Replacing a true Husky Legend like Myles Gaskin was never going to be easy. But with a talent like Salvon Ahmed there was hope the run game would keep humming along and maybe even be more explosive with Ahmed’s elite speed. How did it all shake out?
What We Expected
As explosive as Ahmed is, Myles Gaskin provided a level of security and efficiency for the offense that few players can. The sense going into the year was that there would be a slight trade off: efficiency for explosiveness. Regarding the division of carries, this is from our pre-season preview:
Most fans probably felt this way too. There was plenty of buzz about Richard Newton and his chiseled physique after a redshirt year, but the expectation was that he was still a year away, especially with the experienced duo of McGrew and Ahmed. Combined with optimism surrounding a veteran offensive line to lead the way on the ground, Husky fans felt confident the run game wasn’t going to be better or worse, just different.
What We Saw
From a pure numbers perspective, it was a perfectly fine season from Ahmed: 1,020 yards, 5.4 YPC, and 11 TDs. His 89 yard touchdown run to put away the USC game was emblematic of his big play ability. He was only the leading rusher in 7 games this year, but much of that was down to his usage and not getting lots of carries early in games. He got at least 20 carries in a game just four times all season.
If you had told me those statistics for Ahmed without watching any games, I would have guessed that Sean McGrew took his carries - but it was in fact redshirt freshman Richard Newton and his hard running offering a nice compliment to Ahmed’s wheels. Particularly he showed a great knack for running between the tackles and finding the end zone. On 71 fewer carries, he had exactly one fewer rushing TD than Ahmed. He didn’t offer the speed or game breaking ability of Salvon but was shown a lot of trust by the coaches in key situations, be it on the goal line or converting a 3rd down. He will be remembered by many for scoring on his first ever touch in a Husky uniform.
Finally there was Sean McGrew whose 55 carries rounded out the running back rotation. His patience and ability to stop and start quickly are key assets for the diminutive runner. He ultimately had some nice moments but didn’t have the impact of either Newton or Ahmed partly due to injuries in the second half of the year. However, when he got carries and was allowed to get into a groove, he usually delivered. Thirteen carries for 106 yards at Arizona, plus 18 for 110 yards against BYU. Those were his only games with double digital carries. While the run game was not bad by any stretch, it wasn’t strong enough to be completely leaned on by the offense.
What We Learned
This coaching staff loves the Wildcat. Myles Gaskin was incredible at running the direct snap and with Ahmed being the motion man on the play, someone had to step in at the QB role. It is clearly a fundamental part of the ground game and so the coaches made sure to find someone to run it. That responsibility fell to Richard Newton. He played QB in high school a good bit, so his comfort taking shotgun snaps like that helped him get on the field.
What Should We Expect to See in 2020?
It feels like Cam Davis could make a name for himself next year. He’s got excellent speed, but most importantly he has vision and an ability to run in a way that doesn’t let defenders easily square up for a hit (similar to Myles Gaskin). After three seasons, I am not sure we’ve seen enough from Sean McGrew to think he’ll take the reins at running back to have a 150+ carry season, but will keep being a talented and valuable depth player. Most likely it will be Richard Newton getting the bulk of carries at the start, but I have to think the coaches will try to find a more explosive option to compliment him. McGrew will get plenty of opportunities but my money is on Cam Davis carving out a larger role by seasons end. Kamari Pleasant could see his role expand after just 16 carries this season, but it sure feels like the position of big power back is Newton’s to lose.
The wildcard is of course the extremely talented incoming freshman, Sam Adams II. He can do just about anything and has great size and versatility at the position - he can score from anywhere. Jay’Veon Sunday is an intriguing prospect too, but surely is in for a redshirt season with the depth ahead of him. There are some reasons to be optimistic next year, especially if the offensive line comes together. It might be young but should have lots of talent we haven’t seen before. If Cam Davis is ready to roll Week 1 against Michigan, we could see the Husky run game return to its more consistent and efficient roots. Yet again, Jimmy Lake and whoever the new offensive coordinator is might see things differently.