Huskies avoid Rose Bowl embarrassment, but lose 28-23

USA Today photo
Dan Raley

D.J. Beavers lay on the ground at the 105th Rose Bowl. On an otherwise bright and sunny afternoon, the Washington inside linebacker suffered another debilitating knee injury. Following the first play of the second quarter, the medical staff helped Beavers from the field. He rode a cart to the locker room. His day was done.

His Pac-12 football team seemed headed for a similar fate—an early and brutal exit. Shortly after Beavers’ departure, the Huskies coughed up a second score without much resistance to Ohio State, eventually dropped behind 28-3 and appeared ready to disappear from the game in mind and spirit.

To their credit, these Washington players regrouped in a big way. They staved off a humiliating defeat with three fourth-quarter touchdowns—all instigated by the creative efforts of running back Myles Gaskin—and made an interesting game of it before accepting a 28-23 defeat from the Buckeyes on Tuesday in Pasadena.

Still, the Jake Browning era at the UW ended in disappointment, with four years of individual records and conference championships dulled by this final loss on a national stage. The senior quarterback, a 53-game starter but an often maligned leader, Gaskin and their fellow seniors were denied a signature victory as they departed the program. The outcome also left the Pac-12 with a dissatisfying 3-4 bowl ledger.

“We’re close to where we want to be, but we’re not there yet,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said. “Anything can happen in these kinds of games. We’ll keep battling and keep trying to raise the bar.”

As shadows fell over the storied stadium, Ohio State (13-1) for three quarters played like it should have been a College Football Playoff qualifier as it punished the Huskies (10-4). Buckeyes sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins was as good as advertised and appeared ready for early entry to the NFL, picking apart the UW for three touchdown passes. Outgoing coach Urban Meyer already seemed as if he was in retirement, given the gift of a blowout win. But not so fast.

Gaskin nearly spoiled things for the Ohio State leader by running for two scores and even passing for one over the game’s final 12-plus minutes. The Huskies’ all-time leading rusher finished with 121 yards on 24 carries on the ground, giving him 5,323 for his career. He was the spark that the UW needed.

Gaskin got the rally moving at full throttle by lobbing a 2-yard TD pass on fourth down, over the top of the Ohio State defense, to wide-open senior tight end Drew Sample. That cut the Huskies’ deficit to 28-10 with 12:17 remaining.

With 6:42 left to play, Gaskin accepted a pitch from Browning and scampered around the left end to score from 1 yard out, narrowing the lead to 28-17. The Huskies were able to capitalize on a punt blocked by Max Richmond, setting them up on their own 39. They scored in five plays.

After forcing Ohio State to punt twice, the UW found the end zone one more time on Gaskin’s 2-yard TD run with 42 seconds left. A two-point conversion failed, as did an onside kick, and the comeback attempt was over. The Ohio State coach could breathe easy and check out.

“Time to move on—next era,” said Meyer, who insists he’s leaving the coaching ranks for good. “I’m going to enjoy it tonight and I don’t believe I want to coach again.”

Browning threw a career-high 54 times, completing 38 of them for 313 yards, after early fits of ineffectiveness. His chief beneficiaries were all underclassmen receivers: Junior wideout Andre Baccellia, who had a career-best 12 receptions for 109 yards; junior wideout Aaron Fuller, who caught 7 passes for 80 yards; and sophomore tight end Hunter Bryant, who snared 4 passes for 51 yards, including a sensational one-handed catch in the closing minutes.

“It was keep swinging and keep after it,” Browning said. “Myles definitely sparked it. It was too little, too late, but we were never out of it.”

After three quarters, most people would have disagreed with the quarterback’s assessment. The Huskies were on their heels throughout that time, facing a major embarrassment. They weren’t competitive at all on either side of the ball. They were forced to play without sensational junior free safety Taylor Rapp, who came into the game with a hip injury from the Pac-12 title game and found out fairly quickly he wouldn’t be able to run with the Buckeyes. He was dressed in street clothes for the second half.

After going 3-and-out on the opening series, the Buckeyes established themselves by marching 77 yards down the field in 11 plays for a 13-yard TD pass to Parris Campbell from Haynes. It was too easy.

Washington answered with Peyton Henry’s 38-yard field goal on its third possession, pulling within 7-3 near the end of the opening quarter. But the Huskies offense wouldn’t be heard from again on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.

Five plays after Beavers went down, Ohio State scored again. Haynes threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Johnnie Dixon. The UW secondary was exposed.

Where the Huskies really lost this game was in the final 1:21 of the opening half. They went 3-and-out on offense, punting after using up just 21 seconds on the clock. They couldn’t do anything to prevent Ohio State from piecing together an instant 57-yard drive, serving up a third Buckeyes’ touchdown with 14 seconds left to play on Haynes’ 1-yard pass to Rashod Berry. That put the UW behind 21-3. Again, it was way too easy.

The halftime break did nothing to recharge the Huskies. They came out and gave up a fourth touchdown on Ohio State’s first possession, falling behind 28-3 on J.K. Dobbins’ 1-yard run. It capped a 7-play, 80-yard drive. It made the people in purple really uncomfortable.

At that point, spectators and broadcasters alike were only asking how bad can this Rose Bowl get from a competitive level?

Yet the UW responded in a positive way, grabbing momentum and churning out 266 yards of total offense in the final quarter. It was entertaining, just not enough.

The Huskies leave Pasadena without their offensive leaders and much of their defense, losing 11 of their 22 starters to graduation. They’ll welcome Georgia transfer Jacob Eason as Browning’s likely replacement next season, hoping the taller, stronger-armed quarterback will take them to greater heights. They’ll need to find someone to run the ball with some of the effectiveness of Gaskin. They’ll have to find a bunch of linebackers, hopefully including a healthy Beavers, and defensive backs, especially if cornerback Byron Murphy and Rapp jump early to the NFL.

It will be interesting to see if Petersen feels compelled to shake up his coaching staff, especially on offense—something others in his profession have done when expectations aren’t met. With all of the red-zone and passing struggles this season, plus what some considered a spate of questionable play calls, first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bush Hamdan might be on shaky ground. Or else he’ll get a chance to redeem himself with Eason under his counsel.

“I think we need to look at our offense, no question,” said Petersen, who dropped to 1-4 in bowl games at the UW. “That was really frustrating.”