The loss of John Ross and injuries to the Washington team this season have had an impact, but Browning has the highest passer rating (156.8) and the lowest interception rate in UW history.
Jake Browning is just fine.
By now, you have surely seen the replay a few times — the wild one of the Washington quarterback scrambling desperately on a fourth-down run late in the fourth quarter Saturday night, leaping toward the first-down marker, taking a punishing hit from two Utah defenders, getting helicoptered upside down and around and landing awkwardly on the sideline.
Browning initially thought he was badly injured. After a moment on the ground, he got up, no real harm done. And UW coach Chris Petersen on Wednesday said there are no lingering issues for his quarterback this week entering the 110th Apple Cup on Saturday at Husky Stadium.
“He rubbed some dirt on himself,” Petersen said, “and he’s ready to go.”
If there was one lesson to take away from the Huskies’ improbable comeback victory over Utah, it is this:
Jake Browning is just fine.
His helicopter hit was dramatic, sure. The more noteworthy play for Browning on Saturday night came a few minutes later, when he scrambled away from pressure, running to his left, and just before crossing the line of scrimmage threw a 31-yard completion over a leaping defender to Andre Bacccellia to the Utah 21-yard line with 8 seconds left. That set up Tristan Vizcaino’s game-winning kick as time expired.
Browning isn’t a Twitter guy, at least not during the season, but has heard the whispers from those questioning his decision-making at various times in the second half of the season.
That backlash was loudest after the Huskies’ 30-22 loss at Stanford, when Browning appeared as if he was trying to channel Johnny Manziel, running raggedly around the backfield, trying to beat defenders with his feet. That’s not Browning’s game, and the 18-yard sack he took in the fourth quarter there was, by his own admission, foolhardy.
“I was getting a little bit of heat for scrambling a little too much during the Stanford game,” he said Saturday night. “Some of those maybe they’re dropping eight (into coverage) and we’re running all underneath stuff and it’s not that people aren’t getting open, it’s just the right defense and the right play.
“You have to make some stuff happen. I think I do a pretty good job of making some stuff happen. I just have to eliminate those one or two plays a game that are detrimental and huge losses.”
Every quarterback is going to have those few plays each game. Not every throw is going to be spot on. Not every decision on point.
Some of Browning’s mistakes this season have been more noticeable because of how easy he made things look in 2016, when he tied the Pac-12 record with 43 touchdown passes. He hasn’t come close to matching some of those astronomical statistics. A lot of that can be explained by John Ross’ early departure for the NFL.
Some of that can also be explained by the Huskies’ reliance on a strong rushing attack behind Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman.
But it would also be hard to overstate the magnitude of the losses on the Huskies’ offense, with four regulars going down with season-ending injuries, including three of Browning’s top four pass-catchers (Chico McClatcher, Quinten Pounds and Hunter Bryant). Also lost for the season in mid-October was All-Pac-12 left tackle Trey Adams.
As a result, Browning has looked gun-shy at times, perhaps hesitant to throw to a young receiver with whom he hasn’t built a strong rapport. And at times he’s looked uncertain of the protection, perhaps unnerved after taking a few big hits this season.
After the loss at Arizona State last month, Petersen said Browning’s play wasn’t a concern. Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith echoed that this week.
“His efficiency numbers are still right where we want ’em,” Smith said. “His opportunities are less, because we’re throwing it less. It’s just the players around him with all the injuries. It’s not just that John is gone. You know, it started with David Ajamu (in fall camp), then Chico, then Trey (Adams), then Quinten and then Hunter Bryant, who was really coming on.
“I mean, there’s going to be some reflection of all that.”
Browning completed 26 of 35 passes for a season-high 354 yards against Utah, and his two touchdown passes gave him 77 for his career — breaking the school record. He also has the highest passer rating (156.8) and the lowest interception rate in UW history.
On the season, Browning has thrown for 2,451 yards, with 18 touchdowns, six interceptions and five rushing touchdowns.
He has not been perfect. He doesn’t need to be perfect in the Apple Cup, either.
If he’s efficient enough, if he isn’t reckless, the Huskies ought to be just fine, too.