Myles Gaskin takes the handoff from Jake Browning, slips a lunging defender in the backfield, and from that point is just a blur. Granted, it was Sacramento State, but the defenders chasing him looked to be running backwards on treadmills in an OK Go music video. This was the run that made me an instant Myles Gaskin fan. It wasn't the effortless juke, nor was it the blazing speed. It was his reaction to scoring on a long run: not really any reaction at all. I waited for the peek back at the 20 followed by the slowdown at the 10. It didn't happen; Gaskin ran full speed until he crossed the goal line. I anticipated the chest pound. Nope. Surely he would flip the ball in a cool fashion to the ref. Negative. Gaskin had just scored his third touchdown of the game, and as the saying goes, acted like he had been there before.
He had been there before. Gaskin scored 25 times during his senior season at O'Dea High School. And he would be there again...and again, tallying 14 touchdowns in his record-setting freshman season at UW. A true freshman emanating a cool and humble demeanor is one thing, but doing so as the team's most productive offensive player is what makes Gaskin special.
Sometimes a running back amasses "quiet" yards...as in "He very quietly ran for 1200 yards." Not Gaskin. While he may be soft-spoken off the field, his 1302 yards resonated with the subtlety of a stick of dynamite. He broke arm tackles. He bounced off hits. He spun, shifted, staggered his speed and accelerated. He carried the ball inside and he ran it to the boundary. He made some defenders grab air and dragged others with him. But more impressive than the spectacular nature of his running ability was Gaskin's knack for coming up big when the Dawgs needed him the most.
The Husky running game was nonexistent in September as 84 rushes yielded only 210 yards vs FBS opponents; that's 70 YPG and a whopping 2.5 yards per carry. But following the bye week, the Husky offensive line showed growth, and in an upset of USC the Dawgs ran for 135 yards. Hardly spectacular, but Gaskin gained 134 of those yards. It was the first time we really got to see what he could do in a pressure situation, and in the third quarter with UW holding a 10-6 lead, Gaskin delivered. Following another strong stand from the defense and a nice punt return from Dante Pettis, UW took over at midfield. Gaskin showcased his trademark patience - waiting, then darting - to break off consecutive runs of 31 and 11 yards to set up a first and goal at the Trojan 8-yard line as the third quarter ended. Gaskin would finish the drive with a slithering run down to the 1-yard line, then plow it home from there for a 17-6 lead. UW would hold on and escape the LA Coliseum with a huge win, and Gaskin had emerged as Washington's feature running back.
Trailing Oregon 23-6 late in the third quarter, my head hung so low I could smell the peanut shells at my feet. Browning had just completed a pass to Pettis for a modest gain, prompting me to say to my brother-in-law: "We just don't have any game breakers; no threats to take it all the way." I was speaking of the receiving core, and foolishly had forgotten there are other ways to score quickly. Seconds later, Gaskin took a handoff, waited for a hole to develop between the left guard and tackle, sprinted through the line, subtly juked the strong safety to the ground, then exploded. His ability to change his speed and run away from tacklers is innate. He simply splits the remaining DBs and outruns them to the right corner of the end zone for an electric 72-yard touchdown. Husky Stadium erupted. There was life for the Dawgs. I don't have to remind anyone of the outcome of that game. It sucked. But Gaskin gave the Huskies hope at 23-13.
The following week at Stanford was another loss, but again it was Myles Gaskin, en route to his third consecutive 100-yard game, who gave the Husky offense a fighting chance. Coming out of the halftime break, UW trailed 17-0 and it was looking like a possible blowout. Then Chris Petersen turned to his freshman tailback. Five plays, five runs by Gaskin; paydirt. Included in that sequence was a 28-yard burst in which Gaskin leveled strong safety Dallas Lloyd. Two plays later Gaskin made a brilliant cut on a run up the middle, then bounced outside and outran everyone to the end zone. Just like that, it was a football game. Again, this was a loss. I don't believe in moral victories, but I do believe in demoralizing blowout defeats. Gaskin and the Husky defense saved this game from becoming one of those.
It's as painful to recount the events of the Utah game as any of the Husky losses last season. I'm still trying to find an angle where it looks like Joshua Perkins "pushed off' (let it go, John; let it go). Gaskin was held in check early in the game, but really came alive in the second half. After pulling the Huskies within four points with a nice 10-yard dash from the Myles-Cat formation, he brought everyone to their feet with a beautiful run off left tackle for a 23-yard score to give the Huskies a 27-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The following is what happened in the alternative universe I live in: Down 27-24, the Utes had to press a little and Travis Wilson was picked off by Sidney Jones who ran it back for a TD. Forced to be one-dimensional, Utah abandoned Devontae Booker and the run game. Travis Feeney and the Husky defense forced two more Ute turnovers on their way to a 44-31 win.
Okay, back to reality. The second Gaskin touchdown was called back by a phantom holding penalty. I rarely blame refs as they are a part of the game and things tend to even out, but the two calls referenced in this section of the article were true head-scratchers and serious game-changers. Gaskin made two great TD runs in the second half of that game, including the eventual game winner. I'm sticking to that; screw reality.
Enough with the games where Gaskin excelled in UW losses. His final two games were his best, and big Husky wins made them that much sweeter. Against WSU, he again exploded for a timely run. After the Cougs had pulled within two touchdowns, a possible momentum shift was lurking. The run was only 19 yards, but the way he started left, then cut back to the right, made it feel much longer. Gaskin would account for 55 of the 84 yards on the scoring drive, and after dragging several WSU defenders into the end zone from the 5-yard line, Gaskin showed the most emotion I'd seen from him all year. It was a back-breaking touchdown for the Cougars, and Gaskin knew it.
The Heart of Dallas bowl saw Gaskin achieve his season high in both yards (181) and touchdowns (4). It also featured his greatest momentum-shifting run. Southern Miss had just tied the game at 24 late in the third quarter when Gaskin made a spectacular run look easy. It's so beautiful I broke it down in photos:
As he takes the hand-off and runs right, there appears to be a huge hole between Tufunga and McGary. That's where I would run. That's where you would run. That's where a lot of running backs would have run. But the play is designed to be run more off tackle, so Gaskin sticks with the plan and cuts inside of Tufunga. He is also looking deeper, and sees that Darrell Daniels is going to have to block a 210 LB Outside Linebacker in space, and isn't in great position to do so.
Daniels can't get a piece of the LB, who is now in perfect position to make the play if the run continues off tackle. Gaskin is already breaking back toward the middle, sliding to the left of Tufunga instead of taking it outside. Now he is pretty well surrounded by defenders and this play looks doomed.
Here Gaskin gets skinny, tucking the ball tight against the middle of his torso and powering between four defenders. He sets up the block from Marvin Hall (and the Umpire) and then it's a foot race to the outside.
Gaskin blows everyone's angle with his speed, and makes one more subtle move that allows him to get to the end zone. As the final defender tries to get him out of bounds, Gaskin takes the ball all the way to the sideline, and prepares for the cutback, planting his left foot and leaning inside. Just in case the defender is able to get a hand on him and try to push him out of bounds, Gaskin's momentum is going away from the sideline. As it turns out, the angle change is too much for the defender to deal with at full speed, and Gaskin slides by.
In typical Myles Gaskin fashion, his teammates are more excited than he is and there is no celebration. There's more work to do.
I know, that was a tease. You want to watch the whole run again and again. Enjoy.