Game Ball Goes To: Myles Gaskin
The Huskies were in search of an X factor to turn the program's beleaguered running game around following a tepid performance at Boise State; on Saturday, they seemed to have found it in the form of Myles Gaskin. The 5-9, 192 lb. product of O'Dea High School turned in the third-best performance by a true freshman in UW history by rushing for 146 yards on 14 carries and three touchdowns, behind only Willie Hurst (155 yards in 1998) and Joe Steele (157 yards in 1976). What's more, not all of those yards are of the breakaway variety: Rather, for eight of the nine plays on Washington's first scoring drive, Gaskin did his best workhorse impression by toting the rock for gains of 18, 5, 4, 1, -3, 16, 6 and three yards, punctuating the final carry with the first touchdown of his college career. It's easy to dismiss such production on account of the quality (or lack thereof) of Washington's opponent, but I for one wouldn't be at all shocked to see the youngster's name atop Coach Petersen's next depth chart.
Who Stepped Up: Jake Browning
Browning's continued maturation was on display Saturday as he proceeded to produce a UW true-freshman record by passing for 326 yards. In addition, his completion percentage (70.8) was no joke, while his yards-per-attempt average (13.6) was otherworldly. For a 19-year-old who has been on campus for less than a year, Browning has shown a remarkable grasp of the offense, and progresses through his reads with an impressive speed and efficiency for someone of his age and experience. He had a couple of very ugly scrambles that will probably cause him to sink low in his chair during film study, and Sac State turned a few possible interceptions into incomplete passes by mishandling the ball, so there's still plenty of work for him to complete. That being said, it's hard to be unexcited about the future of the program with Browning at the offense's helm.
Most important play: Taniela Tupou's blocked field goal to preserve the shutout
There was never any point at which the outcome of this game was in doubt, so it seems a bit disingenuous to call any play the game's most important. For that reason, I'll single out the drive that led to Tani Tupou's blocked field goal. When Sac State took over the ball inside Washington's 5-yard line following a K.J. Carta-Samuels strip-sack, virtually every reaction I saw on social media and on our game thread was an assumption that UWs shutout bid had come to an end. But thanks to three plays of negative yardage and two penalties that backed them up another 20 yards, the Hornets faced fourth-and-goal from the 31-yard line, and were forced into a 48-yard field goal attempt. The performance of UW's reserve players on that drive speaks volumes about how the coaching staff has persuaded those youngsters to buy into their message: After all, not every team has second- and third-string athletes who will play with their hair on fire late in the fourth quarter of a game their team is winning 49-0.
Most Important Statistic: 8.9 (Washington's average yards gained per play)
Though obviously influenced by two 78-yard scoring plays (Marvin Hall's catch and Myles Gaskin's run), as well as Chico McClatcher's 49-yard corner route that went for a touchdown, UW's average gain of 8.9 yards per play is the reflection of a very consistent offensive day. Consider, for example, that Washington created as many plays (seven) that produced 23 or more yards as they had plays that resulted in negative yards. In addition, Jake Browning engineered his first successful two-minute drill at the end of the first half when he conducted a six-play, 90-yard drive that resulted in a Dwayne Washington touchdown run in just 1:16. Much stiffer tests lie ahead, of course, but considering that UW's offense has produced precious few efficient drives since Chris Petersen took over in 2014, Saturday's game was a welcome signal that better days may yet lie ahead.
Surprise of the Game: Dwayne Washington's four carries for 13 yards
UW's No. 1 priority coming into Saturday's game was shoring up its running game that the Boise State Broncos rendered completely ineffectual. That the Huskies found their answer against FCS Sacramento State was not surprising; that they did so without leaning on Dwayne Washington was. The University of Washington's ostensible No. 1 tailback has now carried the ball just 12 times in two games for 27 yards, including four carries for 13 yards (and, to be fair, two touchdowns) against Sac State. Washington is still acquitting himself very well in pass protection and as a checkdown receiver, but until he demonstrates an ability to run beneath his pad level and produce yards between the tackles, D-Wash is in serious jeopardy of seeing his job seized by up-and-coming freshman Myles Gaskin.
Biggest Source of Frustration: Azeem Victor's taunting penalty and subsequent benching
It's no coincidence that many of football's great defensive players are also some of their teams' loudest and most enthusiastic cheerleaders. They are the first ones to jump and cheer when a teammate does something well, and their passion has an infectious way of rubbing off on other players and spectators. Azeem Victor is one such player for the Huskies. However, he's still learning where the line between acceptable and unacceptable passion exists, and his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty midway through the second quarter (his second in the season's two games) earned him a sharp rebuke from Coach Petersen, who sat the starting middle linebacker for the remainder of the contest. Hopefully, Victor will take this as the learning experience it is meant to be, and doesn't repeat his mistake in another game or situation when such a penalty could come at far greater cost.