Brent Pry woke up Wednesday morning thinking about Washington running back Myles Gaskin. He probably isn’t the first defensive coordinator to have that happen to him — and he won’t be the last, either.
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is undoubtedly the star everyone’s waiting to watch at Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, but no one should overlook Gaskin.
Pry certainly isn’t.
“Just the cuts and explosiveness and balance,” the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach marveled. “He sees the hole. Can catch the ball out of the backfield. Super impressed with him.”
Pry said the Nittany Lions have seen running backs of the same mold as Gaskin, but no one quite as good. The defensive coordinator likens Gaskin to Maryland’s Lorenzo Harrison, and yet Washington’s go-to guy “does things at another level.”
“If you asked our players, they’d tell you the same thing,” Pry added.
He was right. The Nittany Lions could do nothing but praise Gaskin, who leads the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns (19) while tallying 1,282 yards on the ground and another 228 yards and three scores receiving.
Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda said the junior “has the speed to take it to the house” and can “challenge the edge of the defense.”
Somewhat of a boom-or-bust player on a game-to-game basis, Gaskin can pop off at any moment. He has six performances of 100 rushing yards or more this season, and in those games, he averaged 153.2 yards — bolstered by his 192 yards against Washington State in the regular-season finale.
Gaskin, who stands at 5-foot-10, 191 pounds, isn’t physically imposing. But that doesn’t matter much to the Nittany Lions.
They’re fully aware of what Gaskin — who’s tied with Barkley for scrimmage plays of 10 yards or more this year — can do.
“Even though he might not be the biggest guy, he’s going to make plays,” Penn State senior cornerback Grant Haley said. “We have to contain him with his shiftiness and speed. We’re excited for the challenge. We’ve faced some great backs, but he’s one of the top backs we face this year.”
Senior safety Marcus Allen compares Gaskin to Ohio State freshman phenom J.K. Dobbins, who also had six games of 100 yards or more this year. “He’s explosive,” Allen said of Gaskin. “He has a lot of tools in his game that he can use.”
Now, the Nittany Lions are no strangers to dynamic running backs. Penn State faced Dobbins, Iowa’s Akrum Wadley, Michigan’s Karan Higdon and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, and Pry’s unit held the group to 279 yards on 63 carries (4.42 yards per attempt).
Not too shabby.
Still, Gaskin — perhaps an overlooked factor by the general public — is on Penn State’s radar.
The Washington back was on Pry’s mind when he woke up Wednesday morning, after all. The same will surely be true Friday night before the Fiesta Bowl.
“He’s just a very dynamic back,” Pry added, echoing the same theme in his players’ answers. “That’s one of the biggest challenges we face in the ballgame.”