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Grading the Game: Rose Bowl

How do we judge the final 15 minutes of excitement against the 45 minutes of dreck that preceded it?

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Ohio State vs Washington Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2016 and 2017 seasons, fans of the Washington Huskies watched their program take on teams in Alabama and Penn State that possessed decidedly superior rosters, and were frustrated to see that the talent disadvantage was simply too great to overcome in either game. In 2018, they were concerned that the same scenario would play out against an Ohio State team with as much talent as any program in the nation, but whose one stumble against an average-at-best Purdue team conspired to keep them out of the College Football Playoff.

They were right to worry.

For the third year in a row, a national audience watched the Huskies get overwhelmed and look as if they didn’t belong on the same field of play as college football’s blue bloods, at least until the Ohio State Buckeyes took their foot off the gas and the Dawgs responded by scoring 20 unanswered points in the game’s final 12 minutes. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for a Huskies team that once again looked in over its ahead, and unworthy of the stage, for the majority of the contest.

Rushing Offense: B+

In the final game of his college career, Myles Gaskin picked up 121 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, with both scores and 33 yards coming on seven attempts during the fourth quarter. Five of his carries went for 10 yards or longer. He was the only Husky running back who made an appreciable contribution to the game’s stat sheet, as Salvon Ahmed (five attempts for four yards), Sean McGrew (one carry, seven yards) and Kamari Pleasant (one carry, zero yards) each played sparingly. In addition, Gaskin’s performance in the Rose Bowl elevated him to join Ron Dayne as the only running backs in the history of the NCAA to earn four 1,200-yard seasons, per Adam Jude.

The Washington offensive line held up relatively well against the Buckeye front, with Ohio State earning just one tackle for loss on designed run plays. On the other hand, the Buckeyes sniffed out a pair of forward swing passes that were essentially extensions of the running game, adding another two tackles for loss to their total.

What’s particularly befuddling is how quickly Bush Hamdan abandoned the run in the face of Ohio State’s lead. At halftime, Gaskin had just seven carries for 24 yards, while Jake Browning had already attempted 25 passes. Chris Petersen’s offense has always been at its best when it’s a 50/50 mix of runs and passes that uses a wide variety of formations and motions to keep opposing defenses unsure of what they will see next, and the abandonment of that principle is one of the most glaring reasons why the Dawgs trailed 28-3 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Passing Offense: C-

Like any longtime quarterback starter in the college ranks, Jake Browning has long been a divisive figure among Washington fans. Throughout his career, one camp has been frustrated at his inability to demonstrably grow his skill set following an explosive sophomore campaign in 2016, while another camp is home to fans who are mostly appreciative of his accomplishments that resulted in him becoming the program’s all-time winningest quarterback, as well as its career leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

In that sense, the Rose Bowl was a microcosm of Browning’s collegiate career: flashes of brilliance and effectiveness (check out that clutch third-down conversion to Hunter Bryant above) that couldn’t overcome a number of errors and missed opportunities (such as that missed slant to Aaron Fuller near the end of the second quarter — complete that pass and convert the first down, and Ohio State likely doesn’t get a chance to add that last touchdown before the half). Browning’s final game in a Washington uniform consisted of 35 completions on a career-high 54 pass attempts for 313 yards and an interception on a two-point conversion attempt.

On the receiving end, Andre Baccellia paced the team with 12 receptions for 109 yards, while Aaron Fuller (seven catches / 80 yards), Hunter Bryant (four / 51), Salvon Ahmed (three / 22) and Ty Jones (three / 22) each made their presences felt. In addition, Washington’s first touchdown on the day came early in the fourth quarter when Myles Gaskin took the direct snap in the Wildcat formation, and executed a nifty jump-pass to Drew Sample.

Ohio State’s defense was tremendously disruptive to the Washington passing attack, sacking Browning twice and breaking up seven passes. Through the first three quarters, Browning averaged 5.2 yards per attempt; in the fourth quarter, he improved that average to a better (but still lackluster) 6.8 yards per attempt on 20 passes.

