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Week Three Debate: State of the Washington Huskies Running Game

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Should Husky fans be worried about their star tailback’s lack of production?

Idaho v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Two weeks into the 2016 season, the Washington Huskies seem to be in midseason form, outscoring Rutgers and Idaho by a combined score of 107-27 while cruising to a 2-0 record and a No. 8 national ranking. However, many fans are worried by the team’s difficulty in establishing an effective rushing attack against two otherwise overmatched opponents. So far, Washington’s 3.62 yards per rush ranks 101st in the nation; last year, Rutgers and Idaho surrendered an average of 5.05 and 6.34 yards per attempt, respectively. That brings us to this week’s question: Should UW fans buy or sell the Washington offense’s ground game?

Buy: There’s Nothing to Worry About ... Yet

The simplest explanation for Washington’s lack of an overpowering rushing attack is that they haven’t yet relied on one. By the time Myles Gaskin got his 10th carry in each of the last two games, the Huskies led Rutgers 34-3 and Idaho 28-0, so there was no need for the team to put together a sustained 15-play drive that would bleed eight minutes off of the clock and salt away a close game.

Furthermore, it seems clear that Rutgers and Idaho both entered their contests with Washington well aware of the danger that Gaskin poses, and tailored their defenses specifically to shut him down. In turn, that opened up the downfield one-on-one matchups that Jake Browning has taken full advantage of, hitting wide receivers John Ross, Chico McClatcher and Dante Pettis for multiple touchdowns apiece. (John Ross’ four touchdown receptions is currently tied for the national lead.)

Lastly, even though the Huskies return four starting offensive linemen from last year’s team that paved the way for Gaskin, it’s not uncommon for players to need a few early-season games to shake off the rust and perfect their blocking assignments. As John Sayler and Brad Johnson showed in their stellar film study article yesterday, Gaskin was just a hair away from breaking off a few long runs against Idaho, and if his blockers had executed their assignments just a bit better, we may not even be having this conversation.

Sell: This Could Be a Problem

In the final nine games of 2015, against teams with an average national rushing defense rank of 58.6, Myles Gaskin earned 1,093 yards on 188 carries (5.81 yards per attempt) and scored 11 touchdowns. So far in 2016, against defenses that ranked 84th and 126th nationally in 2015, Gaskin has tallied 124 yards on 27 carries (4.59 yards per attempt) and one touchdown. In other words, it appears that Gaskin could be in the midst of a sophomore slump.

To be sure, two games is a small sample size, especially for a player who displayed so much proven production in 2015. It’s useful, however, to compare 2016 to 2013, which is the most recent season in which Washington returned a proven No. 1 tailback; that year, Bishop Sankey played his junior season for the Huskies after rushing for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. In his first two games in the 2013 season, Sankey rushed 60 times for 369 yards (6.15 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns against Boise State and Illinois, who finished the season with the nation’s 10th- and 28th-ranked rushing defenses, respectively. By this measure, at least, Gaskin’s performance so far is deeply concerning.

What do you think? Will Washington’s ground game rebound as the season goes on, or will the Huskies’ rushing attack take a step back in 2016?