The Huskies capped what may have been their most tumultuous Pac-12 title run yet. Their 10-3 win over Utah was the exclamation point at the end of a wildly convoluted season.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — You know that old saying: Sometimes you gotta stop, drop three games, have your quarterback controversially pulled, lose your star running back for two games, rally to win four straight (including one against your rival in a snowstorm), return a pick-six to score the only touchdown of the championship game — and smell the roses.
Friday night at Levi’s Stadium, the Huskies capped what may have been its most tumultuous Pac-12 title run yet. Their 10-3 win over Utah was the exclamation point at the end of a wildly convoluted sentence.
This didn’t seem like a possibility when Cal gave them their second conference loss at the start of the month. They seemed destined to end their Pac-12 season with a bad taste — not roses — in their mouths.
But then came a four-week stretch that will send Washington to Pasadena for the first time in 18 years. The Rose Bowl. And boy is it well-deserved.
“Nothing about this year has been easy, but they just keep fighting and keep battling,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen, who said this year’s team may have been more impressive than any title team he’s ever coached. “I think people just take certain things for granted. … It’s a hard process when you get anointed before you’ve earned anything.”
Husky fans are all too familiar with the challenges UW faced this season. Ranked sixth in the country before the biggest opener in program history, the Huskies fell one score shy against Auburn in Atlanta. Their College Football Playoff hopes fell against Oregon the next month, when a missed field goal forced overtime in an eventual loss. It appeared their Rose Bowl hopes would suffer a similar fate in that Cal game, where four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning was pulled before his backup threw a pick six.
So for UW to be where it is now is as miraculous as it is satisfying.
“Where’s my rose!!!!” screamed Huskies outside linebacker Joe Tryon after the win.
Tryon eventually got his desired flower. But there was a point when it seemed like he might not.
With the score tied 3-3 midway through the third quarter, Utah had the ball on second and five from the Huskies’ 48. Then, Utes quarterback Jason Shelley threw a perfect pass to Siaosi Mariner … who dropped it.
But instead of hitting the ground, the ball bounced off Mariner’s legs, and into the hands of cornerback Byron Murphy — who took it 66 yards for a TD.
“The ball came up and I knew I had to make the play,” said Murphy, who added a second pick in the fourth quarter en route to earning game MVP honors. “The opportunity was there and I made sure I took it.”
Added Petersen, whose offense was held touchdown-less for the only time all year: “I’m just glad he didn’t get caught.”
Added Browning: “Same.”
No, this was not one for the books for Browning and company. Utah held him to 187 yards on 33 passes while picking him off in the second quarter. Running Myles Gaskin — Washington’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns — was limited to 71 yards on 23 carries.
But this year’s Huskies have been one of the best defenses in the country — especially against Utah, which managed just 10 points against UW in two games this season.
“We knew we were going to have to take over the game and we just did that,” said UW safety Taylor Rapp, who had a key sack on the last play of the second quarter.
Washington offensive lineman Nick Harris acknowledged as much, screaming “Defense wins championships!” as the Huskies celebrated after the win.
Defense may have been the primary factor in Friday’s victory, but the Huskies (10-3) have gotten crucial contributions everywhere.
Gaskin has managed 1,1151 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing two games due to injury. And though it hasn’t been Browning’s finest years, he rounded out his legacy by taking his team to the most tradition-rich bowl game in all the land.
“It’s a special feeling, I don’t think it’s totally set in yet just because we beat a really good Utah team, and I’m still excited about that,” Browning said. “But yeah, I think once it sets in — I grew up in California and watched a lot of Rose Bowls and to be able to play in one now, it’s a special game, and this is a special team.”
And one that’s had a particularly special season.