Continuing what we started last week, it’s time to take a closer look at three positives and three negatives from Washington’s 49-0 victory over Sacramento State.
1. The Huskies ran the ball, and they might be on to something with Myles Gaskin.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the Huskies started moving the ball when Gaskin came into the game for the first time. Or maybe the true freshman tailback is the spark this offense needs.
Gaskin was a prized recruit, though with Dwayne Washington, Lavon Coleman, Deontae Cooper and Jomon Dotson already on the roster, I’m not sure anyone anticipated that Gaskin would lead the team in carries by their second game.
But that’s what he did Saturday, picking and weaving his way through the creases along the offensive line, finishing with 14 carries, 146 yards and three touchdowns – including a 78-yard jaunt that showcased his straight-line speed.
There’s a lot to like about the way Gaskin carries the ball. He’s listed at 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds, and seems to possess uncommon patience for a player his age. That’s something Petersen noted afterward, too, and it’s something we maybe haven’t seen with any kind of consistency from UW’s other backs.
UW coach Chris Petersen emphasized after the Boise State game that a tailback needs to be able to break a tackle or make a defender miss every now and then, because even the most skilled, experienced offensive line isn’t going to make every single block. I think that’s particularly important for the Huskies this season as they try to bring their young offensive line up to speed. The holes won’t always be open. They need someone who can find them when they are, and create space for himself when they’re not. The Huskies were fortunate for a five-year period to have Chris Polk and Bishop Sankey in the backfield – guys who were patient, shifty and difficult to tackle, and those traits made it a lot easier to mask any deficiencies in UW’s blocking scheme (I think Pete Carroll made a similar comment recently about Marshawn Lynch).
Gaskin has a long way to go to be considered on the same level as any of those guys, and it will be interesting to see how he fares against tougher competition (and how carries will be distributed among him, Washington, Coleman and others). But he already seems to have a fairly mature skillset for someone so young.
2. Jake Browning’s willingness to try tough throws.
Some of those throws, of course, were a little too tough – even Browning’s first career touchdown pass, a 78-yard prayer to Marvin Hall that first deflected off the hands of a Sacramento State defensive back who should have intercepted it.
Browning acknowledged as much after, and Petersen joked that sometimes, “it’s better to be lucky than good.”
But Petersen also said that’s what he likes about Browning – that even as a true freshman, he has the confidence and the gumption to want to fit the ball into a tight window, to take the kind of risks downfield that we pretty much never saw in 2014 (or last week, for that matter).
Not all of them are going to work out. He’s going to throw a few interceptions this season (and should have on Saturday). But he’s also going to put the Huskies in a position to hit some deep shots and produce more big plays. You saw the result of that mentality during UW’s two-minute drill at the end of the first half, as well as the 20-yard pass to Dante Pettis that set up Gaskin’s 16-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1.
“Jake is going to take some chances throwing some balls in windows, and you can see him do that,” Petersen said. “A lot of times, it’s very pretty. Other times, it’s like, maybe that ball needs to go down to the back. And those are things that we’ve got to put on tape and analyze, and he’ll get better at.”
Petersen said he’s had one quarterback with that kind of mentality before. Doesn’t take much detective work to figure out that he’s referring to Kellen Moore, the record-setting Boise State quarterback who won 50 games in four years.
In terms of poise and confidence, Browning seems to be cut from the same mold.
“He sees things pretty well,” Petersen said. “He’s still getting used to the speed of college football, but he’s doing a good job adjusting, and he’ll continue to grow.”
3. Young reserves gained valuable experience on defense.
That’s why you schedule a team like Sacramento State – to win comfortably, and to play your backups as much as possible.
After the Huskies took a 35-0 lead in the third quarter, they removed their first-string defense and subbed in a whole bunch of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores.
For a time, this is what their defensive personnel looked like: Shane Bowman, Vita Vea and Will Dissly along the defensive line; Connor O’Brien, Tevis Bartlett, Jake Wambaugh and Ben Burr-Kirven at linebacker; Jordan Miller and Brandon Lewis at cornerback; and Ezekiel Turner and Jojo McIntosh at safety.
