SEATTLE – Washington didn’t have senior Dante Pettis, the NCAA record-setting punt returner and the primary target for a receiving unit that was already decimated by injury.
Senior Lavon Coleman, the Huskies’ second-leading rusher, limped off the field a few minutes after Pettis’ departure midway through the first quarter with an apparent left ankle injury.
What the Huskies did have was junior running back Myles Gaskin and an offensive line that created huge holes and kept quarterback Jake Browning virtually untouched in the pocket.
“Are you gonna be the guy, poor me, feel bad for myself because we had a bunch of receivers go down or are you going to find a way to get this done,” Browning said after Washington’s 41-14 victory. “We found a way to get it done.”
Washington State’s defense, a cornerstone most of the season, couldn’t wrap up Gaskin and couldn’t keep the Huskies bottled up even after downing a couple of punts deep in UW territory.
Washington delivered a crushing touchdown after taking over at its 7-yard line. A running play lost three yards but Gaskin raced through a big opening over left guard for 43 yards. He made a defender miss on a 16-yard run on the ensuing play.
“If you’re not getting touched and you’re running, you’re not really doing much. That’s the ‘O’ line,” said Gaskin, who rushed for 192 yards and four scores. “You want to be able to do something for the ‘O’ line. You can break a tackle or take a guy for a ride.”
Gaskin took care of the last 10 yards, breaking loose from a WSU defender for eight yards before his second TD run of the half, a 2-yarder that was met with little resistance from the Cougars. WSU had missed a chance to get back in the game as Washington expanded its lead to 21-0.
“Huge,” replied Gaskin, when asked about the size of some of the holes. “Anybody could run through those. Some of y’all could run through those.”
Gaskin, who ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns in UW’s Apple Cup win a year ago, went over 100 yards midway through the second quarter.
It all started up front.
“They move around a lot up front and they’ve been able to create some chaos but they’re kind of light,” Browning said. “You can move around all you want but just frickin’ go downhill and get physical with them.”
Washington rolled up 249 total yards by halftime, despite Pettis being limited to one series with a left leg injury.
The senior standout had a pair of receptions for 15 yards on UW’s opening possession, a 75-yard scoring drive that put the Huskies on top 7-0. Washington’s defense forced a Cougar punt that sailed 55 yards and Pettis was tackled immediately by Kyle Celli.
Pettis stayed on the field for a few minutes. He was helped off with the assistance of two trainers, putting very little weight on his left leg.
Pettis set the NCAA record earlier this month with his ninth career punt return for a touchdown, a 64-yarder against Oregon. He leads the country in punt return average at 20.5.
Washington’s receiving unit has been riddled with injuries this season. Pettis leads the team with 62 catches, 40 more than Hunter Bryant’s 22.
Coach Chris Peterson said he’s hopeful from initial reports that Pettis and Coleman will play in Washington’s bowl game.