By Morris Phillips
SANTA CLARA–On the occasion of winning the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Washington Huskies conducted themselves as if they’d won a CFP quarterfinal matchup.
Coach Chris Petersen while happy to be a winner, bemoaned his pass offense in the 41-10 pasting the Huskies put on Colorado at Santa Clara, CA Friday night, saying “our pass game was awkward, for lack of a better word. I don’t know. Just it wasn’t what we hoped it to be.”
While Petersen nitpicked, star running back Myles Gaskin didn’t have much particular to say, and freshman safety Taylor Rapp whose two, big interceptions in the third quarter helped turn the game into a rout, didn’t have much rap making him the least verbal Pac-12 Championship Game MVP in the event’s short history.
Make no mistake, Petersen, Gaskin and Rapp were elated, just not overly so. For one, the Huskies had been here before: in a 12-1 season-to-date, on Friday night, Washington won by at least 30 points for the sixth time, and by at least 24 points for the ninth time. And since blowing good teams out is nothing new, beating No. 8 Colorado—the highest rated team Washington has won against this season–wasn’t particularly special either.
And besides, Petersen or his players can’t control what happens next. The nation’s No. 4 team coming in is expecting to remain at least No. 4 and be tabbed for the College Football Playoff, but that’s not something that’s decided after the first game of a college football weekend. Gaskin knows that all too well, which well, contributed to his non-committal answers.
“That’s up to a whole bunch of people I don’t even know, and they’re going to do all their voting and a whole bunch of stuff like that, but I don’t really care personally,” Gaskin said. “We’re just going to play whoever we have next.”
“That’s the way it is.”
Beating Colorado, should mean the Huskies get top-rated Alabama next—in one of two CFP semifinals. But that’s just Friday night speculation as opposed to Sunday’s mandate. Here’s what we know now: according to Petersen, the wind at Levi’s Stadium Friday was a non-factor, and no excuse for poor, passing numbers, Rapp’s two, game-changing interceptions were just pure reaction, and Gaskin can’t get enough of taking the field, competing with his teammates, and enjoying the process.
“Coach P preaches to us that hard work is going to get you where you want to be,” Gaskin reiterated. “You have to sacrifice for what you want to do and where you want to be at. We really bought into what he had to say, and this is where we are right now.”
And right now, the Huskies are conference champions for the first time since 2000. In the 16 seasons since that Pac-12 title, the Huskies won as many as nine games (9-4 in 2013) once before winning 12 this year. Petersen, a landmark hire for UW when he finally agreed to leave all his successes at Boise State, did it all in just three seasons. The Huskies are past Colorado, and not anticipating Alabama, not yet. That’s straightforward, just as the Pac-12 champs would prefer.
NOTES: Among the surprises Friday: how easily Washington got past Colorado, and how poor Heisman candidate Jake Browning’s numbers were. The Huskies led by 7 at the half, but Rapp’s two picks broke the game open—the first going for a 35-yard touchdown return—and Washington cruised by 31 points.
Browning threw two touchdowns, and the second one appeared to be the poorest decision any quarterback could make—while struggling to regain his balance, Browning cut loose a pass to the boundary that hung up and appeared to give Colorado corner Chidobe Awuzie a chance to intercept and return. But UW receiver John Ross—at 5’8” a towering presence for Washington– went up and snatched the ball then eluded the surprised Awuzie for a 19-yard score.
Browning would go on to misfire on 15 of his 24 pass attempts, finishing with 118 yards passing, hardly the norm in a season in which he’s thrown 42 touchdowns, tying Marcus Mariota and trailing only Jared Goff on the Pac-12 list for single season touchdown passes. But what Browning didn’t do, the Huskies’ run game did, rushing for 148 yards before halftime, and finishing with 265 yards on 54 attempts.
Gaskin and Lavon Coleman both eclipsed 100 yards rushing, becoming the first set of teammates to both rush for 100 yards in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Washington eclipsed 40 points in a game for the 10th time in 13 games this season. The rank third nationally with 44.8 points per game.
Colorado’s Sefo Liufau injured his ankle when tackled five minutes into the game by UW’s Psalm Wooching. He briefly left the game, and the field, but returned only to struggle. Liufau finished 3 for 13 with three picks, including Rapp’s pick six. Steven Montez, Liufau’s replacement, didn’t have much impact, finishing 5 of 12 for 60 yards.
The Buffaloes finished with just 163 yards in total offense. It marked the second time UW has held an opponent to fewer than 200 yards in offense this season.