That’s three true freshmen (Bartlett, Burr-Kirven and Miller), five redshirt freshmen (McIntosh, Lewis, Wambaugh, Vea, Bowman) and three sophomores (Dissly, O’Brien and Turner).
Petersen said it was particularly valuable for UW’s younger defensive players to play with their backs against their own goal line after K.J. Carta-Samuels’ fumble in the fourth quarter. Sac State took over at UW’s 4-yard line, but a series of negative rushes and penalties pushed the Hornets back to the 31-yard line before their 48-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Taniela Tupou.
“It was really good to put the young guys in in the fourth quarter,” Petersen said. “Put them in a bad situation (and) they kept competing. Game not on the line, that changes things a little bit. But it still was nice to get them in there and not have them hitting their teammates, and see those guys make plays, and they really did. I think they had fun doing it, and it was good to see.
“It’s interesting to see out there, just so many first-year players, whether it’s true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. One time I think the whole field was that. That’s good news. That’s good for the future. Again, if these kids keep working and grinding and all those type of things, we’ll progress.”
1. It was just Sacramento State.
All positives derived from this game should be accompanied by this caveat. Sure, the Hornets obviously have a few nice playmakers, and they certainly seemed to play hard and inspired and all that.
But this is a team that finished 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Sky last season. Their defense was porous against even lower-tier competition. They were picked to finish seventh in the conference again this year, and they’re breaking in a sophomore starting quarterback. So there was no reason this game should have been competitive, and it wasn’t – and that expectation might have had something to do with the announced attendance of 55,010, which is particularly weak for a home opener.
There was certainly plenty to like about what Gaskin, Browning and the rest of UW’s offense did (to say nothing of the defense posting a zero). And there’s also something to be said for taking care of business against an inferior opponent the way the Huskies ultimately did. But it would be premature to project much of that to the rest of the season. All 10 teams remaining on UW’s schedule are considerably better than Sacramento State. It was good for the Huskies to put some encouraging plays on tape, but there isn’t much significance to the victory itself.
2. Another slow start.
There obviously isn’t a lot to nitpick from a performance perspective when a team wins 49-0, but the first quarter again left a lot to be desired. Just as the Huskies failed to score in the first quarter at Boise State, they were blanked in the first quarter by Sacramento State, too (though to be fair, UW’s first scoring drive began late in the first and ended with a touchdown early in the second).
Petersen noted the slow start afterward, saying “that was not the mission” before praising his team for settling down and pulling away. But this goes back to the first point a bit, too – if the Huskies couldn’t come out firing against a team like Sacramento State, is there reason to believe they can do it against teams like, say, Utah State, California and USC?
It’s too early to label this an alarming trend just yet. But there are a handful of teams remaining on UW’s schedule capable of seizing the kind of early opportunities Sacramento State could not.
3. Austin Joyner’s injury.
We won’t have an idea until at least tomorrow of how severe Joyner’s injury might be, but when the head coach says after the game that it’s “probably not good,” well, it’s probably not good.
Joyner, the true freshman cornerback from Marysville-Pilchuck, sprinted down to cover the game’s opening kickoff, collided with a blocker, went down, then limped to the sideline. He soon headed to the locker room, and was later seen wearing a cast. UW sideline reporter Elise Woodward tweeted that Joyner had a knee injury.
If the injury does end up being “not good” for Joyner, it would be a pretty disappointing way to begin his career. He was one of the more promising members of Petersen’s 2015 recruiting class, and the coaches obviously identified him pretty early on as one of their true freshmen who would play this season. He made his debut on special teams against Boise State, and almost certainly would have played some cornerback in the second half on Saturday if he hadn’t been hurt.
(Not to get too ahead of ourselves, but if the injury is long-term and prevents Joyner from playing again this season, he would almost certainly be granted a redshirt because he appeared in only two games – the same way, for example, that Chris Polk, who sustained a season-ending injury in the second game of the 2008 season, would have been able to return for a fifth year in 2012 had he so chosen.)
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple