Parsing positives and negatives from Washington’s 26-20 loss to Oregon on Saturday night at Husky Stadium.
1. Myles Gaskin.
With the Huskies trailing 23-6 late in the third quarter, and another blowout loss to Oregon still looking very much possible, Gaskin ripped off a 72-yard touchdown run up the middle to give UW some life and make things interesting again.
The true freshman from Lynnwood also had a 34-yard run earlier in the game – meaning he cracked the 100-yard mark on those two carries alone – and so he finished with 155 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Gaskin again seemed to be UW’s best offensive weapon, as he was last week when he rushed for 134 yards in a win over USC. The Huskies probably would have liked to run the ball more, but just like in the loss to California, the scoreboard and game situations dictated otherwise.
Asked if it was hard to stick to the run because of that, Petersen said: “It was. You’re kind of wanting to throw the ball downfield and take some shots, but they were really playing some soft coverage and really dropping off,” Petersen said. “Again, we’ll analyze the tape on our end as coaches and we can do better. Just like we talked to our guys; that’s all we can do is control your area of responsibility. Let’s get better. And it starts with the coaches. We’ll figure out how to put our guys in positions to be successful.”
Through six games, Gaskin has rushed for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He’s averaging 6.2 yards per carry. With Dwayne Washington now dinged up – he sustained some kind of knee injury during warmups, though Petersen doesn’t think it’s a particularly long-term ailment – I’d expect that Gaskin has officially taken over as the No. 1 back. Not bad for a true freshman on a team that returned its entire running back crew from last season.
2. As inconsistent was Washington’s offense was, the Huskies still averaged more yards per play than the Ducks.
Of course, Oregon ran 14 more plays (76 to 62), so the Ducks finished with a total yardage edge of 442 to 385. But thanks to Gaskin’s long touchdown run and that fourth-quarter touchdown drive, the Huskies actually wound up averaging 6.2 yards per play to just 5.8 for Oregon.
That says something about the way the Huskies defended the Ducks, too. It seemed like Oregon’s best plays came when UW actually generated a decent pass rush against quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who scrambled and escaped like only he can, slinging darts downfield and helping the Ducks convert 9-of-18 on third down.
Otherwise, the Huskies did a decent job containing UO tailback Royce Freeman, who still rushed for 138 yards on 27 carries – but his average of 5.1 yards per carry is actually a full 1.5 yards per rush lower than his season average. He had a long rush of 18 yards. In other words: Freeman was productive and tough to tackle, but he wasn’t the reason the Ducks won this game.
As UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said afterward, “stats are for losers.” And the Huskies were losers on Saturday night. But anyone familiar with the recent history of this series knows that Oregon usually dominates the stats against Washington. That it wasn’t quite so lopsided on Saturday is still progress, as meaningless as that might be to those tired of losing to the Ducks.
3. Good experience for Ben Burr-Kirven.
That was the silver lining, if you will, of Azeem Victor’s first-half suspension. Fifth-year senior Scott Lawyer started in Victor’s place at middle linebacker and finished the game with three tackles.
But Victor’s absence also meant more playing time for freshman linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, who also had three tackles but recorded his first career sack late in the second quarter when he got to Adams and dropped him for a 10-yard loss.
(Adams, of course, improvised a 44-yard completion to Bralon Addison on 3rd-and-13 later in that series, but the sack felt like a big play at the time.)
Overall, the Huskies seemed to feel they handled Victor’s two-quarter absence pretty well.
“I thought the ‘backers were pretty good,” Petersen said. “We missed a few things, but I thought they played well for the most part. Ben Burr-Kirven, our freshman in there, I can’t wait to watch the tape to see what he did. He’s out there playing hard.”
1. The Huskies were way too deliberate on their final touchdown drive.
When first asked about the Huskies’ pace on their final touchdown drive – which covered 71 yards but took 5 minutes, 22 seconds – Petersen didn’t seem particularly concerned about the slow pace at which UW was operating despite trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Petersen did say he wished the Huskies hadn’t used their second timeout when they did, after letting the play clock run down amid mass confusion. But aside from that, he said, “I thought everything else was OK.”
