an end to this nonsense. They scored seven touchdowns over the first three quarters and substituted liberally.
5)2013, Washington 56, Idaho State 0—Eight different players scored touchdowns and the defense came up with seven sacks for Steve Sarkisian’s 17th-ranked Huskies against an unresponsive FCS opponent.