PASADENA, California — Myles Gaskin ended his career as a Washington Husky the same way he spent it: As the unrelenting cornerstone for his team's offense.
Trailing Ohio State in the 105th Rose Bowl Game, 28-3, Washington's offense lacked rhythm and needed an ignition — or risk getting blown out. The Huskies leaned on Gaskin in that tough spot, as they have consistently for four years of the program's all-time leading rusher's career. But it wasn't Gaskin's legs that began a 20-0, fourth-quarter run.
Gaskin showed an old Dawg can learn new tricks when, lined up in the Wildcat formation, he jumped to lob a touchdown pass over the line and into the hands of tight end Drew Sample.
The proverbial sigh of relief with finally getting into the end zone provided the catalyst for a furious rally, which ended with the Huskies coming an onside kick shy of the greatest come-from-behind win in Rose Bowl history.
"Coming out in the second half, Myles definitely sparked [the comeback]," said quarterback Jake Browning.
That's an understatement. Gaskin scored all three Huskies touchdowns, beginning with the touchdown strike to Sample — the first pass of Gaskin's career — and concluding with goal-line runs of one and two yards. The two scoring runs marked No. 56 and 57, extending his lead over 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James for the third-most rushing touchdowns in Pac-12 Conference history.
Third all-time also is where Gaskin ends among ball carriers in total rushing yards. The 121 he tallied against Ohio State pushed him to 5,323, behind only Royce Freeman and 1979 Heisman winner Charles White.
Chris Petersen cited "consistency" as the defining trait of Gaskin's career, a description that bares out in the running back's output. He rushed for 1,268, 1,380, 1,373 and 1,302 in his four seasons as Washington's starting running back, good enough to become the only rusher in Pac-12 history to eclipse 1,000 yards four times, and just the 10th in Football Bowl Subdivision history.
But the numbers that perhaps most accurately reflect the impact of Gaskin's four years at Washington are 39: the Huskies' win-total from 2015-18; three: the streak of New Year's Six bowl games in which the Huskies played, including the 2019 Rose Bowl; and two: Washington's Pac-12 championships in his tenure. Context of how Washington reached such team heights in Gaskin's career further illustrate the Seattle native's imprint on his hometown university.
Gaskin won the starting running back job as a freshman in 2015, in the second season of Petersen's tenure as head coach. Washington was in a transitional state; despite having reached bowl games every season since 2010, the program underwent something of a ground-up rebuild. Petersen and his staff weren't aiming merely to make the postseason, but to compete for and win conference championships, a goal that eluded the Huskies since 2000.
That 2015 season was integral in establishing the hard-working, never-yield attitude that defined Gaskin's four years. The program Gaskin leaves behind elevated from also-ran — or worse — to a level not seen at Washington since the peak of the Don James era.
Gaskin said two days prior to the Rose Bowl Game that contributing to Washington's resurgence was rewarding, but what excites him more is his faith in the returning underclassmen to build on the current success even more.
"[The underclassmen] have seen what we've done, seen where we've made mistakes. They'll be able to improve on the little things we've fallen short on to be that much better," he said. "I'm really excited for these guys, and you see it in every one of them: That they want to fight, and they want to get better."
However, it's not the mistakes or the near-misses during Gaskin's career that "set the standard," as running back Salvon Ahmed described it. It's in Gaskin's work ethic, his presence as a teammate and leader, that has the Huskies poised for greater success in the years to come.
"Myles is great, whether that's in the offseason or regular season," said wide receiver Aaron Fuller. "Great leader, very tough. He fought through so many injuries this year.
"He's just a role model for so many of us here," Fuller added, a sentiment shared across the Washington locker room.
"Phenomenal teammate; more of a big brother," said Ahmed, Washington's primary second rushing option to Gaskin in 2018. "From watching film, to what I need to do on the field, to motivating me, I can say nothing but the best words about Myles. I love him to death, and he's going to be phenomenal in the NFL."