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Gehler: Offense sputtering into Stanford matchup

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Jake Browning unloads in Washington's win over Colorado.

The lackluster Washington offense is well-documented. After a 14-play opening touchdown drive against Cal, the UW offense fell flat for the remainder of the game.

The struggles were amplified by the questionable removal of senior quarterback Jake Browning for a two-drive stretch that resulted in a pick six by redshirt freshman Jake Haener. The return of Browning eased things a little bit, but it was far from the success of the opening drive.

The tinkering of the offense was an effort to light a spark and get something going after a rough stretch lately.

“We rotated receivers, backs, line — and it’s just about doing something,” head coach Chris Petersen said. “You have seven points, and so … that’s hard for some people to swallow. We’ve been kind of plodding along on offense here for the last few weeks. Not necessarily because of Jake’s fault, but you’ve got to try and do something.”

Of the remaining nine drives, eight of them were under three minutes and lasted six plays or fewer. The Golden Bears had four drives of at least four minutes and two of double-digit plays.

The inability to sustain drives has clearly played a significant role in Washington's struggles over the previous few weeks.

“You’d like to get some explosives in there where guys break tackles and make some things happen and that’s really hard to do,” Petersen said. “But that seems to be a little bit of who we are right now. We’re working hard to change that. For whatever reason, we have little margin for error.”

There are a few areas to look at as the main cause for the stagnation on offense.

The most obvious reason for the offensive struggles is the absence of senior running back Myles Gaskin. While Gaskin did not put up quite the numbers that Husky fans were used to seeing over his first three years on campus, averaging just 89 yards per game, the explosive running back is still the clear workhorse and makes things much easier for the rest of the offense.  

While the offense has consistently thrown the ball around the same number of times over the past month, the success rate suffered a significant drop-off without the star running back. Browning averaged 250 passing yards over the first seven games of the season, that number is down to 149 yards in the two games without Gaskin.

That is a small sample size, but it is a concerning number if that trend continues. A significant reason for the struggle is likely a different approach by opposing defenses. Without a legitimate run threat defenses can gameplan differently and not allow anything over the top and force Browning to take what the defense gives him underneath.

The hope is that Gaskin can give the Huskies a much-needed spark as he is close to returning to action, but even with the star running back returning, things do not get much easier this weekend against a tough Stanford defense.

“I know those Stanford teams, how they play,” Petersen said. “They’re tough, they’re hard-nosed, they get better, they compete their tail off and I know how this game will be. It will be a tough fight for sure.”

Reach reporter Kyle Gehler at Twitter: @KyleGehler

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