Freshman QB Jake Browning has continue to be a pleasant surprise with his ability to make plays with his feet. The Huskies, meanwhile, are still looking for consistency with the special package designed around Jeff Lindquist.
All along, Washington Huskies coaches figured they had one quarterback who would be able to use his feet to make plays and another QB who would use his hands (to hand off to someone else) to make gains on the ground.
And they were right. Except, the two quarterbacks in question have suddenly taken on reverse roles in the run game: It’s Jake Browning, the freshman pocket passer, who has been using his feet for positive momentum lately, and it’s with wild-card Jeff Lindquist, the 245-pound bulldozing QB, that the Huskies are handing off … and losing ground.
Browning, labeled mostly immobile coming of high school, has continued to surprise and impress with his ability to juke pass-rushers, escape the pocket and buy time for receivers to get open.
UW coaches were not expecting Browning to be able to move as well as he has. The latest, and perhaps best, example came in Saturday’s loss to Utah, when Browning slipped free for a 25-yard run, a career long, to convert a third-and-long play. A week earlier, he had a sneaky QB keeper for his first rushing touchdown, from 12 yards, in the win over Arizona.
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“I love to see it,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “I think that’s a really added bonus. … Heck, I don’t even know if he knew he could scramble that well.”
In his first six starts of the season, Browning had netted minus-32 yards on the ground, including sacks. But he has finished positive yards in each of the past two games; even counting the four sacks he took against Utah, he still finished with a net of 12 yards rushing.
No, those ground gains aren’t much, but they’re more than the Huskies are getting from the specialty package featuring Lindquist. Lindquist replaced Browning for three plays against Utah and handed the ball off each time — once to Chico McClatcher on a fly sweep, once to Myles Gaskin and once to Jaydon Mickens on another fly sweep — and those three plays netted minus-5 yards. The best play, the handoff to Gaskin, went for no gain.
To be fair, Petersen quickly noted Monday that Lindquist did his job in those situations.
“I don’t think that’s on Jeff. Really don’t,” he said. “In terms of what we had going in the Utah game, I think he did what he was supposed to do.”
Against Utah’s strong defense — likely the best front seven in the Pac-12 — UW coaches knew short-yardage situations would be difficult, so they wanted to feature Lindquist as an option threat.
Lindquist, a junior, has 12 rushing attempts this season, gaining 36 yards, including an 8-yard TD run against Arizona. He has not attempted a pass this season. Petersen said Monday the Huskies would continue to analyze the effective of that package, comments echoed by offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith on Saturday night.
“We’re going to continue to look, because (Lindquist) is a captain of this team and we’d like to have him be a part of it,” Smith said.
>>> Dried out
In a steady rain Saturday, the Huskies were credited with five fumbles, losing three of them, in the loss to Utah. The Utes fumbled twice, losing both.
Petersen wants to embrace the rain. Ideally, he said, the wet weather becomes an advantage for the Huskies and a disadvantage for opponents playing at Husky Stadium — not the other way around.
Part of the problem, he said, is that the Huskies haven’t had many rainy days during practices this season, meaning players haven’t handled wet footballs often enough. The Huskies have not practiced indoors at all since the start of the season, he said.