SEATTLE — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s Apple Cup between the Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars, Washington running back Myles Gaskin had the end zone in his sight. But with a defender in his path and the sideline closing fast, Gaskin’s only option was to take flight. He took off from the 3-yard line, dived toward the end zone and crashed into the pylon for a touchdown before sprinting away in celebration.
The sight of Gaskin airborne and horizontal, stretching the ball out with both arms, was the perfect image to describe Gaskin’s performance against the Cougars. He was the Huskies’ Superman.
When Washington needed it most, Gaskin delivered with one of the best performances of his stellar career, leading the 15th-ranked Huskies to a dominating 41-14 Apple Cup victory over the 14th-ranked Cougars at Husky Stadium.
The junior from Lynnwood, who already ranks third on Washington’s all-time career rushing list, has had more than his share of highlight moments for the Huskies. But Gaskin was something special Saturday, rushing for 192 yards on 25 carries and scoring four touchdowns in the 110th meeting between the state rivals. The 192 yards were the third-best single-game total of his career, and his four TDs matched a career high.
And perhaps never before have the Huskies needed that type of contribution from Gaskin, as injuries robbed Washington of just about all its other offensive weapons.
“He is a heck of a running back, he really is,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s underrated. Not in our opinion, but you know if you keep guys covered up he has that unique patient style where he can find creases — and he’s strong and he’s fast. He really has a great combination with those things.”
It was a combination the Huskies needed Saturday. Washington’s offense suffered a major double blow in the first quarter. First, leading receiver Dante Pettis went down with a leg injury while fielding a punt and had to be helped off the field. Shortly after, running back Lavon Coleman, Gaskin’s usual backfield partner, left with a leg injury of his own. Neither was able to return to the game. Pettis’ loss took away Washington’s passing game as the Huskies’ other receivers struggled to create separation, while the loss of Coleman left Gaskin largely on his own in the backfield. For a moment it appeared the injuries would bring Washington’s bright start screeching to a halt.
But Gaskin had other plans.
Gaskin had already shown he was fully motivated for the game, despite Washington having little concrete to play for having already been eliminated from contention for the Pac-12 North title, by displaying extra juice and juke to his game during the Huskies’ opening touchdown drive. But after Pettis and Coleman exited the game, Gaskin shifted into another gear. When holes opened in front of him he burst through with the speed of leopard chasing down its prey. When defenders were in his way he regularly fought and spun his way out of tackles, gaining all kinds of yards after contact. He even made 1-yard gains exhilarating, yanking his leg out of ankle tackles and lunging forward when it appeared he was stopped for losses.
“If you’re not getting touched and you run in, you’re not really doing much, you’re just running, that’s the O-line,” Gaskin said. “So you want to be able to do something for the O-line, so that when you do get touched you can break a tackle or you can take a guy for a ride with you. I think that’s most important, to show the O-line, ‘Hey, you all are doing your work and I’m doing mine.’”
Washington’s usually diverse offense was anything but Saturday. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning threw for just 93 yards, his fewest in a game in his 38 starts for the Dawgs. At the time of Gaskin’s Superman touchdown, which effectively ended the game as a contest by making it 34-0, he had accounted for 141 yards, while no other Washington played had managed more than 49.
No Pettis? No Coleman? It turned out Gaskin was the only offensive weapon the Huskies needed.
“It always hurts to see a guy on our team go down,” Gaskin said, referring to Coleman’s injury. “That’s like my big brother, so it really hurt me and it put a little bit more fire in my belly, more of a chip on my shoulder to see a guy go down like that. I was going to go do it for him, he’s a senior, this was a big game for him, he was super hyped up about it, it sucks to see him go down like that. But all right, I have to go get it for him, go get those extra yards even when I’m stood up, go get a few more yards for Lavon. And Dante as well. It hurts to see those guys go down like that, but they know we’ve got their back.”
And who better to have your back than Superman?
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.