Gaskin delivers but takes a beating

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Huskies hang on, keep UCLA winless

Late in the game, Myles Gaskin repeatedly grabbed at his right shoulder and appeared to be in obvious pain. However, Washington’s superlative running back toughed it out and scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 3:42 left to play in a 31-24 victory over UCLA.

On Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, the Huskies (5-1, overall 3-0 Pac-12) closely resembled their record-breaking rusher—they were dominant early on but were forced to hang in there as best they could at the end against a bad UCLA football team (0-5, 0-2).

Gaskin rushed for 116 yards and two scores on 27 carries—his 22nd UW outing with 100 yards or more—yet he didn’t come out for the final offensive series with the game still on the line in Pasadena, California.

“That guy is as tough as they come,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said of Gaskin. “He keeps punching in there. He takes a lot of punishment.”

Petersen doesn’t discuss player injuries but he was forced to insert redshirt freshman Sean McGrew for the Huskies’ last ball possession with the outcome not secured yet. McGrew ran for 6 and 4 yards to pick up a final first down and enable his team to run out the clock. Moments earlier, Gaskin scored the deciding points while carrying the ball in his left arm, seemingly unable to wrap it up with his right.

The Huskies can ill afford to lose their all-time leading rusher at the halfway point of the season. They’re a good but not a great team. Against the Bruins, they were exposed again on defense. For the second time in three games, the UW failed to register a solitary sack or much of a pass rush, leaving its secondary exposed at times.

UCLA, off to its worst start now in 75 seasons, scored the most points against the Huskies this year. The Bruins twice found the end zone through the air; the UW had permitted just one TD catch coming in.

“I think most people relaxed a little bit and took the foot off the pedal,” said UW wide receiver Aaron Fuller, who finished with five catches for 100 yards and a score. “But in crunch time, we did what we had to do.”

For a half, the heavily favored Huskies did what was expected in earning their fifth consecutive victory. They rushed out to a 24-7 halftime lead. They scored on their third possession when Fuller pulled in a 25-yard TD pass from Jake Browning, badly beating UCLA defensive back Nate Meadors when he adjusted and came back to catch a short throw.

The Huskies went up 10-0 in the second quarter on Peyton Henry’s 26-yard field goal and countered a 9-yard TD catch by UCLA’s Theo Howard with a pair of 1-yard scoring runs by Gaskin and Browning leading up to the halftime break. They appeared ready to break open the game.

Yet Chip Kelly’s team made things interesting, twice pulling within a touchdown in the second half. The Huskies defense couldn’t stop these guys, giving up 422 yards of total offense. Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson sat in the pocket and didn’t encounter much of a pass rush, completing 26 of 38 attempts for 272 yards. UCLA’s Joshua Kelley backed him by running for a game-high 125 yards and a late score on 20 carries.

“At halftime, you have to go back out there and re-establish yourself,” Petersen said. “They did a better job of that than we did. I’m just proud we came through when we needed to.”

Browning did his part by throwing for 265 yards and rushing for another 49—one off his career best by foot. He personally ran for six first downs to keep drives going. He wasn’t nearly as pinpoint as the week before, but he was good enough to hit on 18 of 26 attempts.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Bruins scored on a 9-yard TD pass to Caleb Wilson to pull within 24-17, making it a game for the first time.

After the teams traded possessions, the Huskies demonstrated their tenacity by grinding out a 12-play, 85-yard drive that took 6:45 off the clock. In Wildcat formation, the Huskies lined up with three running backs: Salvon Ahmed went in motion, Kamari Pleasant provided a lead block and Gaskin took the direct snap and scored standing up over the right side to put his team back out in front 31-17.

UCLA responded by moving 75 yards to make it a one-touchdown game again with 1:38 remaining. With little pressure, Thompson-Robinson completed six of seven passes to set up a 2-yard scoring run by Kelley, no relation to the Bruins’ new coach.

The Huskies, however, closed it out. McGrew’s two runs secured that important first down to drain the clock. Browning received three snaps and took a knee each time, and his team had survived another Pac-12 road game and put some California demons to rest—the outcome marked the UW’s first regular-season win at the Rose Bowl since 1995.

While Gaskins’ health is unclear, the Huskies lost starting center Nick Harris for the second time this season. The junior grabbed at his left leg and exited early in the fourth quarterback, and senior Jesse Sosebee replaced him. Harris’ availability for the next game is unclear.

Defensively, the Huskies swapped out their linebackers a few times in the second half, looking for someone to make a play as momentum started to shift in UCLA’s favor. Reserves Amandre Williams, Brandon Wellington, Ariel Ngata and Kyler Manu all saw time in the third quarter. Starting linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven topped all tacklers with 15.

Next up is a trip to Eugene and possibly Washington’s toughest road game this season against an improved Oregon team. The Huskies will need Gaskin healthy and the defense to apply a lot more pressure to survive this trip south. The players aren’t worried about style points, just results.

“That’s kind of our deal,” UW linebacker Tevis Bartlett said, “is to finish everything.”