How impressive was Myles Gaskin, Washington’s freshman tailback, during the Huskies’ 17-12 upset of USC last week?
So impressive that a question to coach Chris Petersen on Monday about Gaskin’s future playing time was answered with a rare degree of certainty.
Asked if Gaskin, who rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown against the Trojans, earned more carries with his play, Petersen began his response: “Absolutely.”
And while running backs coach Keith Bhonapha wasn’t quite ready to say Wednesday that Gaskin has earned the title of top back ahead of fourth-year junior Dwayne Washington — Gaskin carried 22 times against USC, and Washington just nine — it’s obvious now that the freshman possesses certain skills that others on the roster do not.
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Namely, his patience. Rather than taking the ball and sprinting full-speed into the mass of bodies before him, Gaskin waits for a hole to develop, and at 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds, he’s shifty enough to change direction in a hurry.
“I’ve been really pleased with his poise out there,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “It’s not a panic. Sometimes as a back, you’ve got to have some patience and poise running the ball, and he’s showed that.”
Said Petersen: “That’s a pretty unique gift, I think.”
Bhonapha said he isn’t necessarily surprised by Gaskin’s patience — that’s what coaches saw while recruiting him at O’Dea High School, where Gaskin rushed for 1,567 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior — but said he’s been impressed by his maturity.
Washington’s opener at Boise State, in which Gaskin rushed for just 5 yards on five carries, was the only time Bhonapha saw the freshman play like a freshman.
“You could kind of sense he had a little bit of anxiety,” Bhonapha said. “But outside of that, I think the most impressive thing is how mature he is, and how much he can handle when the game is going on.”
And he recovered from that Boise State game pretty well, rushing for 146 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries against Sacramento State the following week. He averages 5.6 yards per carry and through five games has carried the ball 25 more times than Dwayne Washington — who, it should be noted, rushed for 109 yards on 10 carries against California just three weeks ago, and might still be the team’s most dangerous offensive player.
UW needs them both.
“I think their style is so different — Dwayne being more the long-strider guy, and Myles being more your kind of scat-back who has great feet, great vision and can make guys miss in a small space,” Bhonapha said.
“I think that’s really the big thing. I think when it came to the past couple weeks, when we played Cal the week before, there was just some big, gaping holes where Dwayne was able to kind of open up a little bit. And this past week, Myles was able to make some things happen just by being patient and using his vision.”
Budda Baker left UW’s Sept. 19 win over Utah State with an ankle injury on the third play of the game, then missed the Huskies’ loss to California the next week.
That the sophomore safety was able to return in time for UW’s Oct. 8 win at USC, defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said, was “unbelievable.”
Baker, a freshman All-America selection last season, finished the game with eight tackles. He returned to practice last week — Lake said they knew last Tuesday or so that he would be able to play against the Trojans — though he tried to come back earlier.
“He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around; that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” Lake said. “He would text me and say, ‘Coach, I’m ready to go today.’ Then I would talk to Rob (Scheidegger), the trainer, (and he would say) no, he’s not ready to go today.
“So he’s just that kind of guy. He’s tough. He would try to go out there and do my drills, and I was like, ‘no, get off to the side.’ That’s just the way he is. He is definitely a different football player, in a great way.”
Saturday: Oregon (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) at Washington (3-2, 1-1), 7:30 p.m., ESPN2, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM