Replacing Myles Gaskin
One of the biggest questions in the room was how were the Huskies going to replace the talented Myles Gaskin at running back.
For four amazing seasons, the Huskies were graced with arguably the most productive running back in Husky history and the stalwart of the Husky offense.
You don’t just replace a Myles Gaskin, as he was a generational talent, but the hope was to try and replicate his production by committee.
Entering fall camp this past August, the running back position was an open competition for the first time in four seasons, with some talented players in the mix.
Junior Salvon Ahmed was the favorite heading into camp, as he had two seasons to learn under Gaskin, when Myles took Ahmed under his wing and showed him the ropes.
“I try to learn a lot from him. Obviously, I want to be my own player, but I try to learn the patience and the work ethic and everything like that,” Ahmed said about Gaskin last season.
In the end, Ahmed won the job and entered the season as the lead running back in the hopes of continuing as the next successful Husky running back in the lineage.
Is Ahmed A “Workload Back?”
Once Ahmed was named the lead back, the next question was whether he could be a “work load” back and shoulder a massive amount of carries each game.
“I would say yeah. He’s never really had that. I think it’s something brand new to him and it’s good to watch him try and take over the role and continue to work to keep himself ready for Saturday’s with his grind that he does during the week. Obviously at this point, he is probably our lead guy in the room,” Running backs coach Keith Bhonapha told DubLife earlier this season about Ahmed.
What Ahmed has proven this season is that he can shoulder the workload of an every down back. He is currently averaging 17 carries per game and has already had 20+ carries in several games this season.
In the past, Ahmed was used primarily as a specialty back and had minimal carries, which wasn’t enough of a body of work to show his durability.
Just last week against the Oregon State Beavers, Ahmed finished with a stat line of 25 carries for 178 yards and 2 TD’s. Without Ahmed’s consistent running, the Husky offense would have been in trouble due to the struggles of the passing game.
What Ahmed Brings To The Table
Ahmed adds a powerful punch and dimension to the Husky offense that puts opposing defenses on notice anytime he is on the field.
He has freakish athleticism, in the likes of former Husky Legend running back Napoleon Kaufman, and that type of talent doesn’t come around very often.
Every time Ahmed touches the ball, he is a “home run threat” to take it to the house with an electrifying run due to his flashy speed and vision.
“Salvon is always one-pitch away from hitting it out of the park. If he gets some space he can outrun guys,” Washington head coach Chris Petersen said.
Ahmed is also proving that he can be a versatile back with his ability to run between the tackles for hard yardage and while taking big hits.
Salvon had laid the boom this season on opposing defenders and showed that he can bring the physicality to get the job done consistently.
He is not just getting the ball out in space and attacking the edges, but he is patiently setting up his blocks and running north and south as well.
Ahmed is currently leading the Pac-12 Conference in total rushing yards with 886 yards and is on pace for a 1,000+ yards this season.
Richard Newton Has Been A Pleasant Surprise
At the start of the season and all the way back to fall camp, the coaches were raving about the emergence and skill set of true freshman running back Richard Newton.
Last season, Newton redshirted because of the logjam at the running back position, but the rumors were swirling about Newton and his promising future as a Husky.
For anybody that watches Newton for the first time, they are immediately drawn to the physicality and the mindset that he runs with every play.
Newton is a throwback type of running back who doesn’t mess around and likes to hit the hole hard or run over opposing defenders.
That type of mentality has added another dimension to “the stable” of running backs and has added versatility to the Husky offense.
“Like I said, he brings a different mentality to our offense in the running game,” Petersen said last week.
Newton has evolved into a specialty back this season for the Huskies, just like Ahmed was the last two seasons behind Gaskin.
The Wildcat play has almost exclusively been put into the playbook for Newton, which has created the “Newtoncat” on Montlake.
In 3rd and short or 4th and short yardages, Washington offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan has called upon the “Newtoncat” to get the conversion.
Hamdan has also called Newton’s number quite often in the red zone this season to run over defenders and try and punch the ball into the end zone.
The Newton dynamic has paid dividends for the Husky offense this year and has made the one-two punch of Ahmed & Newton tough to defend.
The Need For Two Backs
The reason the emergence of Newton is so critical for the Husky offense this season is because of the constant pounding that running backs take every single week.
It is virtually impossible for one back to shoulder the load for twelve straight weeks and come away with no injuries and unscathed.
While Ahmed has earned and proven himself as the lead back for the Huskies, it hasn’t come without injury or missing any of the action.
Earlier this season, Ahmed didn’t travel with the team to BYU, as he was left home to rest a sore knee and decrease the swelling.
No matter how good your lead back is, eventually the wear and tear will take its toll and somebody else will have to help with the workload.
With Newton and his style of running, the Husky coaches have been able to effectively take some of the load off Ahmed and rest him on tough downs.
Newton has come in during “Wildcat” situations and also in tough red zone yardage, which has allowed Ahmed to stay rejuvenated over the course of the game.
Over the course of the season, those little breaks add up with staying healthy and having fresh legs, which is extremely important towards the end of the season for a running back.
“My big thing is just trying to capitalize on the skills that some of these guys have and put them in the best position to be successful,” Bhonapha told DubLife.
While Newton has certainly helped Ahmed this season, Salvon has also stepped up and had Newton’s back as well, especially over the last month.
When the Huskies visited Stanford earlier this season, Newton went down with a major left foot injury and had to leave the game.
Newton missed the following three games due to his foot injury and Ahmed shouldered the load for the Husky running game.
During this stretch, Sean McGrew was banged up off and on, so Ahmed had to learn how to thrive on his own essentially, taking his game to another level.
Having two healthy running backs is critical, especially to a Husky offense this season, where the passing game has been inconsistent.
Everything Is Cyclical
The great revelation of the Husky offense this season has been the built-up chemistry of this dynamic duo and the impact it has had.
The combo of Ahmed and Newton has been a godsend to the offense this season, and both players feed off each other extremely well.
With having both of their talents on the roster, the Husky coaches have had more tools in their “tool box” to pull out each game.
For two straight seasons, Ahmed was able to learn from the best in Myles Gaskin and gain the blueprint to be successful himself.
Gaskin is off to the NFL and now it’s Ahmed’s time to shine as the lead back, but he is also leading by example.
Everything is cyclical and now Ahmed has the chance to build his own foundation with things he learned from his talented mentor and predecessor.
By doing that, he now has the chance to take Newton under his wing and show the young and talented back the ropes, that have been shown to him.
Nobody knows what the future holds, but for the time being, this “two-headed monster” in the Husky backfield is exciting to watch.
Once the season ends, Ahmed will have to sit down and make a decision about his football future and career and it won’t be easy.
The shelf life for a running back is minimal at best, on average, and Ahmed’s decision will definitely come down to his NFL Draft stock evaluation and the input from his beloved family.
If Ahmed were to leave, Newton has shown that he has the skills and mindset to take over as the lead back, when his turn arises.
Anyone who has been around Salvon for an extended period of time knows that he is about as humble of a person as you can get.
It’s one of his greatest attributes as a person and as a teammate, and nobody has been happier for Richard Newton than Salvon Ahmed!
“Like I told him before, I see Rich running hard and I’m like man..I got to run harder! He inspires me and pushes me to be a better player every day. We got out there and practice and kind of push each other,” Ahmed said.
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