Football Washington running game poses main threat to Ohio State defense

For the past three years, Washington has been seemingly led by senior quarterback Jake Browning, who threw for 43 touchdowns in 2016, earning the Huskies a College Football Playoff appearance and himself a sixth-place finish in Heisman voting, the second-highest in Huskies history.But as Browning’s numbers have declined since his sophomore year — he threw 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season — senior running back Myles Gaskin provided the consistency Washington has needed to stay strong on the offensive side.Redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones understands this.“I see a team that really relies on their running backs to get them going. I see No. 9, he’s really, I guess, the kick starter for their team, seems like, my point of view, and he’s really talented,” Jones said.Gaskin, No. 9 on Washington, has been the backbone for the Huskies, rushing for 1,147 yards and 10 touchdowns this season in 11 games. Gaskin missed two games in 2018 due to a shoulder injury, one of which ended up becoming a 12-10 loss to Cal.The senior running back originally went down against Oregon, playing minimal snaps in the second half against the Ducks, which Washington ended up losing 30-27 in overtime.Gaskin has received back-to-back second-team All-Pac 12 honors, and is Washington’s leader in career rushing yards and total touchdowns.Even with all of the accolades coming down to one final game, Gaskin said he is not yet reflecting on his time at Washington.“I probably should, but I think I’m going to wait until after the season, maybe a couple years from now,” Gaskin said. “I think I’m just kind of having a lot of fun right now. So there’s no reason to reflect on anything right now. Just enjoy it all, and then once it’s all over, then reflect.”Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano called Washington’s running back group as good as the team has seen all season.“It’s a complete offense. There’s not a position group that you look at and say, ah, that’s a weakness. There really isn’t,” Schiano said.Browning may be the player on the mind when it comes to Washington’s offense, but Gaskin has the potential to exploit the largest weakness, according to Schiano, on Ohio State’s defense: allowing big-yardage plays.“The biggest thing that stands out is the long runs,” Schiano said. “I’ve never had long runs like this in my career. And for a lot of different reasons.”Gaskin has runs of 25 yards or more in five of his 11 games this season, and in 12 of his past 24 matchups. The 5-foot-10, 193-pound back has the speed and ability to make Ohio State pay for struggling on stopping the long runs.For Gaskin, he said it’s not as much about the big plays — 38 plays allowed of 30 yards or more  — but instead, how the Buckeyes respond to those plays, that he pays attention to.“Everybody is going to have their plays, but just kind of seeing the defense always ready to bounce back and play better from that play or learning from what happened in that play … I feel like that’s huge.” Gaskin said. “I feel like that’s what we’ve got to be ready for and just be ready to fight.”The responsibility of the big plays has fallen to Ohio State’s linebackers at times this season, with gaps being open for teams like Maryland and Oregon State to exploit for huge gains up the middle.Redshirt sophomore linebacker Tuf Borland understands what Gaskin brings to the table, citing his ability to wait and explode through the gap as his major selling point.“I think his patience, and then his burst after he makes a decision on where he wants to go. I think he’s a 5,000-yard rusher or something like that. Obviously very talented.”For Ohio State to succeed against Washington, it may not just come down to stopping a previous Heisman contender in Browning. It likely will come down to the run game, with Gaskin being the key contributor.But for Borland, the Huskies’ offense reminds him of one of Ohio State’s recent opponents, one the Buckeyes had no problem handling on their way to the Big Ten Championship Game.“Their identity, their M.O., lies behind their running backs and O-Line,” Borland said. “Personnel-wise, they do some things similar to [Michigan], multiple tight ends. They utilize the running backs well.”

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