By Tony Castricone
September 10, 2018

Washington’s 45-3 win over North Dakota on Saturday was just what the Huskies needed to gear up for a run at the Pac-12 championship. The margin was comfortable, the score looked good, yet the effort and execution left a lot for the Dawgs to work on during the week. Penalties, turnovers and the ground game all have significant room for improvement. Here are this week’s notes:

The Huskies’ ground game is off to a slow start through the first two games of the season. AP preseason All-American Myles Gaskin has accumulated just 128 yards rushing on 32 carries through the first two games of the season, although that’s not atypical for his career.

Gaskin opened his sophomore season with four straight games below 100 yards rushing, and through week three of his junior year, Gaskin had totaled only 153 yards on 24 rushes. He has, throughout his career, usually had a bigger impact in conference games than in non-conference play.

His two-yard touchdown run against North Dakota was the 50th time in his career he’s found the endzone and the 46th on the ground. Gaskin, already the school’s leading all-time rusher with 4,183 yards, is now climbing the all-time conference charts.

Gaskin needs…
56 rushing yards to tie Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona) for 8th in Pac-12 history at 4,239 yards
117 rushing yards to tie Stephan Taylor (Stanford) for 7th in Pac-12 history at 4,300 yards
2 rushing touchdowns to tie Ka’Deem Carey and Skip Hicks (UCLA) for 6th in Pac-12 history at 48
3 rushing touchdowns to tie 1979 Heisman winner Charles White (USC) for 5th in Pac-12 history at 49

His next 100-yard rushing performance will tie him with Chris Polk for the most 100-yard games in Husky history with 21.

Maybe most impressively, however, is the fact that Gaskin has racked up 763 career touches and has put the ball on the turf just three times, with only two lost fumbles.

Quarterback Jake Browning had his first multi-interception game since the 2016 Peach Bowl against Alabama when the Huskies had their home-opener against North Dakota. Browning, who threw just five interceptions all last season, has thrown three touchdowns and three picks through the first two weeks of the 2018 campaign.

His three picks this year are uncharacteristic. In the 27 games that made up his sophomore and junior seasons, his touchdown to interception ratio was 62-to-14. After Saturday’s win, his career red zone ratio improve to 50-to-nothing.

With 81 touchdown passes in his career, he is just one shy of tying Andrew Luck (Stanford) for 11th in Pac-12 history at 82.

Backup quarterback Jake Haener made his collegiate debut against North Dakota. The redshirt freshman went a perfect 7-for-7, throwing for 110 yards and a touchdown. Haener led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, and the offense racked up an impressive 156 total yards on just 13 snaps during those two possessions.

While it won’t win Washington any trophies, it’s worth noting that in the Browning/Gaskin era, the Huskies thoroughly dominated their FCS opponents at Husky Stadium. Saturday’s win over North Dakota continued a trend of comfortable wins over teams in the Division Formerly Known as I-AA.

UW has outscored FCS opponents 198-13 over the last four years, an average score of 49-3. Those wins were against Sacramento State (49-0), Portland State (41-3), Montana (63-7) and North Dakota (45-3).

Ty Jones
made a fantastic, one-armed catch while having his other arm interfered with for the second week in a row in Washington’s win over North Dakota. His catch against the Fighting Hawks went for a touchdown.

“He’s coming on,” head coach Chris Petersen said on our postgame show. “You know, he’s just still figuring it out. I think he’d be the first to say that. You can just tell he’s got such a big upside. And the more that he plays, the more confidence he gets, he’s going to be really good down the road here.”

Jones came into the season with just seven catches in his career for 71 yards. Through the first two weeks of his sophomore season, Jones has racked up seven more catches for 153 yards and his first two collegiate touchdowns.

You can hear Coach Petersen’s postgame interview on the live radio network broadcast here:

Washington’s new punt returners Aaron Fuller and Byron Murphy haven’t fielded a returnable punt yet this season. The Huskies have forced 14 punts this year, but Fuller has officially fielded just two live punts for zero return yards.

Kickoffs have been similarly limited. All of Auburn’s kickoffs were touchbacks in week one. Against North Dakota, Myles Gaskin returned one kick for 17 yards, while Salvon Ahmed returned a short kick 31 yards across midfield.

The Huskies’ defense has been one of the best in the nation in recent years at getting after the quarterback and forcing turnovers. Last season, the Huskies ranked 5th in the nation in turnover margin per game (+1.00) and 17th in the NCAA in quarterback sacks (2.92 per game). Both numbers were good enough for second in the Pac-12.

