Jake Browning called his performance "subpar," and the UW rushing attack struggled to gain ground with Pac-12 play looming next week.

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The conversation over, Jake Browning slammed down the old telephone. This was on the Washington sideline, late in the third quarter after his second interception of the game, and after the quarterback’s discussion with the offensive coordinator sitting eight stories up in the Husky Stadium press box.

Browning was not pleased then, and he was not pleased after the game when asked to assess the performance of his first home game in his final season as the Huskies’ quarterback.

“Subpar,” he said.

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The final score — Washington 45, North Dakota 3 — made this look like the No. 9 Huskies simply slam-dunked another overmatched lower-division opponent at home.

No, North Dakota never made you think they were going to go all Appalachian State on the Huskies. But the Washington offense really never gave you reason to believe it was doing something special Saturday, or that it is consistently capable of doing special things especially well, and thus the Huskies’ first victory of the season has created more questions than answers as UW prepares for its Pac-12 opener next week at Utah.

Namely, uh, this: What’s up with the offense?

“We can do better,” coach Chris Petersen said. “Certainly running the ball, we can do better.”

Start there, with the run game, with what was supposed to be the strength of this UW offense this season. It would be easy to pick on Browning’s two interceptions and his uneven play and his sideline frustrations, but it’s only fair to note that the Huskies had just 79 yards rushing through three quarters. They averaged just 3.6 yards per rush with their first-team offense on the field, against an FCS opponent getting a $550,000 paycheck to play this kind of game.

In his first three seasons at UW, Myles Gaskin has historically been a slow starter, and he had just 37 yards on 11 carries Saturday running behind another reshuffled offensive line. Already without star left tackle Trey Adams (back), the Huskies had a new center against North Dakota while Nick Harris was sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

“Not good,” Petersen said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball better.”

The fourth quarter, Petersen said, was good. The Huskies went deep into the bench and had 116 yards on the ground in the fourth quarter behind backups Kamari Pleasant (five carries, 47 yards, one TD), Sean McGrew (three carries, 24 yards, one TD) and walk-on Malik Braxton (two carries, seven yards).

Salvon Ahmed had a 34-yard run in the fourth quarter. That was good, too.

Bush Hamdan, calling plays from the eighth-floor press box high above the field, didn’t sound overly concerned about the rushing attack going forward. North Dakota, he said, “heavy-loaded” the box to sell out to stop the run.

“We’re very confident in that,” he said of the running game.

And, true, these might be minor quibbles for an offense that finished with 632 yards of total offense, ninth-most in program history (and again, 242 of those yards came in the fourth quarter when both teams emptied their benches).

And it just felt uninspired at times, didn’t it? Perhaps that’s to be expected after the Huskies’ much-ballyhooed top-10 opener against Auburn last week, and with a tough Pac-12 opener on the road next week. This was never more than a survive-and-advance game against an overmatched opponent, right?

Anyway, Hamdan was happy with the big plays from the wide receivers. Aaron Fuller had six catches for 74 yards; Quinten Pounds had three catches for 98 yards; Ahmed had five catches for 39 yards; Ty Jones continued to impress with four catches for 76 yards and the first two touchdowns of his UW career — one of those coming on a sensational one-handed grab in the fourth quarter on a throw from backup QB Jake Haener.

So there’s progress there.

Tight end Cade Otton, a redshirt freshman from Tumwater making his Husky Stadium debut, had a 1-yard TD from Browning — his first career catch — to extend UW’s lead to 24-3 late in the third quarter.

So there’s something to celebrate there.

Give UW’s defense credit. Other than one third-down play — when it allowed a 69-yard run that led to a third-quarter field goal — the Huskies shut down North Dakota (262 yards of total offense).

The offense left questions on the field.

Browning, playing with a large brace on a right knee banged up on his final snap against Auburn, finished 23 of 37 for 313 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Ready for Pac-12 play, Jake?

“Yes.”