PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The second half of the Rose Bowl showed No. 9 Washington is more than capable of competing with the top programs in college football.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, another slow start against a marquee nonconference opponent proved to be the difference in their 28-23 loss to No. 5 Ohio State on Tuesday.
"If we had five more minutes we would have won that game," Washington center Nick Harris said. "Just kind of ran out of time, and we got to start faster. We can't have those hiccups in the first half."
Washington's third consecutive appearance in a New Year's Six bowl game played out much like losses to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl in 2016 and to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl last season. The Huskies fell behind the Buckeyes 28-3 in the third quarter before rallying with three touchdowns in the fourth.
Led by 204 yards passing from senior quarterback Jake Browning and 97 yards rushing with two short touchdown runs from senior running back Myles Gaskin, Washington outgained Ohio State 293-92 in the second half. In the fourth quarter, the yardage edge was 170-15 in favor of the Pac-12 champions, forcing Ohio State to have to recover an onside kick with 42 seconds remaining to stave off what could have been the biggest comeback in the 105-year history of the Rose Bowl.
The sense of regret was all too familiar for Washington (10-4), which trailed by 21 points in the first half of that 35-28 loss to the Nittany Lions last season. A year earlier, the Crimson Tide put Washington in a 17-7 halftime hole en route to a smothering 24-7 loss, and even this season's opener against Auburn saw the Huskies trailing by nine points twice in the second quarter before falling 21-16 in the neutral site game in Atlanta.
Sophomore running back Salvon Ahmed said avoiding those early deficits is necessary for Washington to get a win confirming its status as one of the elite programs in the country.
"We saw how we could play that whole game and we showed it the whole second half," Ahmed said. "It's unfortunate when those type of things happen, you don't come out fast, and that's on us. That's not on coaches. We had plays in our hands that we weren't able to make and that's on us. We got to get better."
Browning agreed, saying his departing senior class closed the gap between Washington and the likes of Ohio State.
"I mean, I think we're close," Browning said. "We're doing a good job of getting into the big game and doing a good job in Pac-12 play a little bit. Being able to win two Pac-12 championships in four years had been big, but some of these bigger games, especially the past two years, I feel like we've started slow. It was just too little, too late. We kind of put it together at the end. I think we're close, we're right there."
Going into the season against an SEC opponent put Washington into the position of being the Pac-12's standard-bearer, a role they never seemed to want during the conference's media day in Hollywood in July. The early loss to the Tigers all but eliminated the Pac-12 in the CFP race, and the deficit to Ohio State looked as if it would be another demerit for the conference going into the 2019 season.
Harris knew the criticism of Washington, and the Pac-12 by extension, would be piling up on social media in the first half.
"Everybody's going to blow it out of proportion, but we just got to execute better," he said. "But we know what we're capable of, because in the second half we started rolling, so we just got to start fast."
Having been on the field against the Big Ten champions in the latest test where Washington came up short, Harris rejected the notion the game represented a referendum on the Huskies' place in college football.
"All I care about is my teammates and what we have to do in the offseason to take this team to the next level," Harris said. "I could care less what anybody else has to say."