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Ground game centered around Myles Gaskin will be key for Washington

Averaging over 100 yards per game, the running back will be an important factor against the Ohio State defense.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Utah vs Washington Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In just a handful of days, the Ohio State Buckeyes will take the field in Pasadena, Calif. With it being their third Rose Bowl in 25 years, OSU is trying not only to win another “Granddaddy of Them All,” but to send head coach Urban Meyer off with one last win.

As a touchdown favorite, and legitimate contenders for the College Football Playoff earlier this month, the Buckeyes come into Pasadena expected to win. Sure, if the OSU offense does its thing — especially if its Dwayne Haskins’ final game as quarterback — and the defense clamps down like they did against Michigan, then it’ll be a runaway victory for the Scarlet and Gray.

But, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for the Buckeyes throughout this season. So, if the Washington Huskies can continue their stout defensive play, and add in some explosiveness on offense, they might just might walk out of college football’s most famous bowl game as champions.

For that to happen, UW will need their running game to at least be moderately successful. Fortunately they have a really good running back in Myles Gaskin, who can reach elite company on Tuesday with just 53 yards against the OSU defense.

The senior from Lynnwood, Washington, has rushed for 1,147 yards this season on 235 attempts. He missed two games this season after with an injured shoulder, and his absence showed. Out against California on Oct. 27, the Huskies were stunned 12-10 on the road. He returned after that, and since then, UW has won four-straight. His best game of the year came against rival Washington State, where he rushed for 170 yards on 27 handles. Granted, it was a snowy, Friday night in November, but Gaskin led the way—solidifying the Huskies’ spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Not only is Gaskin a key weapon on the offensive side of the ball, but he’s one of the best running attackers ever in Pac-12 play. He’s compiled four 1,000-yard seasons, something that nobody else has done in the Pac-12. And against Auburn in Week 1 of the 2018 season, he became the all-time rushing leader in school history.

For the Ohio State defense, this is another test against a running back than can blaze past the line of scrimmage. Purdue and Maryland were two examples where a fast RB could consistently blaze past the line of scrimmage, but give his team a chance to topple the mighty Buckeyes. Weather forecasts point to sunny and clear skies for the New Year’s Day game, so Gaskin won’t have to battle the elements. Here’s a snippet of his big day against Wazzu.

Don’t let the season accolades fool you: Gaskin is better than his All-Pac-12 Second Team honor. With a chance against Ohio State in his final game, I’d expect him to carry the load on offense, especially if they have early success.

The Buckeyes have consistently spotted opponents points in the early going. Sometimes, those scores come off a big play. If I had to wager, I think Gaskin could break the UW record for longest rushing touchdown in a bowl game. Gaskin set the record last season with a 69-yarder against Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. Unless this OSU defense kept up the momentum from the Michigan and Northwestern games, then it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he took a 75- or 80-yard score in the Rose Bowl.

Senior leadership is abundant in the skill positions for the Huskies. On top of Gaskin, they have QB Jake Browning, who helped guide them to a College Football Playoff spot a couple seasons ago. However, Browning has not been the consistent ‘wow’ factor for the Chris Petersen coached squad. This season, Browning, who is from Folsom, California, threw for 2,879 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, he also lobbed 10 interceptions. Browning’s season-high in the air came with a 303-yard effort against...North Dakota. He is no Dwayne Haskins, and when you go up against a high-flying offense like the OSU brings to Pasadena, now is not the time to start slinging the ball down the field. In the Pac-12 Championship Game against Utah, Browning had 187 yards and an interception on 21-of-33 passing. UW managed to score 10 total points, thanks to a defensive TD. That won’t cut it against Ohio State.

If Washington chooses to pass more than run, they are going to have a bad time. If they choose to run the ball more than pass, then they may still have a bad time—but they’ll at least try to beat OSU at one of their weaknesses. Downfielding rushing will have some success against the defense, but with Gaskin’s ability to break free, putting him in jet sweep scenarios may pay dividends. With the recent developments in linebacker Malik Harrison, he’s gonna sniff out any run up the middle, and will be right on the heels of the ball carrier on stretch plays.

Even though the Huskies were 10-3 this season, Petersen coached his way to a Pac-12 title with a decent offense and defense. However, those three losses came against Auburn, Oregon (in overtime), and California. All three losses came away from home, but are any of those teams better than Ohio State? Auburn is 7-5, and pummeled Purdue in the first half of the Music City Bowl—scoring a whopping 49 points. California lost in a turnover filled bowl game against TCU, who the Buckeyes beat earlier in the season.

Washington has seen nothing like Ohio State this season, and a deviation from what they’ve regularly done will lead to them digging a deeper hole in front of a national audience. Build the offense around Gaskin, and let the cards—or roses—fall where they may.