It was not hard to envision last winter, when Jake Browning made official his decision to play for the Washington Huskies, that the talented high-schooler might some day throw for 326 yards in an easy victory against an overmatched opponent at Husky Stadium.
Or that Myles Gaskin, the star tailback from O’Dea High who signed with UW in February, might eventually rush for 146 yards and three touchdowns in the same game. Or that Chico McClatcher, the former Federal Way superstar, would, in time, burn a collegiate secondary for a 49-yard score.
Yes, it seemed, that trio of offensive playmakers would make for a fine nucleus … in, say, 2017.
But here they were on Saturday afternoon, true freshmen turned key cogs in a Huskies offense that steamrolled the visiting Sacramento State Hornets, 49-0, before a sparse crowd of 55,010 in UW’s home opener.
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It was the Huskies’ first shutout since they blanked another Big Sky team, Idaho State, 56-0, in 2013. And while the level of competition did not provide much of a challenge — there’s a reason Sac State received a $450,000 paycheck for playing this game — the occasion did allow for Browning, Gaskin, McClatcher and several of their freshmen classmates to play starring roles.
That’s particularly true for Gaskin, who led the team in carries with 14 and averaged 10.4 yards per attempt, a pace buoyed by his 78-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter that put the Huskies up by seven scores.
“That’s what we’ve kind of seen out of him all fall camp, is that if we can just keep guys covered up, he’s got a knack to be pretty patient, which is a little bit uncharacteristic for a young guy,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said. “That’s a little bit of his style. I think we’ll keep building on that.”
The Huskies (1-1) mostly sputtered offensively before turning to Gaskin on their third possession, with the score tied 0-0 late in the first quarter. Gaskin carried on eight of nine plays on that drive, including gashes of 18 and 16 yards, and capped the thing with a 3-yard touchdown run in which he bounced outside and beat the cornerback to the goal line.
He scored on UW’s next possession, too, on a 16-yard run on fourth-and-1.
“He is playing well beyond his years,” said fifth-year senior tight end Joshua Perkins, who led UW with five catches for 77 yards.
Five more touchdowns followed — including the first of Browning’s career, a 78-yard toss to senior Marvin Hall that first deflected off the hands of a Hornets defender and had Browning admitting later that he thought it would be intercepted — and Sacramento State had no chance against a Huskies defense that has held opponents scoreless for six consecutive quarters.
UW finished with 544 yards of total offense. Sac State had only 212. Seven of the Huskies’ nine possessions in the second and third quarters resulted in touchdowns.
“I didn’t overthink it or think, ‘We need to do this or do that,’” Browning said. “Just take what they give you. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
The Hornets (1-1) gave plenty. The Huskies did not. Sac State totaled only 11 rushing yards and had only 11 first downs, and after UW’s 28-0 halftime lead swelled to 35-0 on Hall’s fortuitous touchdown catch, the subs took over.
That’s how another Huskies true freshman, linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, totaled six tackles, which tied with redshirt freshman safety Jojo McIntosh for the team lead. And why Trey Adams, a true freshman left tackle, made his collegiate debut in the third quarter — right around the time McClatcher sprinted past the Hornets defense and hauled in a 49-yard touchdown pass from Browning.
At one point, the Huskies defense featured three true freshmen, five redshirt freshmen and three sophomores. And Sacramento State still didn’t score, despite taking over at UW’s 4-yard line following backup quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels’ fumble in the fourth quarter.
“We really don’t have much of a choice in a lot of this,” Petersen said of using so many young players. “Those are our guys, with our handful of guys that have been around here, some of our veterans, those are the guys that we’ve got. They’re great kids and they’ll keep working hard. If we have a little luck and stay healthy with those guys, we’ll progress.”
SATURDAY: Utah State (1-1) at UW (1-1), 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network, 1000-AM,