“Heck, it’s better to be lucky than to be good,” Petersen would say after the game.
Sandwiched between a rough start and finish that was more about playing out the string than anything else, the Huskies scored 49 unanswered points in 30 minutes at Husky Stadium during a crystal clear Seattle Saturday. It was the kind of offensive explosion Washington fans had hoped for, especially given the fact they didn’t score a touchdown the week before at Boise State - and the Huskies were happy to oblige.
There wasn’t a concern about the Huskies’ ability to beat the Hornets in their own nest; Husky Stadium has never seen the Dawgs lose to an FCS opponent in the modern era. But how would they do it? Who would they use to lean on to get those precious points?
As it turns out it wasn’t Washington’s veteran performers who rose to the occasion. The stage wasn’t too big or too bright for some of the game’s youngest stars.
Browning’s almost pick-turned-six was one highlight of many for the Folsom, California native, who completed 17 of 24 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns. The new Montlake Jake finished the game just shy of the old Montlake Jake’s 336 passing yards against Arizona back in 2007. But Jake Locker did it as a redshirt freshman. Browning did it by throwing the ball downfield to targets like tight end Josh Perkins, who caught five passes for 77 yards, and another true frosh - Chico McClatcher - who took a Browning quick toss 49 yards for a touchdown along the Washington sideline.
Instead of going side-to-side in an attempt to generate some semblance of forward movement, Browning eliminated the middle man and just chucked the rock around like he’d been doing it that way for years. And truthfully he has - just not with 55,000 people staring at him.
“We’re playing so much better ball when we’re spreading it out and going fast and can see things,” Petersen said.
The real star on the offensive side of the ball for Washington was true freshman Myles Gaskin. The 5-foot-9, 192-pound running back from nearby O’Dea had himself quite a Husky Stadium debut, carrying the ball 14 times for 146 yards and three touchdowns - the third-best rushing day ever by a true freshman at the University of Washington. Whenever you can stick your name alongside players like Joe Steele and Willie Hurst, you’re running in fast company - and Gaskin was doing that all day long against the Hornets. While junior Dwayne Washington continued his struggles finding a running rhythm, Gaskin had no such troubles. And it was Gaskin who helped finally move the chains after the Huskies found zero joy against Sacramento State in the first quarter. It was his runs that set the table for the production that followed.
“He’s got some vision that is really unique and he’s really good at it,” Washington Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith said post-game of Gaskin. “He has a nice pace, vision for the holes, setting some things up and he made some guys miss.”
Even the big guys, like true freshman Trey Adams, were able to get a slice of the pie Saturday. Adams is the first true freshman offensive lineman to play under Petersen, but Pete acknowledged it’s a new day and age for these youngsters. They play beyond their years.
“We need to get these young guys going,” Petersen said, matter-of-factly.
On defense, when Azeem Victor was pulled halfway through the second quarter for an unsportsmanlike taunting penalty, it simply gave other linebackers a chance to shine. Some sophomores like Sean Constantine and Connor O’Brien played extended minutes, but there were some true freshmen sprinkled in there as well - notably Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett. Burr-Kirven finished the game tied for the team-high in tackles with six, a number he shared with redshirt frosh safety Jojo McIntosh.
“We really don’t have much of a choice in a lot of this,” Petersen admitted when asked about the youth movement taking over the reins. “Those are our guys and the handful of veterans that have been around here, those are the guys we’ve got. They are great kids and they’ll keep working hard. With a little luck they stay healthy and progress.”
The downside to so much inexperience is that they don’t start game fast. It takes a series, sometimes a few, for them to get properly settled into the rhythm and speed of the game. That’s a facet where banked reps will help bring those freshmen and sophomores along, and it can’t happen fast enough.
Going forward, the pups aren’t going back in the kennel. They’ve been given some room to run, and they’ve taken full advantage. Of course there will be growing pains; against a good team Browning probably gets picked off at least three times on Saturday. But it’s games like Washington’s win over Sacramento State that provide the proper springboard as the Huskies get set to dive headfirst into Pac-12 play in just two weeks.
Would they have liked to play this game a week ago and then traveled to Boise State this weekend? Sure.
“I think when you have a young team you’d maybe like those games flipped a little bit,” said Petersen. “But we don’t control it and I think we gained a lot - I’m hoping - from going over there in a tough environment and a good team. We’ve got a very similar type team coming in next week (Utah State). We’ve known this for a long time. The two best teams in the Mountain West. We’ve known that for the last handful of years. They’ve done a great job. We better continue to progress or we’ll be in trouble.”
That’s where the disadvantage of youth is replaced by nothing but upside for these true freshmen. They can only progress. They can only get better. And to do all that while whipping a Big Sky cupcake makes the progress made all the sweeter. The next task for the frosh is to get the veterans to start mimicking their games, instead of the other way around. For the time being young is old, and inexperienced players are now thrust into positions of leadership.
It’s Husky Football through the Looking Glass. You probably don’t want to see beyond the next opponent right now, but in the near term you can faintly glimpse the makings of a team that might confound expectations. The view is admittedly a bit purple hazy; who knows what the future might bring.
“Confidence is everything in this game,” said Petersen. “It really is, so we gained a little confidence today. I know that. We’re going to need that because the next game is going to be significantly different.”