Three things from the Huskies’ Heart of Dallas Bowl victory
The Washington Huskies finished 2015 with a strong 44-31 victory over the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Sunday. Here’s what we learned and what we’re still trying to figure out after the Dawgs’ 7-6 season.
Three things we learned:
1. The offense proved it could win a shootout.
Entering the postseason, the Huskies had allowed five opponents to score 26 or more points. They lost each one of those games. That’s what made the win over the Golden Eagles so impressive – well, maybe not for the defense, but definitely for the offense. For the first and only time in all of 2015, the Huskies won an offensive shootout, with Myles Gaskin’s 186-yard, four-touchdown performance leading the way. Don’t forget about Jake Browning (284 yards passing, no interceptions), Jaydon Mickens (eight receptions, 95 yards) and the rest of the UW passing game, either. It was a complete performance from the offense, and for once at a time it was truly needed.
2. Eyes will be on Myles Gaskin in 2016.
True freshman Gaskin saved his best for last in 2015, rushing for a career-high 181 yards on 26 carries, including a season-best 86-yard touchdown. The O’Dea product finished the year with 1,302 rushing yards, a UW freshman record that also ranks eighth-best in program history regardless of year, and 14 rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth-most in a season by a Husky. Gaskin’s name was hardly even included in the conversation of who Washington’s No. 1 running back was going to be entering the season, but at the end of the campaign it’s being said in the same breath as names like Corey Dillon, Napoleon Kaufman and Bishop Sankey. Come next season, be ready to read it on a number of watch lists.
3. The Huskies can completely shut down the run.
Southern Miss isn’t much of a running team, and the Huskies made sure that stayed the case in Dallas. While quarterback Nick Mullens (331 passing yards, two touchdowns) and wide receiver Michael Thomas (190 receiving yards, two touchdowns) had big days, Washington’s stout performance against the run sealed its victory. The Huskies allowed just 22 yards on 30 attempts by the Golden Eagles, making USM’s offense as one-dimensional as it gets.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. Who will take over for Jaydon Mickens in the passing game?
Mickens capped off a stellar UW career on Saturday, but his graduation will leave a hole atop the Huskies’ depth chart at receiver. Not only that, Washington’s two most productive receivers after him in the bowl were tight end Joshua Perkins (three catches, 69 yards) and Marvin Hall (four catches, 44 yards), who are also seniors. Who will emerge as Browning’s top option in 2016? A number of underclassmen showed flashes during the season but never in a consistent matter. The good news for Washington is they should have the fastest Husky, John Ross III, back as a junior next year after he missed all of this year with a knee injury.
2. Can the defense stay this good?
The Huskies weren’t expected to be the dominant defense they were in 2014, nor were they weren’t expected to be the dominant defense they were in 2015. Next season? Well, that’s a different story. It’s clear defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has a handle on how to build a defense, and he’ll have plenty of players back on that side of the ball. But considering how great the Huskies have been against opposing offenses in the first two years under Kwiatkowski and head coach Chris Petersen, is it entirely realistic to think they can be as good or better in 2016?
3. How high is the Huskies’ ceiling in 2016?
Washington may have finished 7-6, but it looked like a much better team than its record states by the end of the year. The Huskies won their final three games and did so in convincing fashion. The defense kept up with the pace it set all season, and the offense joined in by averaging 47 points per game over the stretch. It’s very likely UW will open next year ranked in the Top 25, but could their ceiling be even higher – maybe even Rose Bowl high?