University of Washington

Leading rusher Salvon Ahmed hitting his stride for Huskies

Salvon Ahmed was thinking about Hawaii.

Washington’s junior running back was just steps away from completing an 89-yard touchdown run against USC, a play that ultimately swung the momentum firmly back in the Huskies’ favor. But even as he neared the end zone, he was fixated on a sequence from two weeks before — one where he came up just short.

The Huskies topped the Rainbow Warriors 52-20 on Sept. 14, and Ahmed broke free in that game, too. He picked up 42 yards, getting to Hawaii’s 9-yard line. He avoided being brought down by one defender but was caught by defensive back Rojesterman Farris, who dove to make the tackle from behind.

After practice on Wednesday, Ahmed was still talking about that moment. And it was definitely on his mind against the Trojans. When he glanced up toward the big screen above UW’s student section, he saw USC defensive back Chris Steele gaining on him. That’s when he cut back toward midfield — a detour, he said — to seal the touchdown.

“I’m just thinking to myself, ‘Finish the run, make sure you score, don’t get caught,’” Ahmed said. “I had to make up for the one versus Hawaii, for sure. I was just thinking finish the run.”

Ahmed is averaging 99.8 yards per game, which leads the Pac-12. He’s fifth in yards per carry (6.5), and his 89-yard touchdown run is the second-longest rush by a conference player this season.

After sitting out the win over BYU because of a leg injury, Ahmed returned against USC to rush for a career-high 153 yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts. He has recorded a carry of more than 20 yards in three of his four appearances.

“I feel like I’m just getting a feel for the game more,” Ahmed said. “As the season goes, that’s how it should be. Everyone’s just getting more comfortable with each other and kind of doing our thing out there.”

Ahmed has 61 carries this season, putting him more than halfway to his 2018 total of 104. With four-year starter Myles Gaskin now playing in the NFL, Ahmed has stepped into his starting role. While that comes with more opportunities, offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said Ahmed has remained the same.

“He’s usually a pretty even-keeled guy,” Hamdan said. “He always goes about his work with a super professional mindset. I can’t say I saw anything different other than what you expect out of him. When one of your hardest-working guys is one of your best players, it’s always a good thing.”

But Ahmed said he’s more patient than he used to be. When he first arrived at UW, he was always looking for the chance to burst through a hole for a big run. Now, he knows he has to “take what’s there and make it work.”

“Just patience,” Ahmed said. “When it looks like there is nothing there and you break a 5-yarder or you break a big one. I think that’s kind of letting things develop in front of you and that’s kind of how I’ve shown (my maturity).”

Ahmed stressed the importance of shorter runs, the 2- and 5-yard gains that so often secure first downs. But his explosive ability and speed — he ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at this year’s Husky Combine — are rare. His offensive linemen know if there’s a hole, he’s going to find it — and then there’s a very good chance he’s not stopping until the end zone.

“I think he has a good feel for making people miss,” said center Nick Harris. “A lot of teams, they respect our run game and they drop several different people in the box. We have eight-, nine-man boxes sometimes.

“In that situation, we can only block so many people. He’s going to have to make people miss, and he does that week in and week out. I think … his ability to make people miss is what sets him apart.”

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Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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