"I don't really think there's an issue," Gaskin said this week. "We've been passing the ball great."
Before last Saturday’s Husky game, a coworker asked me how many rushing yards I thought Washington would end up with. I said 195 without even thinking about it.
He picked a number over 350, another media member went as high as 423, and I thought … they’re right. What was I thinking?
The Huskies had Myles Gaskin out there. They were playing North Dakota from the FCS. It was like saying Usain Bolt wouldn’t break the 12-second barrier.
But then the game started. A one-yard gain here, a loss of three there. The Huskies were stumbling and staggering all over the field.
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Through the first half, they’d accumulated just 54 rushing yards — 24 of which came on the final play of the second quarter. They picked it up slightly in the second half, but certainly weren’t convincing on the ground.
The final tally? That would be 195 yards.
Fun for me, but if they don’t clean that part of their game, it won’t be fun at all for the Huskies vs. Utah Saturday.
What happened with the running game? offensive lineman Kaleb McGary was asked after the game.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know,” he said. “We certainly expected a quicker start. I’m very confused as to why it was that way.”
McGary may have expected a quicker start Saturday, but when it comes to the running department, the Huskies aren’t the quickest starters.
They had 84 yards on the ground on 24 carries in their season-opener vs. Rutgers last year. They had 92 yards on 30 carries two weeks later vs. Fresno State.
As for Gaskin? Same story. He netted just 153 combined yards in his first three games of 2017. Then came Week 4 against Colorado, where he gained 202 yards on 27 carries. He went onto average 115 yards per game for the rest of the season.
Maybe that’s why Huskies coach Chris Petersen isn’t particularly concerned about the school’s all-time leading rusher and touchdown scorer.
“I’m not worried about Myles. That’s not the issue. We’ve got five guys that gotta get on the same page,” said Petersen, whose team was limited to 102 yards on 33 carries in its Week 1 loss to Auburn. “It takes a minute to get into a rhythm.”
Petersen, remember, is careful not to do too much live practicing before the season starts. The benefit is keeping as many players healthy as possible, but the risk is leaving a kink or two un-ironed.
So yeah, it might take a minute to get into a rhythm, but considering they’re about to face one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, the Huskies better hope those 60 seconds have elapsed.
Eight starters return on that side of the ball for the Utes, who were third in the conference in scoring defense last year. They are also first in the country in total defense so far this season, allowing just 143.5 yards per game and 2.22 yards per play.
Obviously, shutting down Weber State and Northern Illinois isn’t particularly revealing. What the Utes can do against the No. 10 team in the country will provide real information about their ability.
It’s also worth noting that the Huskies have been adjusting to life without left tackle Trey Adams, who was projected as a top-10 draft pick before he got hurt. They also didn’t have starting center Nick Harris Saturday.
So is it just a matter of adjustment, or is there a genuine issue with the run?
“I don’t really think there’s an issue,” said Gaskin, who is averaging 4.0 yards per carry this season. “We’ve been passing the ball great. … As soon as (the opposing team) tries to take the pass away, that’s when the run games come in.”
I don’t know if the passing game has been “great” so far. Jake Browning has completed 41 of 69 passes (59.4 percent) for 609 yards, and has three touchdowns and three interceptions.
But he’s also a former Pac-12 Player of the Year with a history of dominant performances.
He could have a big night in Salt Lake City, but the offense can’t rely on him outright.
There will be myriad factors that determine Saturday’s result, but my guess is if that if the Huskies can’t establish the ground game, they’ll get run into the ground.