Is there cause for concern in the Huskies' secondary? Can Hunter Bryant be a real factor in the final two regular-season games? That and more in a review of UW's victory over Stanford.
The good, the bad and the lingering questions from Washington’s 27-23 victory over Stanford on Saturday night:
Step on the Gaskin
Myles Gaskin reaffirmed his status as the most valuable player the Huskies have Saturday night. An apparent shoulder injury had kept the senior running back sidelined the past two-plus games, the first games he’d missed in his collegiate career. Gaskin was initially injured at UCLA, then a week later he re-injured the shoulder early on in the loss at Oregon. He did not play in the 12-10 loss at Cal, when the Huskies were held to a season-low 91 yards rushing and the offense had one of its worst showings of the Chris Petersen era. Against Stanford, Gaskin returned for his penultimate game at Husky Stadium and carried the ball 28 times for 148 yards and one touchdown — one of the greatest performances of his record-setting career for the Huskies, all things considered. The Huskies had to have this game to stay in the Pac-12 title race, and they had to have a performance like this from Gaskin to do just that. “Unbelievable,” Jake Browning said of Gaskin’s night. “Myles is someone I’ll be close with for the rest of my life. You name it, we’ve probably been through it tighter,” Browning added. “We’ve been booed; we’ve probably both been benched. There’s a lot of trust there. I would trust that guy with my life, and I trust him even more handing the ball off.” Gaskin was clearly still in some pain in the second half, and this bye week comes at a good time for him.
Browning’s bounce back
The Huskies needed something positive to happen on offense, and no one needed it more than Browning. That the Huskies jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead early in the second quarter was the perfect response for the senior QB coming off his sudden second-half benching a week earlier at Cal. There is still much to be desired from this offense (more on that in a moment), but for the most part Browning did what he had to do to keep his team in the game. He scored the game’s first touchdown on a two-yard run, he threw an 11-yard TD pass to Drew Sample, and he didn’t turn the ball over. Good, good and good, and that’s all coaches are really asking of him right now. “I knew he was going to respond like that,” Petersen said. “He didn’t flinch throughout the week; he’s a competitor, and I was really pleased with how he played.”
Greg Gaines, the Huskies’ fifth-year senior defensive tackle, played in his 50th game for UW, and never has he made a play as improbable as his diving interception (off a tipped pass by Ben Burr-Kirven) against Stanford. “I didn’t think I was going to catch it; it was kind of like a dream that it actually came toward me,” he said. Have another look:
HUSKY BALL ☔#PurpleReign
— Washington Football (@UW_Football) November 4, 2018
The offense (in the final three quarters)
Gaskin’s return changed the dynamic of the Huskies’ offense, and in turn could change the course of the Huskies’ entire season. And it was no doubt encouraging what the Huskies were able to do in the first quarter. They needed just eight plays to cover 73 yards and score a touchdown on their first drive, and they finished the first quarter with 161 yards of offense on 22 plays (7.3 yards per play). After that? Over the final three quarters, the Huskies managed 210 total yards on 50 plays (4.2 yards per play). It was much like the start of the Cal game, when the Huskies had nearly half of its total yards (123 of 250) in its first three series. After that? After the Huskies had to go off-script? The adjustments, it seems, simply haven’t been there, and as first-year offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said before the Stanford game, that’s part of the solution: Simplify the offense. “Last week, we had, in my personal opinion, a rather complicated game plan that I don’t think we really needed to have,” senior right tackle Kaleb McGary said Saturday night. “It made it difficult for everyone to get on the exact same page every single time. We saw the outcome of that. It wasn’t very good. We simplified things a little bit this week and it made it much easier for everyone to know exactly what they needed to do when they needed to do it. And I think we saw the result of that.”
Is there cause for concern in the secondary?
There were many positives to take away from the Huskies’ defensive performance — Byron Murphy had his first interception, and Taylor Rapp made the game-saving interception on the game’s final play in the end zone — and especially so considering the secondary was without two senior starters for much of the game. (Jordan Miller missed his second straight game with an apparent leg injury, and JoJo McIntosh was ejected for targeting early in the second quarter). For most of the game, UW’s secondary featured three second-year sophomores in Elijah Molden (nickelback), Keith Taylor (right corner) and Brandon McKinney (strong safety). They held up reasonably well considering the mountain-sized task of defending Stanford’s passing attack. Stanford’s 6-foot-5 tight end, Kaden Smith, was targeted eight times and had eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. K.J. Costello completed 29-of-43 passes for 347 yards and excelled in the second half even without star receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who exited in the second quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Look, no one here is sounding the alarm bells regarding the play of UW’s secondary. But if Stanford — Stanford! — is able to move the ball that well through the air, one can’t help but wonder what Washington State might be able to do when it throw the ball 70 times against this defense in a couple weeks.
Can Hunter Bryant be a real factor?
Sophomore tight end Hunter Bryant played just a few snaps Saturday night, but that’s enough to believe he could — and should — be a bigger part of the offensive plan over the final two regular-season games. Bryant, a 2017 ESPN Freshman All-American, had one catch, for nine yards, on one target vs. Stanford. “He’s been practicing for a couple of weeks; we’ve been bringing him along slowly,” Petersen said. “The last two weeks he’s been solid and this last week we got him into the game plan, but it’s not like going out there full speed and having guys hit you. I thought how much we used him was a good way to get him back into the mix, and he’ll only gain confidence going forward.”