Pressed later for further details about the deliberate pace, Petersen did concede, “we could have had a little more urgency.”
They could have had a lot more urgency. Washington ran 12 plays on that drive – including seven rushes – and too often let the play clock tick down under 20 seconds before snapping the ball, a baffling pace that even TV broadcasters Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham criticized relentlessly.
The most egregious mismanagement of the clock came on 3rd-and-goal from Oregon’s 3-yard line, when the Huskies let the play clock run down and then called their second timeout of the half because they didn’t appear to know what they were supposed to be doing.
Of that sequence, Petersen said: “There was a lot of confusion. We had the wrong people out there. First and goal, got hit four yards deep … play was called, guys ran out there, it was loud, those type of things. It was going to end bad. So we called a timeout to get a better play, and we ended up scoring. But it hurts when you’ve got to do that.”
When they finally scored, only 3:35 remained in the game clock. Had they retained that timeout, there might have been close to two minutes left when they got the ball back, instead of just 1:11 (and they only had that much time because Oregon made the curious decision to throw a (incomplete) pass on third down on its final possession).
It’s understandable that with such a young team, the Huskies wanted to make absolutely sure that everyone was on the same page on every play. But you simply can’t take that long to score a touchdown when trailing by two scores in the fourth quarter. The situation called for a faster tempo, and I would imagine that if they’re confronted with a similar circumstance in the future, they might force the issue a little more.
2. Jake Browning is hurt.
Browning injured his right throwing shoulder on that final touchdown drive, apparently on the play where he was sacked before Oregon was penalized for illegal hands to the face. The Huskies then ran a pair of running plays with Gaskin and called their second timeout before Browning connected with Jaydon Mickens for a 3-yard touchdown pass.
That was the last snap he took. When the Huskies got the ball back, K.J. Carta-Samuels was at quarterback, and a trainer was trying to stretch out Browning’s right shoulder on the sideline.
Petersen had no update on the severity of Browning’s injury afterward. Asked if he thought it would be a long-term issue, he said: “I don’t think so, but I hope not.”
As for his decision to go with Carta-Samuels instead of Jeff Lindquist, Petersen said: “He’s a guy that we said if something happens to Jake, he would be the guy. He’s been practicing pretty well and throwing some good balls and that kind of thing.”
Carta-Samuels obviously was put in a difficult situation, so it’s not fair to judge his abilities based on the game-clinching interception he threw with 24 seconds left. But if Browning is the clear-cut No. 1 option at quarterback, it obviously won’t be good news if the Huskies have to play without him.
But, again, the severity of the injury isn’t known yet. Maybe Petersen will have an update on Sunday. We’ll see.
Also of concern: Joe Mathis didn’t play due to injury, and linebacker Travis Feeney had to leave the game with a shoulder injury. Petersen didn’t have specific updates on either player.
3. Too many mistakes at critical times.
Psalm Wooching jumping offsides on a 4th-and-4 punt. Deontae Cooper dropping what would have been a 25-yard touchdown pass on a wheel route in the first half. A holding penalty against Lindquist that cost the Huskies 40 yards of field position on a nullified punt. Eight penalties for 64 yards. Calling a timeout before a 4th-and-1 punt in the third quarter.
Those kind of things happen in every game. But teams that beat Oregon tend to avoid errors like these, or at least tend to avoid committing a handful of them in the same game.
Some of it is surely attributable to UW’s youth, and Petersen said as much afterward.
“Untimely penalties, not converting third downs we really should be able to convert, those types of things,” Petersen said. “It just seemed like the timing was off. It seemed like you could feel some youth out there today. That’s my initial impression without studying the tape.”
More proof that despite the big win at USC, plenty of growing pains still await the Huskies throughout the rest of this season.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple