They emerged from the locker room together: Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin, side-by-side.
Just minutes before, Washington’s furious comeback had fallen just short. After taking some time with their teammates, Browning and Gaskin walked toward the post-game press conference.
As they stepped onto a field that still held the remnants of Ohio State’s Rose Bowl victory celebration — scarlet and grey confetti piled on the ground, fans lingering in the stands — they disappeared from view.
For UW football, the moment marked the end of the era. The question that remains is both simple and complicated: What comes next?
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This senior class tied the school record for victories, winning 39 games over the past four years. It’s been done twice before in a four-year period, once from 1981-84 and again from 1989-92.
UW won to two Pac-12 championships during that time. It went to three New Year’s Six Bowls and made the College Football Playoff in 2016. But the Huskies haven’t won a major bowl game in that stretch. Their only bowl victory came in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2015.
A Rose Bowl win would’ve represented a significant step for head coach Chris Petersen and the program, but UW once again fell short. The Huskies are close to where they want to be, Petersen said after the Rose Bowl loss. But they aren’t there yet.
“I do think that these kids have it in them to be right there, you get a little luck, and make a play or two, anything can happen in these type of games,” Petersen said. “But we’ll keep battling, keep learning, keep figuring out how to raise the bar.”
UW will lose 22 seniors from its roster next season.
On Wednesday morning, junior safety Taylor Rapp, a second-team AP All-American, announced that he would enter the 2019 NFL Draft. Redshirt sophomore Byron Murphy, also a second-team All-American, could still decide to join him. The secondary will also lose senior safety JoJo McIntosh and senior cornerback Jordan Miller.
But all season, defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said backup defensive backs Elijah Molden, Keith Taylor and Brandon McKinney could’ve started for any other team in the country. And next year, the Huskies freshmen defensive backs — the ones that redshirted but so impressed Lake during fall camp and during sparse game appearances — will also be ready to take the field.
“We’ve got some freshmen right now that could play today if they wanted,” McIntosh said this week. “We always got guys. Coach Lake does a good job of recruiting good guys that are ready to play. I think we do a really good job of just filling in.”
Next season will also bring the much-anticipated debut of Jacob Eason, the favorite to take over for Jake Browning at quarterback. A transfer from Georgia, Eason didn’t practice with the team in Pasadena because transfers aren’t permitted to travel to road games, including bowls.
But Eason was key to UW’s preparation for facing Ohio State, and he was named the Offensive Scout Squad MVP this season.
“Our two hard work days of the week … we let him go,” said Lake. “Like he has the scout card, but it’s like, ‘Eason, let’s go. Try to dice us up, try to beat us.’ Definitely made us better to have an elite quarterback like that to face week in, week out.
“He’s been around. He’s a veteran. So he’s like: You know what? I know this is going to make our team better. And sure enough, he made us better. He’s a big-time talent. Great kid. Great command of the scout team.”
After the loss to Ohio State, AP first-team All-American linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven was asked to consider the legacy of UW’s seniors and the future of the program.
He was optimistic earlier in the week, talking about the Huskies improved recruiting — their 2019 class is ranked No. 16 in the country by 247Sports.com — and their increased national exposure. He remained optimistic after defeat.
“The talent we have can compete with anyone and I know our coaching staff’s the best in the country,” he said. “I hope in the next couple years I get to turn on the TV around this time of year and see us winning these kind of games.”