CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: Dillon Johnson says he expects to play for UW Huskies vs Michigan

Jan 6, 2024, 12:02 PM

UW Huskies Dillon Johnson...

Roger Rosengarten, Dillon Johnson and Camdyn Stiegeler of the UW Huskies celebrate on Dec. 1, 2023. (Ian Maule/Getty Images)

(Ian Maule/Getty Images)

HOUSTON — UW Huskies running back Dillon Johnson has to be hurting.

What one CFB analyst says UW Huskies’ matchup with Michigan is all about

You know that, because you watched him grimace in pain as he left the field late in Washington’s Sugar Bowl victory over Texas. And because Johnson himself, at Saturday’s College Football Playoff national championship media day, acknowledged injuries to his right foot (originally sustained at Oregon State) and his left knee.

Yet through it all, Johnson said he fully expects to play in Monday’s championship game against No. 1 Michigan at NRG Stadium.

Asked to assign a percentage to his health, Johnson replied: “I can’t give you an honest judgment on that. I’m just going to be ready to play.”

At practices this week, Johnson said, he was “doing as much as I could,” while also “staying on top of my treatment and stuff like that, trying to stay fresh as possible.”

Also: “It’s all good. Things happen. But I’ll be ready to rock and roll.”

The Huskies already could face a stiff challenge in the running game, as Michigan allows only 3.03 yards per rush (seventh in FBS) and, as left tackle Troy Fautanu said Saturday, the Wolverines might have the best front seven UW has faced (one week after Fautanu said the same about Texas).

Even against the Longhorns, though, Johnson managed a pair of red-zone touchdowns despite carrying 21 times for only 49 yards with a long rush of seven. And, perhaps just as critically, Johnson has played more pass-block snaps for UW this season than any non-lineman with 79, per Pro Football Focus. The running back with the next-most pass-blocking experience this year is Will Nixon, who has played 24 such snaps.

Johnson was on the field for 55 of Washington’s 72 offensive snaps against Texas. Since he asserted himself as UW’s primary runner, no other back has carried more than five times in a game. Johnson, meanwhile, has carried at least 21 times in five of the Huskies’ last six games. And he’s done it at less than 100 percent — perhaps significantly so.

He already was playing with the foot injury, which occurred when he was stepped on during Washington’s 22-20 victory at Oregon State on Nov. 18. Johnson told reporters in New Orleans that he played against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game on heavy pain medication. The final rush against Texas also did something to his left knee — “just got bruised up,” Johnson said — which is a separate injury than the right knee ailment that required cleanup surgery between spring and preseason practices and lingered into the season.

That knee injury actually traveled with Johnson from Mississippi State, where he recalls “a lot of nagging injuries, playing in the SEC, playing that gauntlet. It happens. But my body’s kind of used to it at this point.”

No matter what he might feel like as the Huskies prepare for their 15th game, Johnson seems determined to play. But it’s worth wondering to what degree he might contribute, or if the Huskies will have to rely more than is usual on backups Tybo Rogers and Will Nixon.

“I think that he’s had a great week of rehab,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said of Johnson. “He was able to start repping with us. I think he’s feeling a lot better, and I know he’s a really determined young man, so I would be shocked if he wasn’t able to come out there and make an impact in the game.”

Said coach Kalen DeBoer: “We’re expecting him to play. He’s been through this over the last couple of months, and he hasn’t missed any time there. He’s had a good week getting back healthy.”

As he lay on the ground late in the fourth quarter of UW’s 37-31 victory over Texas in New Orleans, Johnson said he knew he needed to get off the field to avoid stopping the clock and effectively granting the Longhorns a free timeout.

He just couldn’t.

“I’ve never been on the field and not been able to get up,” Johnson said. “So it was definitely a scary situation, one that I’ve never been in. It sucked because I knew I hurt — not meaning to hurt the team, but definitely would have took a lot of time off the clock, maybe down to like 20 or 15 seconds. We gave them another drive, and I hate that happened, but we came out with the win, someway, somehow.”

DeBoer’s contract

DeBoer was asked again about his contract, and replied similarly to his past remarks on the subject.

“I think a lot of it, I just don’t want the distraction during this time of year,” DeBoer said. “I think before the season, after the season is when you really like to iron out details. I’m really appreciative of (athletic director) Troy Dannen, and a lot of it — with him coming in as the new athletic director, he wants to make sure I understand I’m a priority, and I certainly feel like I’m a priority based on conversations getting started and a lot of the talk with the contract being a big piece of that.

“I feel like I’m in a great place, and obviously we’re focused on everything that’s been happening here in December — Pac-12 championship, Sugar Bowl and national championship.”

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

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• Brock & Damon Huard’s Playoff Preview: How UW Huskies match up vs Michigan
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Caple: Dillon Johnson says he expects to play for UW Huskies vs Michigan