Huskies blow a Gaskin but drive past Colorado

Jennifer Buchanan photo

Huskies' all-time leading rusher sits out with injury

Myles Gaskin wore a gray hooded sweatshirt under his No. 9 purple jersey, but no helmet or pads. He sat near an equipment box and looked forlorn. Later, he perked up some, stood atop the Washington bench and waved a towel.

For a guy who does everything on game day, the Huskies’ all-time leading rusher was reduced to spectator and cheerleader against Colorado—missing his first game in 48 collegiate outings because of a persistent shoulder injury.

It took well into the fourth quarter, but Gaskin’s 15th-ranked team figured out how to play without him on Saturday by pulling away late from the equally shorthanded Buffaloes 27-13 on a sun-splashed afternoon at Husky Stadium.

“Myles has been one of the best players on our team for what seems like 50 years,” said UW quarterback Jake Browning, who likewise has a one-game absence in his career as a four-year starter. “Obviously we want to get him back as soon as possible. We missed Myles.”

Gaskin’s teammates showed up against Colorado in intervals. Redshirt freshman Sean McGrew drew the starting assignment at running back, while sophomore Salvon Ahmed and redshirt freshman Kamari Pleasant each contributed touchdown runs.

It wasn’t until the final six minutes of the game before the Huskies (6-2 overall, 4-1 Pac-12) looked truly comfortable in their new football skin.

Nursing a 17-13 lead, Browning made the Buffaloes (5-2, 2-2) pay for an all-out blitz on fourth-and-5 by dumping one in the flat to a wide-open Aaron Fuller and the wide receiver scampered in from 26 yards for an easy score and some breathing room at 24-13 with 5:49 remaining.

Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, UW linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven stepped in front of a Colorado receiver and intercepted a Steven Montez pass—noteworthy because it was just the third pass theft of the season for the turnover-starved Huskies and their first in four home games. That led to a successful 30-yard field goal for Peyton Henry, who went 2-for-2 a week following his epic misfire from similar range with the game on the line at Oregon.

With two minutes left, the Huskies’ remake was complete when sophomore defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike pushed his way into the Colorado backfield and dropped Montez for a 9-yard loss and a precious sack—preventing Washington from going sack-less for a third contest this year and sealing a tough victory. The degree of difficulty in gaining the outcome was duly recognized.

“It was a grinder, a fistfight the whole game,” UW offensive tackle Kaleb McGary said. “But it was fun to win.”

McGrew, who picked up 58 yards on 12 carries in his first collegiate start, knew early in the week that Gaskin was unavailable and he would be inserted in the opening lineup for the first time. He shared the job evenly with Ahmed, who piled up 73 yards on nine carries and scored on a 7-yarder in the second quarter, and Pleasant, who gained 35 yards on 10 carries and scored on a 15-yard run also in the second quarter.

“It was definitely something I’m going to remember,” McGrew said. “It was cool getting a first college start against a Pac-12 team at home before a sold-out crowd.”

Actually, paid attendance was announced at 68,798 and the crowd actually looked closer to 60,000 with the blocks of open seats. But enough people were on hand give McGrew a big stage. Everyone was groaning, too, when Colorado scored the first time it had the ball once Daniel Arias slipped behind UW cornerback Jordan Miller in the end zone and made a 37-yard touchdown catch for an instant 7-0 lead. There were a couple of subplots behind this scoring strike. Arias played his high school football in suburban Seattle. Miller, who missed most of the Oregon game with a leg injury the week before and found himself several steps behind Arias, didn’t play again against the Buffaloes after showing he wasn’t fully recovered.

The Huskies tied the game seconds into the second quarter when Ahmed ran around the right end with three UW tight ends providing an escort and knocking down a lot of people. A third-down pass interference call in the end zone on Buffs free safety Nick Fisher kept the drive going. An unsportsmanlike penalty on Ahmed for some sort of gesture after he scored helped Colorado get going again and regain the lead at 10-7 on Davis Price’s 37-yard field goal.

“Sometimes we made it harder than we needed to,” UW coach Chris Petersen said, acknowledging there would be some sort of conditioning punishment for his young running back getting caught up in the moment.

While Gaskin was unavailable, Colorado played without its best player, sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault, who was nursing a toe injury suffered the week before against USC. A lot of offense was lost with those guys taking the weekend off. Gaskin is still sitting on 4,678 career rushing yards; Shenault has 60 catches and 11 touchdowns in six games.

“It was even Steven,” Petersen said of the collective manpower shortage.

The Huskies took the lead for good at 14-10 with 5:39 left in the second quarter when Pleasant skirted through a huge hole on the left side, capping a 75-yard drive. The touchdown was set up when wide receiver Andre Baccellia took a backfield flip and ran 13 yards on a reverse.

Browning, who was 15-for-25 passing for 150 yards, made his one big mistake of the game on the next series when he was intercepted by Fisher deep in his territory. Barely two minutes remained in the half. The Colorado defender returned the ball to the UW 9, where the Buffaloes settled for Price’s 26-yard field goal, a 14-13 deficit at intermission and momentum.

Yet both teams labored through the third quarter without much offensive success. Henry’s 26-yard field goal accounted for the only points and a 17-13 UW advantage. Things got a little chippie on the field as frustration set in. Montez shoved the UW’s Onzuwurike after taking a hit and Huskies cornerback Myles Bryant a few plays later got in the Buffs quarterback’s face with a few choice words in response.

As the fourth quarter opened, the Huskies had a chance to wrap things up but Chico McClatcher fumbled into the Colorado end zone on a 14-yard pass play while trying to score with a bunch of defenders draped all over him near the goal line. The UW looked overly generous and this made their fans restless.

Washington, however, finished strong and overcame the glaring absence of Gaskin and his deft running ability to beat Colorado for the ninth consecutive time. The Huskies turn their attention next to a road game at California but it’s unclear whether the senior running back will be able to join them on the field in Berkeley. His team isn’t nearly as imposing without him. It was fortunate to beat the Buffaloes in his absence. Things didn’t seem right in an offensive huddle without No. 9.

“It sucked more than anything just not having your buddy out there,” McGary said.