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Washington’s up-and-down year ends in Pasadena – Daily News

A pick-six nearly ended Washington’s Rose Bowl hopes. Another sealed them.

After a controversial quarterback change against Cal led to a 36-yard interception return that doomed the Huskies to their third loss of the year, Washington rattled off four straight wins and clinched its second Pac-12 title in three years with cornerback Byron Murphy’s 66-yard pick-six in the conference title game.

The Huskies walked off the field at Cal Memorial Stadium as underperforming preseason favorites on Oct. 27. Five weeks later, they clenched roses between their teeth at Levi’s Stadium.

UW will end its roller-coaster season with the program’s first Rose Bowl berth since 2001, a third-straight New Year’s Six bowl appearance in Chris Petersen’s five-year tenure.

“That’s when you can kind of say something about your program: This isn’t just a one-time thing, this is who we’re going to be,” Petersen told reporters after the Rose Bowl announcement. “Whether it turns out like this every year or not, you gotta have some luck and health and those types of things, but I think this is why we all came here to Washington.”

Quarterback Jake Browning came to “change this program,” so said a private Twitter message he sent to Myles Gaskin soon after the running back signed with the Huskies in 2015. They were a just a pair of prospects in a recruiting class ranked a forgettable 26th in the country back then.

Now they’re record-setting, four-year starters.

Gaskin, the school’s leader in career rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and rushing yards, is the first Pac-12 player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in four straight years. Browning, who was the first UW true freshman quarterback to start a season opener, will leave the school as its all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes.

But the final installment of their careers has been the most perplexing. The Huskies, despite entering the season with four-year starters at quarterback, running back and left tackle, sputtered on offense. They ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in points per game with 26.6, UW’s lowest ranking since 2015.

Gaskin was out with a shoulder injury in October, reduced to a spectator for both of UW’s conference losses. Preseason All-American left tackle Trey Adams missed the first 10 games due to back surgery. He had the operation just days before UW’s much-anticipated season-opener against Auburn.

The game was supposed to announce the Huskies as College Football Playoff contenders, but a narrow five-point defeat had them reeling early.

First-year offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan regretted his play-calling days later. He told reporters a failed option pitch in the third quarter that resulted in a fumble at Auburn’s 3-yard line would “be with (him) forever.”

The Huskies were left lamenting small mistakes in each of their three losses that came by a combined 10 points. In a heated rivalry game against Oregon, UW conservatively ran the clock down in a tie game, playing for a 37-yard field goal to win. Redshirt freshman kicker Peyton Henry missed it wide right. The Ducks won in overtime, ending any hopes of a playoff trip.

Two weeks later, Petersen benched Browning with a one-point lead against Cal, hoping to find a sudden spark for a discombobulated offense in backup Jake Haener. Instead the redshirt freshman threw the game-changing interception to Evan Weaver, who returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. It was Cal’s only touchdown of the 12-10 win that nearly cost the Huskies their championship aspirations.

Needing four straight wins to stay alive in the conference race, the Huskies relied on their defense that responded with 11 takeaways in the final month and led the Pac-12 in points allowed for the fourth straight year.

UW had the fifth-best scoring defense in the country, allowing 15.5 points per game. In their rivalry win over Washington State that clinched the Pac-12 North title, the Huskies held the Cougars to a season-low 15 points in a snow storm.

Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is the nation’s third-leading tackler with 12.7 per game.

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