This year, however, UW is off to a slower start in both categories. Washington has accumulated only four sacks through two games, three of which have come from members of the secondary (two by safety Taylor Rapp, one by corner Myles Bryant). Senior Shane Bowman has tallied the only sack this season by a member of the defensive front.

Turnovers have also been tougher to come by. UW has mustered just one through two games (Taylor Rapp fumble recovery against North Dakota) while giving away four (three interceptions and a fumble), leading to a per game ratio of minus-1.50 per game.

Despite starting the season with a loss against Auburn and a “pedestrian” offensive performance against North Dakota according to head coach Chris Petersen, the Huskies are still a Top 10 team in the nation according to the Associated Press poll.

The Dawgs slipped one spot from ninth to 10th after the North Dakota game. Steve Virgen of the Albuquerque Journal isn’t a believer in the Dawgs. He has the Huskies lowest of any voter, placing UW 21st on his ballot this week, despite the fact that he likes Auburn a lot, ranking the Tigers third. ESPN’s Rece Davis ranked UW ninth, while Adam Jude from The Seattle Times has Washington 10th.

Utah is just barely outside the Top 25, getting the 26th most votes this week.

Arizona State debuted at 23rd in the polls after a last second win against Michigan State.

Stanford has leapt past UW and is now ranked ninth in the nation on the heels of a win over Southern Cal, which slipped to 22nd.

The Huskies had a great fourth quarter against North Dakota while playing mostly reserves. UW totaled 21 points in the final frame, and 242 yards of total offense on just 20 snaps, an average of 12.1 yards per play.

With Joel Whitford dealing with some injury problems, backup punter Race Porter played for the second straight game. Porter’s style differs significantly from Whitford’s. Whitford, a rugby-style kicker, … Porter, meanwhile, hits low, line-drive squibbers that are difficult to field. Many are end-over-end and bounce off the turf high into the air like an on-side kick might. It worked effectively against North Dakota, leading to a 47.0 yard per punt average with a long of 63. Multiple Huskies had a chance to pin that boot inside the five before it slipped into the endzone for a touchback. His other three punts all pinned UND inside the 20.

Jesse Sosebee started for the injured Nick Harris at center on Saturday, and Jared Hilbers once again started at left tackle in place of the injured preseason All-American Trey Adams. Sosebee’s start at center against North Dakota was the first of his career at that position. I believe his other 10 previous starts had come at guard.

Sophomore Luke Wattenberg made his second career start at left guard after starting five games at left tackle a season ago. Hilbers’ start at left tackle was the second of his career. Redshirt freshman Jaxson Kirkland, son of Husky great Dean Kirkland, made his second career start at right guard. Kaleb McGary made his 35th career start at right tackle for the Dawgs against North Dakota.

Utah will be taking on “the Huskies” for the second week in a row. Utah visited Northern Illinois last weekend and came away with a 17-6 win in a defensive battle. A 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by Chase Hansen sealed the win for the Utes.

Despite the game-clinching pick-six, turnovers have been a problem for the Utes, who are 121st nationally in turnover margin at -2.00 per game. Their defense, however, is ranked number one in the country, allowing 143.5 yards of total offense per game through the first two weeks. With wins over Weber State and NIU, the Utes will be facing their first Power 5 opponent in Washington.

Utah has arguably played Washington tougher than any other Pac-12 program over the last three years. Here is Washington’s average scoring margin against the nine teams that it played in both 2016 and 2017.

Opponents 2016-17 PF PA Margin Average
Oregon 108 24 84 42.0
California 104 34 70 35.0
Oregon State 83 24 59 29.5
Colorado 78 20 58 29.0
Washington State 86 31 55 27.5
Rutgers 78 27 51 25.5
Stanford 66 36 30 15.0
Arizona State 51 31 20 10.0
Utah 64 54 10 5.0

Furthermore, Utah is the only team that has played UW each of the last three season and outscored the Huskies over that time frame.

Opponents 2015-17 PF PA Margin Average
Oregon State 135 31 104 34.7
Washington State 131 41 90 30.0
Oregon 128 50 78 26.0
California 128 64 64 21.3
Stanford 80 67 13 4.3
Arizona State 68 58 10 3.3
Utah 87 88 -1 -0.3