The 2018 Husky season is in the books and the Rose Bowl looked a lot like what we have seen from the Dawgs previously. The offense showed an ability to break big plays, but not often enough to categorize it as an explosive unit. While the defense gave up more big gains than usual, it gave an outstanding Ohio State offense enough trouble to hold them under 30 points for only the third time all year. In a broader sense, the game played out much like Washington’s previous tests against national powers like Alabama, Penn State, and Auburn. After a slow start where the Dawgs looked physically inferior, they made enough halftime adjustments to storm back for a respectable loss that is a loss nonetheless.
One area where the game did not follow the script was the list of players at the top of the stat sheet. Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, and Ben Burr-Kirven ended their careers with impressive performances. Even so, there were several other names who showed up in a big way and deserve recognition.
Offensive MVP - Andre Baccellia
The Huskies have struggled for two years to get separation at the line of scrimmage in order to give Jake Browning easy throws in rhythm that require minimal improvisation. Over the last three games, the team might have found an answer in Baccellia coming out of the slot. In the junior’s first 26 games, he had exactly one game of five or more receptions. He has hit that threshold in each of his last three. His last three games are also his three highest yardage totals of the year. He has done so by sitting down in soft spots of zone defenses and slithering through defenses on bubble screens.
Baccellia’s season peaked in the Rose Bowl with 109 yards on 12 catches. Browning targeted him a remarkable 16 times on the afternoon, meaning he hauled in a solid 75% of his targets. Among pass catchers with multiple targets, he also had the second best yards/target behind only Hunter Bryant (51 yards on 6 targets). Baccellia’s reliability was important in this game for a few reasons. The most important was his consistency in a game when several of his compatriots dropped easy passes. Fuller, for example, caught a poor seven of the 15 balls thrown to him. Baccellia also helped move the chains on the long drives in the second half that got the Huskies back in the game. Baccellia’s development will be an important part of the offense next year. The Huskies need reliable receiving options who can run after the catch. Baccellia fits the bill out of the slot.
Jake Browning also deserves credit for playing his best half of football all year in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for UW.
Defensive MVPs – Ben Burr-Kirven and Myles Bryant
BBK finished his Husky career the way he spent most of his senior season- flying all over the field and impacting more plays than any other UW defender. One question going into the Rose Bowl was whether Ohio State’s size would overwhelm the undersized BBK. He finished the game with 10 tackles a sack, and an additional half of a tackle for loss. His impact on the game emphatically answered any questions about his size. He not only belonged on the field with bigger, more heralded recruits, he stood out among them with his speed, tackling, and anticipation. BBK has climbed up NFL draft boards through this season with his productivity. A performance like this one on a big stage should ensure that an NFL team spends a pick on him in the first three rounds.
While BBK piled up more impressive stats, Bryant deserves credit for how frequently he was involved in big plays. Ohio State gave the Huskies secondary more problems than any team all year. Taylor Rapp’s absence took away one big play-maker and the Buckeyes picked on the deep safeties whenever they had primary responsibility in the zone. Bryant, on the other hand, ensured that short completions remained short gains. He made multiple difficult tackles that prevented conversions on third downs. He tallied one official pass defense and helped make things difficult on several more passes.
Between Baccellia, BBK, and Bryant, the supposedly undersized Huskies played bigger than their stature in the Rose Bowl. Although the team came up short in the end, all three of these players ensured that the Dawgs stayed in the game to the end against one of the best teams in the country. The gap is closing and the Huskies remain on an upward trajectory.