With Myles Gaskin missing the first game of his career, Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant showed a glimpse into the Huskies' Gaskin-less future.
At a point when the sluggish Huskies desperately needed a boost on Saturday, it was Salvon Ahmed who jump-started them late in the first quarter.
With UW trailing Colorado 7-0 and its offense limping along without injured Myles Gaskin, Ahmed ripped off runs of 17 and 14 yards, and capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown scamper early in the second quarter.
For his efforts, Ahmed earned back slaps, hugs … and 500 push-ups when the team reconvenes on Sunday. At least 500, said Washington coach Chris Petersen with a glint in his eyes.
That’s the coach’s standard penalty for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which Ahmed earned for a throat-slashing gesture he made after crossing the goal line. The 15 yards assessed on the ensuing kickoff was contributory to a Colorado field goal, which loomed large for a long while in a hard-fought 27-13 victory by Washington at Husky Stadium.
The most prominent recipient of the 500-push-up penance was Jake Browning for his famous point following a touchdown at Oregon in 2016.
“It might increase,’’ Petersen said. “We haven’t had to deal with that for a while, but it would be good to reiterate.”
That emotional outburst aside, it was a great day for Ahmed and the rest of the Husky running backs, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant. They provided an encouraging glimpse of the Huskies’ Gaskin-less future next season, when Washington’s all-time rushing leader finally departs.
“Hopefully (Gaskin) breathes a little easier tonight knowing it’s OK for him to take a rest,’’ UW offensive lineman Kaleb McGary said. “He’s a tough dude, and I’ve seen him take some shots that would be tough for us 300-pounders to take. He always gets right back up regardless.”
With Ahmed getting 78 yards on just nine carries, McGrew rushing for 59 yards on 12 carries, and Pleasant getting 35 yards on 10 carries, including a 15-yard touchdown, the Huskies gained 211 yards on the ground. That’s a season high.
“I think that’s a nice three-headed monster,’’ Petersen said.
Gaskin and Ahmed had been hobbled in last week’s Oregon loss, Gaskin with a shoulder injury and Ahmed with a knee he said he “tweaked a little bit” when he “just kind of stepped awkwardly.”
The mystery all week was how much they’d play against Colorado, if at all. Gaskin went through pregame warm-ups and was even announced on the scoreboard as the starter, but he was in street clothes when the game began. Ahmed didn’t get a carry until Washington’s third possession, but he made his presence felt with a vengeance.
“Myles is definitely a guy that’s really important to our team, especially us running backs,’’ Ahmed said. “That meant we had to step up and make plays in his absence. I think a lot of guys stepped up — Kamari, Sean and even myself.”
Ahmed said his knee felt good, and he was pleased to play the entire game. Petersen added that the Huskies should get Gaskin back “soon.” But in his absence, they showed that the running-back depth is as strong as any position group on the team.
Ahmed, a sophomore, has always been a back who oozes potential, but his explosiveness has been showcased only intermittently while Gaskin has taken the bulk of the workload. It was unveiled Saturday on a 23-yard run in the second half, and the touchdown run in which he simply outraced Colorado defenders around the right side.
After that score, Ahmed admitted, his emotions got the best of him, though he insisted that his throat-slashing gesture was not intended to send a message.
“Nothing specific,’’ he said. “I’ve just got to make better decisions. That’s something that can’t happen again.”
It was a chippy game at times, especially when Colorado hung close into the fourth quarter. Washington made some key mistakes that enabled the Buffaloes to do so.
But Ahmed said the emotion stemmed more from the agonizing loss to Oregon in overtime.
“I think we wanted to come out here and bounce back,’’ he said. “We wanted to put our heart out there, kind of put our heart on our sleeve. At least I put mine on my sleeve, and I shouldn’t have done that.”
Petersen has never been one to tolerate such indiscretions, but he also understands that even the most disciplined of players will sometimes succumb to the heat of the moment.
“Sometimes those things are so shocking to me,’’ he said. “They’re probably shocking to him. That’s not him at all. He’s one of the greatest guys on our team. It’s like, what? What did he do?
“The emotion of the game can change things, we know that. Everyone gets emotional, and it changes things. You try to talk to those guys about playing with great poise. But you’ve got to play with energy, you’ve got to play with passion, you’ve got to play with emotion and sometimes it happens.”
Asked if he was prepared for 500 push-ups, Ahmed grinned sheepishly and seemed to go through all the stages of acceptance in accelerated time.
“Maybe. Maybe. Possibly. That’s probably going to be the punishment. But that’s something I’ve got to be accountable for. It’s something I’ll have to do.”
Throughout the game, Gaskin provided support and counsel to the running backs from the sidelines, according to Ahmed.
“He was encouraging us to do the best we can, telling us what he sees and what he would do in certain situations,’’ Ahmed said. “But he was trying not to over-coach, to kind of let us play.’’
And the three-headed monster played just fine.