The 2018 Husky season has been reminiscent of the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime. “And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful life, and you may ask yourself, how did I get here?”
With two games left in the regular season, the Huskies have beaten Stanford, the team that appeared to be the toughest foe in the Pac-12. The Dawgs control their own destiny and will play for the conference title with wins over Oregon State and Washington State. Both teams were considered very beatable prior to the season. If you offered any UW fan that scenario at the start of the year, he or she would have signed off on the agreement without reservation.
But as David Byrne says, “this is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.” The Huskies have taken a circuitous route to a possible conference title. Important offensive players have fallen, one after another, and have left the attack less potent than hoped. Frustrating losses to good Auburn and Oregon both seemed winnable. The loss to Cal was more than just winnable- it took a psychological and strategic implosion to gift Cal the game.
Does any of that matter? The win over Stanford might help to negate all of those failures. Stanford did not go quietly and fought back from a 21-0 deficit. Nonetheless, UW held on for the victory and controls its own destiny. Today, we examine the players who meant the most to that victory.
Offensive MVP - Myles Gaskin
Everyone in Husky Stadium on Saturday evening hoped that the second half would be a mirror image of the first half demolition. If that had been the case, I likely would have given this award to the offensive line as a unit. For the first time all year, they regularly pushed the d-line backward and gave their runners a chance to operate in space. It’s no coincidence that Jake Browning played his best half of the year with a clean pocket and plenty of time to pick out open receivers.
Of course, that trajectory changed drastically at the half. As Stanford pulled back into the game, Gaskin was the only offensive performer who continued to stand out and make big plays. He finished with 28 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown- the type of bell cow performance that many fans thought would be the norm for Gaskin this year. His 37 yard carry early in the third quarter was a godsend for a team desperately needing big plays. He got up slowly after a big hit, but replays showed that he was hit with an inadvertent low blow and had not aggravated his shoulder injury. It led to an important field goal, one of only two Husky scores in the half. Gaskin’s worst play of the game was a very uncharacteristic fumble on the last UW drive, but even that play ultimately converted a first down that forced Stanford to burn all three of its timeouts before the final drive.
Gaskin provides both consistency in the run game and big play ability. His 5.3 yards per carry led all runners in this game, and he flashed the explosiveness that the offense desperately needs.
Defensive MVP - Greg Gaines
Gaines has been in the trenches all year, doing the least glamorous job on the field, but doing it so well that the defense has been able to carry a struggling offense to relative success. Gaines once again occupied multiple Stanford blockers all night and created disruptive penetration in several instances. Led by Gaines, the Husky defensive front held Bryce Love and Stanford to under four yards per carry Gaines drew one holding penalty and probably deserved at least one more on a long completion where his blocked dragged him down from behind. For at least the entire first half, the defensive line got consistent pressure on KJ Costello and forced him into difficult throws.
Naturally, one of those difficult throws was exactly the reason that Gaines ultimately gets this award. As Stanford tried to set up a screen to Love, Ben Burr-Kirven got close to the QB and tipped his pass into the air. Gaines reacted quickly and gathered the ball for the rare DT interception. Gaines said after the game that it was the first interception of his entire football career and he celebrated accordingly. It was one of those plays that Husky fans will remember for years.
The rest of the defense also made things difficult for Costello. Byron Murphy rose to the challenge against Stanford’s big receivers with a tackle for loss, a pass defense, and another interception. Taylor Rapp flew around the field and secured the Hail Mary attempt to clinch the win at the end. BBK once again led the team in tackles. As much as Gaskin means to the team, two more wins and a trip to the conference title game will depend on the defense. As David Byrne would say, “same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”