One question that Husky coach Chris Petersen will be pondering, as he watches the game film, is why Browning seemed to be constantly on the run. Some scrambling is a good thing but you can’t be flushed out of the pocket repeatedly.
It was set up to be a career-defining drive for Jake Browning, not to mention a season-transforming victory for the Huskies. The stuff from which dreams are made and legends are born.
But what happened when Washington got the ball back with 2:51 to play and 72 yards separating it from one of the more improbable comeback victories in recent Husky history was not dream-inducing. Nor legend-forming.
It was reality slapping them in the face, a healthy reminder that a freshman quarterback — even one with Browning’s bountiful talent — protected by three freshmen offensive linemen, will be a work in progress with some inevitable regress thrown in.
And in this case, what was set up for glory instead was merely the culmination of a frustrating Pac-12 indoctrination for Browning. After scrambling futilely on first and second down, resulting in a short gain and then a sack, Browning spotted Jaydon Mickens by himself downfield.
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But with Browning again on a mad run to avoid the Cal rush, his off-kilter pass was picked off, ending Washington’s comeback hopes and leaving the freshman muttering afterward.
“I was just late on the throw,’’ he said of that final pass. “He was open. I saw him open. I tried to avoid the rush and still throw it. It was dumb. It was like the 12th turnover of the game. A ridiculous number of turnovers. You’re not going to play with anybody if you do that.”
One thing we’re already learning about Browning is that he takes losses extremely hard, and that he is even harder on himself after they happen. Both qualities will serve him well in the long run as he takes the learning curve any young QB faces and transforms it into a straight line toward greatness.
But on the way, there will be games like Saturday’s, a 30-24 loss to Cal, in which Browning struggled all game to find a rhythm. Let me stress: The loss was not on him, by any means. The Huskies can point to any number of issues, including poor tackling and inopportune penalties, as the culprit.
But try telling Browning after it took him more than a quarter to complete a pass (at one point his quarterback rating was minus 66.7, compared to Jared Goff’s 139.7 at the time). He also had a costly fumble as well as two interceptions. The Huskies turned the ball over five times, not 12, but it was too many.
“Penalties and turnovers,’’ Browning spat out. “Those are two things that can kill a drive. We were in frickin’ first and 25 a lot, first and ridiculous. A lot of that is on me, throwing picks and stuff like that, fumbling, things we haven’t done that much this year.”
Someone started asking Browning about the pass to Dwayne Washington, wide open on a wheel route, on the Huskies’ next-to-last drive. He grimaced at the very mention of the play, in which a potential touchdown was thwarted by a pass off target.
Did he miss on that throw? Another grimace.
All Browning needed to do to assuage his frustration was watch the self-assured Goff, who three years ago went through all the same growing pains as a true freshman thrust into the Pac-12 maelstrom. Now Goff runs the Cal offense with precision, emboldened by the institutional knowledge that can only be gained through experiencing cause-and-effect on the field.
One question that Husky coach Chris Petersen will be pondering, as he watches the game film, is why Browning seemed to be constantly on the run. Some scrambling is a good thing — Browning had one nice pass on the run to Dante Pettis, and one lengthy gain off a scramble — but you can’t be flushed out of the pocket repeatedly.
Part of it, of course, is protection. “We played three freshmen on the O-line,’’ Petersen said. “That’s going to be a hard combination.”
But Petersen added, “He’s scrambling too much. He needs to stay in there, and our protection needs to tighten up.”
Despite it all, there it was at the end, all the Huskies could have asked for: One final chance, after they had stormed back from a 27-7 deficit to pull within six on Sidney Jones’ 70-yard fumble return and a field goal. And then the defense held.
“The attitude was, we were going to go down and win the game,’’ said tight end Joshua Perkins. “We have to drive the field and get the touchdown.”
Browning said at that point, he was “as confident as I’ve been the whole game. I knew we were going to battle. The defense kept us in it, and we were ready to go down and score and put together a drive.”
The Huskies have a bye next week before resuming what Petersen called their “hard-slugging” season. Browning said he’d rather go right back out and play, but instead, “We have to sit on this awhile. Hopefully it will motivate some people, as far as the leadership part. There’s a lot of older guys on our team that have dealt with this before. We’ll see where they take us. It feels like crap right now, but you have to move on.”
Browning’s “thing” is going to be a very good thing for the Huskies. But en route, reality will keep wanting to intrude.
|Browning vs. Goff|
|Jared Goff||24-40-1||342, 2|
|Jake Browning||17-28-2||152, 0|