As Washington’s starting quarterback, true sophomore Jake Browning gets the lion’s share of publicity and attention. In particular, if he is able to connect with wide receiver John Ross this season and create the kinds of long plays that are featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10, he has the potential to be mentioned among the nation’s brightest young quarterbacks.
But if Washington lives up to the insane levels of hype the team has received this offseason, Browning won’t be the only second-year player mentioned in that breath. Equally as important is sophomore running back Myles Gaskin, who is my pick for Washington’s most unstoppable player on offense.
When he joined Washington’s 2015 recruiting class, few envisioned Gaskin’s path for so quickly becoming UW’s featured running back. Our own Kirk DeGrasse wrote then of Gaskin:
Give him a year or two to get bigger and stronger and adjust to the college level and you could be looking at a possible 3-year starter. As unproven as the RB situation is for the Huskies right now, you can't rule out Gaskin seeing the field in 2015.
When the 2015 season began, that outlook seemed to square with how Washington’s coaches thought to use him. Gaskin was the No. 3 tailback on UW’s depth chart for the Boise State game, and carried the ball a pedestrian five times for an equally pedestrian five yards. Eight days later, he put on an impressive performance against FCS Sacramento State by converting 14 carries into 146 yards and three touchdowns, but came back down to Earth with a combined 20 carries for 58 yards and zero scores against Utah State and Cal.
As the Huskies approached their pivotal conference game against No. 17 USC in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, most Washington fans thought they had in Gaskin a capable second-string tailback who would have a great shot at becoming the team’s No. 1 running back in 2017. Suffice it to say that Gaskin had different plans: Forget waiting until 2017, he didn’t feel like even waiting until Sunday.
With 4:50 left in the third quarter, Gaskin ran on first down for seven yards, and again on second down for four and a first-down conversion. Then, he showed off his slippery ability to sneak between opposing defenders by cutting into the three-hole, breaking the safety’s ankles and picking up 24 yards.
That drive ended in a punt, but it was the first glimpse Gaskin offered to Washington fans of the impressive player he would become down the season’s stretch. At the end of that game’s third quarter, Gaskin put the team on his back by rushing for 50 yards and a score on four consecutive run plays, including this beauty of a 31-yard pickup.
From the USC game on, Gaskin carried the ball 188 times for 1,093 yards (5.81 yards per attempt) and 11 scores, including the 26-carry, 181-yard and four-touchdown show he put on against Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Gaskin finished the 2015 season as Pro Football Focus’ best true freshman running back, and enters 2016 as Washington’s unquestioned leader at the tailback position. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Oregon’s Royce Freeman are widely considered to be the conference’s top-two running backs, but Gaskin will have every opportunity this season to supplant at least one of them by season’s end. If he does so, “unstoppable” will be just one of the many descriptions laid at his feet.
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