The Huskies won their final three games to finish with a 7-6 record in coach Chris Petersen’s second season, adding ammunition to the growing optimism about the young team’s chances of a breakthrough in 2016.
DALLAS — The first warnings of the approaching storm set off cellphone alarms and interrupted Washington coach Chris Petersen mid-sentence during a postgame news conference Saturday.
Petersen wasn’t alarmed much, laughing off the interruption and continuing to answer one of those cliché questions about halftime adjustments. Adjustments? No, the Huskies didn’t change anything dramatically, he said, on their way to a 44-31 victory over Southern Mississippi in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Asked later to assess a pivotal moment in the season for his young team — when the Huskies were reeling after a stunning collapse at Arizona State six weeks ago, when proverbial alarms were ringing about a season quickly going south — Petersen paused briefly and offered a similar response.
In short, no, nothing dramatically changed then, either. There wasn’t one speech or one inspiring moment he pointed to that helped spring the Huskies to this season-ending surge, in which they won their last three games to finish 7-6 and provided more ammunition to the growing optimism about the program’s chances of a breakthrough in 2016.
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“I think it’s just — keep working, you know? We were close. It just comes down to better execution,” he said after the news conference while walking down a flight of stairs at Cotton Bowl Stadium. “That’s what I think.”
Petersen soon exited the stairwell and headed back toward UW’s celebratory locker room. Outside the stadium, sirens blared to warn of a tornado that touched down near the Dallas area. UW players and staffers hustled to their team buses. A UW spokesman said a police escort then led the team safely to the airport.
The Huskies had left the historic stadium in such haste, but not before Myles Gaskin left an impression. The true freshman had 170 of his career-high 181 yards rushing in the second half, including an 86-yard touchdown run to break a 24-24 tie in the third quarter.
Gaskin scored four touchdowns — on runs of 2, 1, 86 and 13 yards — the most by a Husky in a bowl game and the most by a Husky in any game since Corey Dillon had five in 1996. Gaskin was named the game’s MVP.
“Feed him enough, and he’s going to break one,” UW freshman quarterback Jake Browning said.
Midway through the season, when UW’s young offense still was learning to crawl, it was Gaskin’s emergence that helped kick-start the run toward a bowl game. He finished the season with 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns, extending his UW freshman rushing records.
With Gaskin, Browning and four offensive linemen scheduled back next season, expectations are rising for what this offense can do together with more time and experience.
It looked pretty good against Southern Miss, posting a season-high 580 total yards.
“I think we have the potential to put up a lot of points when we’re executing,” said Browning, who threw for 284 yards. “We’re dialing stuff up pretty well, and when we execute we’re hard to beat.”
Washington’s defense, the top-ranked unit in the Pac-12, has been the one constant for this team all season.
The Huskies held Southern Miss to 22 yard rushing, but the Golden Eagles (9-5) gashed UW for a handful of explosive plays Saturday (they had more of them than anyone in college football during the regular season), notably when they got the ball to receiver Michael Thomas (nine catches, 190 yards, two touchdowns).
The Golden Eagles also stayed close thanks in part to a gutsy fake punt deep in their territory late in the second quarter, setting up their second touchdown to cut UW’s halftime lead to 21-17.
The Huskies’ Marvin Hall lost a fumble in the third quarter — the game’s only turnover — to set up another Southern Miss touchdown, tying the score at 24. But on UW’s first snap of its next possession, Gaskin broke free for his 86-yard score, and the Huskies weren’t threatened much after that.
“I saw some space and took off,” Gaskin said. “I saw their two safeties hawking me, and I tried to turn the jets on as long as I could and I got away and scored. It was cool.”
After such a hot-and-cold season, the Huskies finished with a winning record, which could foreshadow even cooler things ahead.
|Top 10 UW rushing seasons|
|The top 10 rushing seasons in Huskies history:|
|1. Bishop Sankey||1,870||2013|
|2. Corey Dillon||1,694||1996|
|3. Chris Polk||1,488||2011|
|4. Bishop Sankey||1,439||2012|
|5. Chris Polk||1,415||2010|
|6. Greg Lewis||1,407||1990|
|7. Napoleon Kaufman||1,390||1994|
|8. Myles Gaskin||1,302||2015|
|9. Napoleon Kaufman||1,299||1993|
|10. Louis Rankin||1,294||1989|
|Top 10 UW passing seasons|
|The top 10 passing seasons in Huskies history:|
|1. Cody Pickett||4,458||2002|
|2. Keith Price||3,063||2011|
|3. Cody Pickett||3,043||2003|
|4. Keith Price||2,966||2013|
|5. Jake Browning||2,955||2015|
|6. Jake Locker||2,800||2009|
|7. Cary Conklin||2,786||1989|
|8. Keith Price||2,726||2012|
|9. Cody Pickett||2,696||2001|
|10. Damon Huard||2,609||1995|