Rushing Defense: B+

Washington’s defensive front was effective in bottling up starting tailback J.K. Dobbins (seven carries for 24 yards and a touchdown) but struggled mightily to contain Mike Weber, whose 15 rushes for 96 yards included carries of eight, nine, 10, 11, 14, and 19 yards, all of which resulted in first downs. However, Washington’s front seven also did a very good job of limiting Dwayne Haskins on read-option plays, particularly on a memorable third-down stop midway through the first quarter that Benning Potoa’e executed masterfully. Altogether, the Huskies limited the Buckeyes to 129 yards on 29 rushes (excluding sacks and including scrambles), for an average of 4.4 yards per carry.

As usual, Ben Burr-Kirven led the way for the defense, recording his 12th double-digit tackle performance by bringing down 11 Buckeyes (including one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss). Altogether, the Huskies collected six tackles for loss, including three that resulted in Ohio State fourth-downs.

Passing Defense: C+

Much of the Rose Bowl’s pre-game discussion centered around which unit would win the matchup between Ohio State’s passing offense and Washington’s passing defense, both of which are widely regarded as elite. At the end of the first half, the result seemed clear: Ohio State had racked up three passing touchdowns, and Haskins averaged 6.8 yards per attempt and 9.6 yards per completion.

In the second half, Washington’s defense was much more effective, holding Ohio State scoreless through the air and to eight completions on 13 attempts for 88 yards. However, 75 of those yards came on OSU’s first drive of the half; in the final 23 minutes of the game, as Washington worked to mount a comeback for the ages, the UW defense limited Haskins to 13 yards on eight attempts, only one of which resulted in a first down. It also marked the eighth game of the season in which the Huskies failed to record an interception.

Special Teams: C

For once, Washington’s special teams didn’t spell disaster, as Ohio State opted to allow all four of Peyton Henry’s kickoffs to result in touchbacks. (Considering how dreadfully UW has covered kickoffs all year, I was tremendously surprised that Urban Meyer wasn’t eager to give his five-star playmakers at least one or two chances to see if they could break off a special teams score.) Henry successfully made his one field goal attempt (from 38 yards) and each of his two PATs, and Joel Whitford’s five punts gave the Buckeyes possession at their 20, 22, 23, 28, and 43-yard lines. Browning got into the punting action as well, with his second-quarter pooch-punt pinning the Ohio State offense at their own three-yard line. Finally, neither Sean McGrew nor Aaron Fuller did anything of note on their kickoff and punt returns, respectively, averaging 4.0 and 2.7 yards per return.

Coaching: D+

Faced with another opportunity to elevate the program’s respectability before a national audience, Washington’s coaches again displayed their inability to get their team off to a fast start in a statement game. As a result, Chris Petersen’s record in bowl games at Washington falls to 1-4, and the reputation he earned at Boise State for being a master at preparing his teams to take down opponents with more talented rosters than his has all but faded into the ether.

While Washington’s players are to be commended for finding a way to turn the game into a one-possession affair, with a chance to turn an onside kick recovery into a potential game-winning drive, that surge of productivity in the fourth quarter will almost never be enough to climb out of the hole the Huskies dug for themselves by entering the game’s final frame trailing by 25 points. It certainly wasn’t enough on Tuesday in the Granddaddy of Them All, against an elite program like Ohio State.

Part of what made that early-game deficit happen was a lack of execution on offense, which led to the Huskies going three-and-out on their first two drives. In total, Ohio State’s defense — which, to remind you, ranks 72nd nationally by yards per play (5.77), and 50th in points per game (25.5) — held Washington’s offense to 4.9 yards per play and 23 points.

What’s especially striking about Bush Hamdan’s play calling is how he essentially removed Myles Gaskin, unquestionably the team’s biggest threat on offense, from the equation for the entirety of the first half. During the game’s first two quarters, Gaskin touched the ball just eight times out of 37 plays, compared to 18 times in the second half.

The other call that has been already — and will continue to be — ferociously critiqued is Petersen’s decision, down 11 points with four minutes left to play, to call a timeout and punt the ball away. Sure, the Huskies were pinned deep at their own 17-yard line, and a failure to convert the fourth-and-eight play would have meant giving Ohio State possession in the red zone. But it seemed even then that voluntarily giving Ohio State another possession would have resulted in not enough time being left for Washington to engineer two scoring drives, and that’s exactly what ended up happening.


What overall grade do you give the Huskies for their performance against Ohio State?

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