Washington head coach Chris Petersen said the running game was “not good.”
Asked to rate his performance, quarterback Jake Browning said “sub par.”
Neither was a description UW wanted to be using after its home opener against North Dakota. The Huskies won big, beating the Fighting Hawks 45-3, but a slow start and a struggling run game generated a sober postgame mood.
“On offense, we need to do better,” Petersen said. “Certainly running the ball, we need to do better. We’ll lock in on that and figure out how.”
UW led 17-0 at halftime and had just 54 rushing yards, averaging 3.4 yards per carry. That total included a 24-yard Myles Gaskin run that closed out the second quarter. Without it, UW would’ve entered the break with 30 rushing yards and a 1.9 yards per carry average.
The Huskies’ vaunted ground game hasn’t quite hit its stride this season.
Against North Dakota, the Huskies finished with 195 rushing yards with much of the yardage coming late in the second half. In the loss to Auburn last week, UW had 102 yards on the ground and finished with a 3.1 yards per carry average.
Even Gaskin hasn’t broken out just yet. He’s averaging 64 yards per game through two games.
His early season performance is reminiscent of last year, when he averaged just 51 yards through the first three games of the season. He finished the season averaging 106.2 yards per game.
Asked if the Gaskin’s slow starts were similar, Browning deferred comment to the offensive line.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk about the running game when I feel like I didn’t play well either,” Browning said.
While Petersen was mostly critical of the Huskies’ running game, he offered some compliments to the backup running backs who played late and padded UW’s running stats.
Redshirt sophomore Kamari Pleasant finished with 48 yards on five carries, including a 47-yard run and a 23-yard touchdown. Sean McGrew had 23 yards on three carries and a 23-yard touchdown run of his own.
“We need to run the ball better,” Petersen said. “I like how the guys in the fourth quarter kind of attacked it. We might have had (North Dakota) worn down a bit toward the end of the game but I thought there were some nice clean runs in there.
“The O-Line gave the backs a chance to get it started. Sean pounded it in there. Kamari, too. Those guys are good players. They’ve done it in practices and scrimmages and in games when we’ve got them in.”
Salvon Ahmed, who finished with four carries for 47 yards, said the Fighting Hawks were intent on stopping UW on the ground. They stacked the box and they blitzed, bringing safeties, corners and at times safeties and linebackers.
It gave UW problems, Ahmed said, although he thought the Huskies adjusted well in the second half.
“Once they blitz, you can kind of open up your pass game,” Ahmed said. “We were able to get our pass game going and then once you get the pass game going, you can get the run game going.”
Even though Browning was unhappy with his performance — he threw two interceptions — he completed 23 of 37 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns. Eleven players caught at least one pass, led by Aaron Fuller’s six receptions for 74 yards.
“Initially, you don’t know what to expect from a defense like that,” said offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “It ended up being a little bit of throwing situations to open the run game. Happy to see the run game get going there as well.”
The Huskies did rush for 141 yards after the break as the offense scored 28 points. But wide receiver Ty Jones said that UW can’t afford anymore slow starts, especially not with Pac-12 play opening next Saturday against Utah.
“It’s going to be an emphasis all week,” Jones said. “I can guarantee you that.”
The Huskies need to impose their will on offense, Browning said. They didn’t do that on Saturday.
“We started ripping off some big runs,” Browning said, “but I don’t feel like we really dominated at any point. I think we got a standard to play to that I don’t feel like we played to.”