PASADENA, Calif. – Myles Gaskin needed every inch. Heck, he needed every millimeter to nudge that football over the pylon.
With 47 seconds left in the 105th Rose Bowl, Gaskin caught a swing pass from Jake Browning at the Ohio State 7-yard line, ran to the right sideline and as he was being tackled out of bounds extended the ball with his right arm just enough over the pylon for a touchdown.
Suddenly, a game that was once headed toward a complete embarrassment for No. 9 Washington turned into an improbable possibility: Could the Huskies pull off the greatest comeback in Rose Bowl history?
No, sorry. Didn’t happen.
Final score: Ohio State 28, Huskies 23.
But the bigger questions about where Chris Petersen has Washington headed after a third major bowl loss in three years don’t feel as breathless, as panicked as they were when No. 5 Ohio State took a 28-3 lead early in the third quarter before a crowd of 91,853 here on a perfect Tuesday afternoon.
Turns out, the Huskies didn’t need to be perfect to give themselves a chance at upsetting No. 5 Ohio State. But they certainly couldn’t be as dreadful as they were in the first half, when the offense again sputtered and the defense was vulnerable while playing without All-American safety Taylor Rapp (hip).
“It sucked. We played terrible. It’s hard to beat around the bush on that,” senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said. “You don’t want to go into halftime (trailing) 21-3 in any game, let alone the Rose Bowl. It’s definitely disappointing.”
In the first half, the Huskies tried an up-tempo approach on offense, something they’ve rarely done this season. It allowed them to run more plays, but not many points. In the second half, they slowed things down and committed to the run.
Gaskin rushed for 97 of his 121 yards in the second half — and joined Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne as the only running backs in NCAA history with four 1,200-yard seasons — and had a hand it all three fourth-quarter touchdowns. His 2-yard jump-pass to senior tight end Drew Sample ended a seven-quarter touchdown drought for the UW offense, and got the Huskies to 28-10.
On UW’s next drive, Gaskin took a pitch from Browning midway through the fourth quarter and ran to the left edge for an easy 1-yard TD, cutting Ohio State’s lead to 28-17.
His last one, on the swing pass from Browning, was his best, as he extended the ball just over the pylon while being dragged out of bounds. It was that close, and after losses to Alabama and Penn State in major bowl games the past two years the Huskies were that close to finally getting over the top.
It didn’t happen. On the ensuing two-point attempt, Browning’s pass was intercepted in the back of the end zone by Brendon White. And then Ohio State easily recovered the onside kick attempt by UW’s Peyton Henry.
And that was it.
“Tough one. Very frustrating when you start the first half like we started,” Petersen said. “I had no idea why. It’s on me. It’s not these kids. They practiced hard. They’re ready to play. But we really didn’t play with that edge and that chip that we normally play with, really, just, you know, across the whole squad.”
The Huskies finished the season with a 10-4 record and head into the offseason with important questions about what they can do to revamp an underachieving offense (beyond just handing the keys to QB transfer Jacob Eason). Those questions can wait another day.
Sitting in front of his locker after the game, fifth-year senior right tackle Kaleb McGary unwrapped the tape on his burly left ankle and spoke of his pride in the program.
The loss, he said, is “hard to swallow, but … this is the way the cards fall. If anything, we proved that this program will never quit. We’ll never stop. We will never back down from anyone. It doesn’t matter if we’re winning or losing. Never.
“People are going to keep disrespecting us. They’re going to keep disrespecting the conference. And then one day, it’s all going to stop. I wish I could have been here for that. But I will walk away proud that me and my brothers helped lay the groundwork for that day to come.”
Browning’s performance in his final game for the Huskies was much like many of his others: Some flashes of greatness. Some moments of OK-ness. And a play or two of what-the-what?
His receivers had several big drops, but also some big plays too. Andre Baccellia had career highs in catches (12) and yards (109), and sophomore Hunter Bryant made a sensational one-handed grab late in the fourth quarter.
Browning finished with season highs in attempts (54) and completions (35) and matched a season high with 313 yards passing.
“There’s probably two things you know out of every one of his outings: That he’s going to be one of the toughest guys out there on the field, and he’s going to give you everything he has,” first-year offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said. “It’s tough to fall short. I think the guys were wanting to do everything they could to send him out and send these seniors out on the right note, and it’s tough.”
Four-year starters, Browning and Gaskin have been, among players, the two most visible architects of Washington’s resurgence to national respectability. When it was over Tuesday, they shared a hug on the field and then walked up a Rose Bowl tunnel alone together, side by side. Soon after, Gaskin had just a few words to sum things up.
“Just love this program,” he said. “Love Coach Pete. Love these guys.”
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