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Hunter Bryant a difference-maker for UW

He was on the field in the first half, but seemed forgotten.

Sophomore tight end Hunter Bryant didn’t have a single catch for Washington in the first two quarters of its 28-23 Rose Bowl loss. As the Huskies struggled to stretch the field against Ohio State and open up some space for running back Myles Gaskin, the question seemed more pressing.

UW needed to spark its vertical passing game, so where was Bryant?

After halftime, the Huskies gave the answer: Bryant was out there all along, just waiting for the ball to come his way. And as Gaskin racked up 94 of his 121 rushing yards in the second half, Bryant and the wide receivers started making an impact through the air.

“He’s a very athletic, big tight end that adds another threat to the offense,” said wide receiver Aaron Fuller. “He’s got speed that some other tight ends don’t have, which also makes him a threat when we go three receivers. Having him as an option to throw to is always great.”

Bryant finished with four catches for 51 yards, and they all came in big moments. At the end of the first quarter, Bryant’s 24-yard reception launched UW’s first touchdown drive and moved the Huskies into Ohio State territory.

Bryant’s other three receptions all came on the Huskies’ final offensive possession that pulled UW back within one possession. He opened the drive by catching a 7-yard pass from Jake Browning. His 17-yard catch got UW to the Ohio State 36. Then, on the next play, he grabbed a 3-yard pass.

After finishing the first half with 109 passing yards, UW had 206 after the break.

Bryant wasn’t targeted a single time in the first half, but Browning targeted him seven times in the second half, including six times in the fourth quarter. The Huskies scored all three of their touchdowns in that final quarter.

Bryant said he never asked Browning to start throwing to him.

“Me, when I run routes, when every receiver runs routes, you just keep running them like full speed trying to get open,” he said.

In the second half, Bryant said Gaskin played a big role in getting the offense going, but so did the Huskies’ defense.

“Seeing them do their job makes us want to do our job even more,” Bryant said, “and so we kind of feed off each other and when they do great, we want to come back and do great, too.”

Bryant played in nine games in his first season last year. An ESPN Freshman All-American, he was the Huskies’ third-leading receiver, catching 22 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown. But then he suffered a knee injury in October 2017 before he aggravated it this summer and underwent surgery in June.

He returned for the first time this season against Stanford, catching a single pass for 9 yards. Two games later, he was UW’s leading receiver against Washington State with three receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown.

The Rose Bowl was Bryant’s fifth game this season, meaning he lost the opportunity to redshirt after missing the first half of the season. But following the Huskies’ Apple Cup victory, Bryant said that wasn’t a factor for him.

He just wanted to play football, he said, and he was feeling more confident physically with each game. On Tuesday, he showed why he’ll again be a key piece of the Huskies’ offense next season.

“Hunter played an awesome game,” said wide receiver Andre Baccellia. “He’s just a big, strong, great player. Smart, crafty. He just played an awesome game and it was nice to see him out there, get going.”

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