After defeating Southern Mississippi in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, it’s hard to look at the Huskies and not think that they are poised to take off for heights not seen for a while in this program.
DALLAS — For the Huskies, the Heart of Dallas Bowl was about far more than a game played in an antiquated stadium on a gray day in front of a smallish crowd, anticipated by few outside the followers of the two participants.
Oh, the game itself was exhilarating for Washington’s constituency, mind you — a 44-31 Husky victory over Southern Mississippi that concluded just barely ahead of a torrential downpour, an apocalyptic electric storm, frantic tornado warnings and the background serenade of sirens alerting people to get to safe ground, pronto.
Against that frenetic backdrop, the postgame message at the Cotton Bowl was consistent, and far-reaching, both forward and back: relief over sending off the seniors with a victory (unlike last year), and excitement over the foundation that has been built.
“Definitely, the ceiling is so high for these guys,’’ senior linebacker Travis Feeney said. “It’s amazing how much room they have left to grow.”
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It’s hard to look at the Huskies and not think they are poised to take off for heights not seen for a while in this program.
Their two true freshman (a phrase we now can officially retire) stars, quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, both finished their rookie years with performances that were assured (in Browning’s case) and explosive (in Gaskin’s).
The Huskies ended the season by racking up 52, 45 and 44 points in victories over Oregon State, Washington State and Southern Miss. Both sides of the ball are dotted with underclassmen at vital positions.
And, most important, they appear to have incorporated coach Chris Petersen’s philosophy and mindset just as thoroughly as they have his playbook.
The second-year UW coach noted the absence of finger-pointing despite a series of tough and frustrating losses that dotted this season.
“I could feel them doing the right things,’’ Petersen said. “If we can continue to keep fighting and doing the right things, we’re going to get better. I think a lot of progress has been made in terms of those types of things.”
Senior wide receiver Jaydon Mickens, who went out with a strong game, said it took time for Petersen’s teachings to permeate the ballclub.
“The foundation we laid is something that has to drive through the team,’’ he said. “We had to get that chemistry within the team before we could do anything. We have to love each other first.
“There were a lot of guys that’s not in this program right now, just, thinking about, you know, ‘I’m trying to get mine and get to the next level.’ But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the guy next to you.”
Browning has come light years since his uneven debut against Boise State. So far, in fact, that Petersen said he gets frustrated when plays aren’t made by the quarterback — the ultimate compliment, it turns out.
“He’s getting to that point where we expect just a lot,’’ Petersen said. “In some ways, we expect every ball to be hit when we have a chance, so when he misses things I can get really frustrated, because our expectations are high. We know what he can do.”
Browning, who completed 23 of 34 passes for 284 yards with no interceptions, didn’t want to entertain questions about “catapulting into next season,” as he put it while correctly anticipating much of the postgame theme.
“Everyone is going to want to talk about that, but it was really cool to send off the seniors,’’ he said. “That was bigger to us than anything.’’
Browning added, “I don’t have any feelings about next year” — pointing out that those will come when workouts resume in January. Browning did allow that he wants to work on getting stronger (“I’m not a physical specimen by any means”), and he expressed satisfaction over the offense’s season-ending run.
“When we execute we’re hard to beat, and when we don’t turn the ball over we’re hard to beat,’’ he said.
And when Gaskin gets on a roll, they’re really, really hard to beat. He finished with 181 yards and four touchdowns despite being stymied for just 11 yards on nine carries at halftime.
“Feed him enough, and he’s going to break something off,’’ Browning said with a shrug.
The game’s turning point was unquestionably Gaskin’s 86-yard touchdown run on the first play after Southern Miss had tied the score at 24 late in the third quarter. The Huskies never were seriously approached again.
Asked about the play, Gaskin gave a low-key account before Petersen jumped in.
“I’ll describe it,’’ the coach said. “When he gets the ball, everything goes in slow motion. He sits there and hops and hides, and you’re going, ‘Go. Are you going to go somewhere?’
“And you look up, and he’s got 5 or 6 yards. Then if he’s got space, those little legs, they have more in them than you think. He can go.”
With those two as the engine, and significant pieces of the Pac-12’s top defense returning, the Huskies should have more in them next year than they’ve had in a long time.
Mix in a little love, and, well, Washington should be realistically shooting for something fancier than the Heart of Dallas Bowl next year.
“It’s amazing how they’re going to be in the next couple of years, especially next year,’’ Feeney said. “These guys are going to be playing their butts off, and they’re going to be a great team.”
|Most rushing yards|
|Myles Gaskin’s rushing total was the third-best by a Husky in a bowl game:|
|Bishop Sankey||2012, Las Vegas||205|
|Rashaan Shehee||1997, Aloha||193|
|Myles Gaskin||2015, Heart of Dallas||181|
|Chris Polk||2010, Holiday||177|