With 11:44 remaining in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Richard Newton took a handoff and accelerated through a hole in the Arizona defense. The punishing 6-foot, 210-pound tailback outran 175-pound corner Lorenzo Burns, then stepped through the desperate ankle tackle of safety Rhedi Short. Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake chased him along the sideline, with a single finger pointed in the air, as Newton scooted into the end zone for a 54-yard score.
That, technically, was Washington’s third-string tailback.
But — in this season, with this team — disregard those definitions.
Why? Well, look no further than the stat lines for UW’s top four tailbacks in Saturday’s 44-27 win over the Wildcats.
Sean McGrew: 11 carries, 35 yards, 1 catch, 2 yards, 1 TD
Kamari Pleasant: 6 carries, 43 yards, 1 TD
Richard Newton: 8 carries, 81 yards, 2 TD
Cameron Davis: 8 carries, 46 yards, 2 catches, 2 yards
That is some evenly distributed domination.
And for Lake and UW offensive coordinator John Donovan, it’s also an indication of what they want this team to be.
“We like fresh running backs,” Lake said Saturday night. “We feel very fortunate to have four tailbacks that we feel very comfortable in protecting the quarterback, catching the football out of the backfield and also obviously getting rushes and running the football. When you’re able to pepper a defense with fresh guys over and over and over behind a massive offensive line, that’s a good recipe to get some rush yards.”
It’s also the preferred recipe in this strangest of all seasons — when a diverse and determined rushing attack is more valuable than ever. When regular-season games are played exclusively in November and December, in conditions that could make it more difficult to consistently throw. When you’re trotting out a redshirt freshman quarterback with precious little experience in Pac-12 play. When the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means a player’s availability could change without warning. When your wide receivers struggle with occasional drops. When you’re running behind arguably the most massive offensive line in program history.
In Washington’s first two wins, the Huskies have averaged 250 rushing yards per game and 5.21 yards per carry — which rank 10th and 21st nationwide, respectively. They’ve possessed the ball for 74:16 out of a possible 120 minutes. They’ve converted 52% of their third downs (15th nationally) and 100% of fourth downs (4-4).
Oh, and they’re the only team in the country that has yet to commit a turnover.
Of course, fans can argue about which running back they’d like to see more. After Pleasant started in the opener, the shifty McGrew gashed Oregon State for 91 yards, 10.1 yards per carry and a touchdown. Though McGrew started Saturday, it was Newton who made a pair of end-zone trips.
And, somehow, Davis — a 6-0, 205-pound redshirt freshman — may eventually be the best of the bunch. The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., product provided Saturday’s most impressive moment, when he towed a handful of Wildcat defenders for a soul-destroying 17-yard trek.
Of course, like in the 2020 election, the early results aren’t everything. Don’t forget that Oregon State (169.50 yards per game) and Arizona (181.58 yards per game) ranked 10th and 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense last season.
The only team that finished worse? Washington State — whom the Huskies are scheduled to meet in the Apple Cup on Friday.
So, it’s fair to say that all four running backs — as well as Donovan and the UW offensive line — have plenty left to prove. But, at least for now, gone are the days of Myles Gaskin collecting 30 carries in a win over Utah in 2018.
No, these Huskies are determined to flatten the competition by committee.
And between McGrew, Pleasant, Newton and Davis, there’s no telling who you’ll see in the end zone next.