It was Washington’s most confounding performance since a 13-7 loss at Arizona State in October 2017, and one of the worst, period, of the Chris Petersen era.
BERKELEY, Calif. — They lingered on the field, singing, dancing, smiling, enjoying one of California’s greatest victories in recent memory. One Cal player in the middle of the mass celebration estimated he took 75 selfies on the field after the Bears’ 12-10 upset of No. 15 Washington on Saturday.
Not far away, outside Memorial Stadium’s visiting locker room, Chris Petersen emerged quickly. No lingering here. He sat down behind a microphone and didn’t have to wait for a question to address the most burning development from the Huskies’ latest road loss.
“Obviously painful. Painful on offense,” the Washington coach began. “Let me start by saying: Pulling Jake (Browning) out, that had more to do with me trying to do something to help this offense way more than it did with Jake. Jake is a competitor. Jake does everything we ask. But, you know, we got to try help this offense out somehow, someway. …
“We’re not going to just keep banging our head on the wall. But we love Jake and we were planning on putting him back in there. But I just wanted to try to shake things up, see if it could get something done.”
Washington was leading 7-6 when Petersen made the decision to bench Browning, his senior quarterback.
With 1:56 remaining in the third quarter, with the Huskies (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) clinging to a one-point lead, with their offense sputtering, their Rose Bowl hopes teetering, Petersen turned to redshirt freshman Jake Haener for the first significant snaps of his Husky career.
Haener’s first pass attempt in a Pac-12 game, on a comeback route intended for Andre Baccellia, fell 5 yards short.
Two plays later, disaster.
Haener’s third-down pass over the middle was intercepted by Cal’s leaping linebacker, Evan Weaver, at the Huskies’ 37-yard line.
Weaver weaved to his left, cut up the sideline past Haener’s tackle attempt, and dived toward the goal line over UW tackle Kaleb McGary. Weaver extended his left arm and tapped the pylon with the ball with one second left in the third quarter.
Touchdown. Pick-six. Bears lead.
That was it, really. That was the Bears’ only touchdown Saturday. That was all they needed.
Washington’s defense, for the most part, did what it had to do, holding the Bears’ offense to two field goals and 242 total yards. Twice in the fourth quarter, the UW defense came through with three-and-outs deep in Cal territory, forcing the Bears to punt out of their end zone.
Haener got one more chance after his interception. He completed one pass, for 11 yards, on his four attempts.
“We put him in a tough spot,” said Bush Hamdan, UW’s first-year offensive coordinator.
Petersen then turned back to Browning, his fourth-year starter, the Huskies’ all-time leading passer.
Aaron Fuller returned a punt 28 yards to the Cal 22, setting up the Huskies in prime position for their final drive. Then the Huskies got a glimpse of a signature Browning moment. Under pressure, the senior QB scrambled to his right and on the run threw a strike in a tight window to Ty Jones for a 23-yard gain to the Cal 9.
The Huskies were back in business. And then they weren’t.
On the next play, fourth-string running back Kamari Pleasant was stopped for no gain. Browning’s second-down pass to the back of the end zone was too high for Fuller.
On third down, the Bears blitzed. Browning backpedaled, threw off his back foot toward … who exactly it’s not clear … and his pass was nearly intercepted near the goal line. The Huskies had to settle for a Peyton Henry 26-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 12-10 with 4:51 left.
That was it, really.
The Bears (5-3, 2-3) were able to run out the clock after that in part because UW had to use two timeouts earlier on offense (once with Haener in the game, and the second coming before Browning’s incomplete pass toward Fuller in the end zone).
It was Washington’s most confounding performance since a 13-7 loss at Arizona State in October 2017, and one of the worst, period, of the Petersen era.
“It’s always all our phases — the run game, pass game, converting on third down, converting in the red zone,” Hamdan said. “It just hasn’t been good enough and we’ve got to make sure we get back to it.”
The most confounding part of Saturday’s performance was that UW’s offense was so good and so efficient on its first drive. The Huskies drove 64 yards on 14 plays, and Browning completed 5 of 6 passes — the one incompletion a receiver drop — and his 3-yard TD pass to Jones gave the Huskies an immediate 7-0 lead.
Then, well, virtually nothing the rest of the game. Senior running back Myles Gaskin (shoulder) missed his second straight game, and without him the Huskies were held to a season-low 91 yards on 33 carries (2.8 yards per carry).
Browning finished 11 for 21 for 148 yards with one touchdown and one first-half interception. He was sacked twice.
“He got on the phone (in the fourth quarter) and said, ‘I’m ready to go,’” Hamdan said. “I don’t think I’ll respect anybody more than him, maybe ever. I appreciate him going out there and playing a gutsy fourth quarter.”
The Huskies did not make Browning available for interviews after the game.
“He was mad. I mean, Jake’s a competitor. He’s mad right now. And I’d expect nothing different out of him,” Petersen said. “It is what it is. Just trying to do something to spark this offense, because we’ve got to score more than we’re scoring.”