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A Deeper Look at the 1:2 Running Back Duo of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman

Washington is lucky in that its first- and second-string running backs could both demand quality reps at virtually any program in the Pac-12.

Fresno State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In looking at the rise of the Washington Huskies football program under the tenure of Chris Petersen, it’s tempting to focus on the importance of the passing game. In particular, Jake Browning’s connection with John Ross was central to the program’s College Football Playoff run in 2016, and Dante Pettis’ emergence as a true No. 1 receiver played a crucial role in Washington’s 6-1 start during the 2017 season. And yet, perhaps the team’s most consistent offensive production has come at running back — from an undersized local recruit and a Steve Sarkisian-era holdover, no less.

Myles Gaskin was hardly a slouch as a high school prospect, of course. Coming out of Seattle’s O’Dea High School in 2015, ranked the 5-9, 185 tailback a four-star recruit and the nation’s No. 267 overall player. Likewise, Lavon Coleman was a highly-touted four-star prospect in the 2013 signing class, but after accumulating just 176 yards on 33 carries in seven games as a redshirt sophomore, it seemed fair to wonder if he would ever live up to the hype.

Suffice to say that in 2016, both Gaskin and Coleman exceeded just about any reasonable expectation with room to spare. That year, the two tailbacks combined to rush for 2,225 yards and 17 touchdowns. To put that in context, only four other Pac-12 programs have produced that many yards among their top two running backs since 2008:

  • 2008 California (Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen; 2,295 yards);
  • 2010 Oregon (LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner; 2,320 yards);
  • 2011 Oregon (James and Barner; 2,744 yards);
  • 2012 Oregon (Barner and De’Anthony Thomas; 2,468 yards);
  • 2013 Arizona (Ka’Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins; 2,296 yards);
  • 2015 Oregon (Royce Freeman and Taj Griffin; 2,406 yards);
  • 2015 Stanford (Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders; 2,334 yards); and
  • 2016 Stanford (McCaffrey and Bryce Love; 2,386 yards).

In other words, Gaskin and Coleman didn’t just put together a great 2016 season by Washington standards — they put together a great season by Pac-12 and even national standards.

Now, more than halfway through the 2017 campaign, it seems likely that neither tailback will live up to the lofty standard they set last year. Assuming Washington again plays a 14-game schedule, Gaskin and Coleman are on pace to earn 1,652 yards, representing a 26 percent decrease from last year’s output. On the other hand, that would also result in 18 touchdowns, one better than their 2016 total.

To improve those numbers to match or even exceed that of the 2016 season, Gaskin and Coleman will need to average 200 yards per game for the rest of the season, which includes games against three of the Pac-12’s top-four rushing defenses in Washington State, Utah and Oregon. Is that possible? Yes. Is it likely? Hardly.

If anyone could take the lead in making that vision a reality, though, it might be Myles Gaskin. As a true freshman, Gaskin wasted little time in establishing himself as a force with which to be reckoned by registering 100-yard performances in seven of the season’s final nine games. Now measuring 5-10 and 191 lbs., the true junior has proven time and time again that he is one of the most patient running backs playing the game today, with a deceptively fast burst that often results in opposing teams whiffing arm tackles as Washington’s featured back snakes his way through arm tackles to get to the open field.

If Gaskin isn’t the man to take Washington’s rushing attack to the next level, then the Dawgs are lucky to have access to a proven commodity in the 5-11, 235 lb. Lavon Coleman, who offers a skill set that would consistently get him on the field at virtually any Pac-12 program. Where Gaskin is shifty and slippery, Coleman is powerful and bruising, preferring to square defenders up head-on and earn yards after contact. His style of play is particularly effective in the fourth quarter, when opposing defenses are fighting fatigue and might start to tackle a bit less fundamentally sound than they would have earlier in the game.

Neither player is limited by his primary job of carrying the ball, either: Both Coleman and Gaskin are legitimate weapons for Jake Browning as check-down receiving options or wheel route targets. During his career, Gaskin has caught 36 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns; for Coleman, those numbers are 23 catches for 142 yards and one touchdown.

While Washington began the 2017 season in enviable fashion by winning its first six games, an 18-point upset at the hands of the unranked Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe has brought the Dawgs back down to earth, and it seems reasonable to expect that Chris Petersen might adopt a “back to basics” approach for his team during the upcoming bye week. If Washington emerges from Saturday’s loss with a fresh vigor and commitment to playing fundamentally sound offensive football, it’s fair to bet that the Husky ground game will take on a renewed importance. In that case, Dawg fans should sleep a little bit easier knowing that they have two of the conference’s best at the position wearing purple and gold.