Chris Peterson’s first year here was in 2014, the team was full of Sark holdovers, and we were just okay. We finished third in the Pac-12 North and lost in the Cactus Bowl to OK State. 2015 feels like the REAL first year of the Coach Pete regime, as his guys started trickling into the lineup. Most notably: Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin.
It’s been four years with that duo intact, and they’ve been four of the most successful years in the program’s history. 38-12 in the regular season, including 2 conference championships and 3 major bowl games. Now, unfortunately, in that span the Huskies are 1-3 in the post-season, having lost all 3 of those major bowl games, in pretty decisive fashion.
The 2018 Husky Football team was both a rousing success and a disappointment. And, I think you can say that about the entire Browning/Gaskin era.
The one constant throughout Coach Pete’s tenure has been tremendous defense, particularly in the secondary. There’s always been at least one stud interior lineman, and there’s usually some very solid linebacker play, but the secondary is where the defense’s bread is buttered. In an era where passing attempts are increasing by the year, this has been a boon to our program.
It’s unfortunately been the offense that’s been too inconsistent – especially in those big games – to take this team over the hump. And, when you figure Myles Gaskin is the Husky career rushing yards and touchdowns leader, it’s not hard to see where this is going.
I wanted to put some distance between this post and the Rose Bowl, so I could calm down and see things a little more rationally. The truth is, the Huskies wouldn’t have won double-digit games the last three seasons if Jake Browning was a bum. He’s the Husky leader in career passing yards and touchdowns by a pretty significant margin. While he won’t go down as the the greatest Husky quarterback of all time in the eyes of most fans, he has to at least be in every conversation based on his numbers and this team’s overall success alone.
But, his big hang up was always his performance in the big games, and as a byproduct, the team’s success in those games. That’s just the life of a quarterback; it’s not fair. They get the lion’s share of the praise when things are going well, and the lion’s share of the blame when they’re not.
You can go through the schedule and try to nitpick that argument, choosing his all-time best performances in some of our important victories. But, more often than not, his greatest games came against nothing defenses where we were able to run up the score. 8 total touchdowns (6 passing, 2 rushing) in that rout of Oregon in 2016; 378 yards and 6 TDs against a garbage Cal team a few weeks later; nearly 300 yards and 3 TDs in that year’s Apple Cup (which was a total blowout by halftime, in large part due to our defense). I could go on and on; but name me one where Browning took this team on his shoulders and pulled our asses out of the fire late in the game against a quality opponent. You won’t find many; you might not even find any.
The Huskies were 7-7 in one-score games the last three years, and so many of those losses were just huge. They were the result of our defense keeping us in it, while our offense fiddled around for most of the game. You stop the Husky rushing attack – and put the game on Browning’s shoulders – and you’re most likely going to have success.
The real disappointing thing about the last three years – and 2018 in particular – is that the jump in Browning’s game from his Freshman to Sophomore year was outstanding! In 2015, he looked like a true Freshman should look, but he got better as the season progressed, and there was real hope for the future. Then, in 2016: an explosion! We were a 1-loss team that was playing Alabama in the College Football Playoffs! He threw for 3,430 yards and a whopping 43 touchdowns! He was in the Heisman conversation for a little bit!
With the hot recruits continuing to flood into the program, it was only a matter of time before we got back there, and maybe even played for a national title!
Then, there was just a huge step back in 2017, as a lot of our offensive weapons moved on. We were still good, but with two conference losses, we were iced out of the conference championship game. Still, a Fiesta Bowl against an elite Penn State program was a nice consolation prize. But, much like this year’s Rose Bowl, we were late to the party and there wasn’t enough time to complete our comeback.
The hope was that we could use those lessons to better ourselves in 2018. Maybe Browning – who finished 2016 injured – wasn’t quite at full strength in 2017. Hopefully THIS would be the year he’d make the next step up into that elite QB realm.
But, right off the bat, we couldn’t get out of our own way that first week against Auburn, and it felt like the college football playoffs were already out of reach. Considering how it eventually shook out – with the teams who would go on to make the final four, combined with how disappointing Auburn and the Pac-12 eventually proved to be – the Huskies could’ve won out and it’s not a guarantee that we would’ve made it.
Nevertheless, a heartbreaker in Oregon (which wasn’t his fault), and an unforgivable loss against Cal (which was at least partially his fault, as the coach felt it prudent to bench him for part of it), really sunk this season about as far as it could go. We were able to pull out of the nosedive with a 4-game winning streak, including a gutty performance against Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game. But, that just put us in a position where we were nearly embarrassed against the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl. As it stands, no one even remembers we were in that game; they just remember it as Urban Meyer’s final college game (for now) and that of course he beat whoever the other team was!
I’m not saying it was all bad, or all disappointing, with Jake Browning at the helm. I’m just saying that there really isn’t any significant, signature win. His most memorable game is probably that one down in Oregon to end The Streak, where we racked up 70 points. That’s all well and dandy, but that Ducks team was a disaster and ended the season with all of 4 wins (2 in conference).
There was a lot of hope for the Jake Browning years, but not very much realization of that hope.
Looking ahead, obviously the Huskies of 2019 are going to look drastically different. Here are the notable outgoing Seniors:
- Jake Browning
- Myles Gaskin
- Kaleb McGary
- Drew Sample
- Ben Burr-Kirven
- Greg Gaines
- Tevis Bartlett
- Jordan Miller
- JoJo McIntosh
- Shane Bowman
On top of that, Byron Murphy (a Sophomore) and Taylor Rapp (a Junior) have already declared for the NFL. Still undecided, apparently, is Myles Bryant. While there are lots of DBs looking to fill the gap, those are still some HUGE holes to fill! But, if you look at the way this team has recruited, and how highly-rated these classes have been, I think there’s only good things ahead.
It’s been super fun the last three years, all things considered. I’d like to think, as time goes on, I’ll think back fondly, with just a tiny amount of wistfulness of what could’ve been.
Of course, if this team ends up going where I think it can go, we might look back at this era as the beginning of something truly great!