First things first:
That defense Jake Browning carved up Saturday was slower and slighter than any he figures to face in the Pac-12 Conference. The opponent for the Washington Huskies’ home opener was listed on the schedule as Sacramento State, but a more apt name would have been Sacrificial Lamb.
OK, now that we’ve established that a slew of future first-round NFL draft choices weren’t stalking Browning, an observation about the Huskies’ 49-0 victory is in order.
The national high school recordholder for touchdowns in a season (91) and career (229) will be a blast to watch in college. It’s conceivable that by the time Browning is old enough to grow whiskers, he’ll own every passing mark at a school with a tradition of accomplished passers.
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And to think: A few days ago, identifying a starting quarterback loomed as the Huskies’ most pressing issue. That Browning’s status for his college debut at Boise State was presented as a mystery will be part of the lore, along with his first touchdown pass — a slightly underthrown, 78-yard bomb to wide receiver Marvin Hall off the fingertips of a Sacto State defensive back.
“That was a bad read by me,” Browning said. “Marvin did a good job of playing the tip, but that was a bad read. I thought it was going to get picked, but it went through his hands and Marvin scored.
“I said a little thank you to whoever helped me on that,” continued Browning, who completed 17 of 24 passing attempts for 326 yards during a performance that left Huskies coach Chris Petersen more intrigued than impressed.
“He’s still got a bunch of stuff to clean up,” Petersen said. “That first touchdown pass will be one he never forgets. But, hey, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
Browning appeared to be both against the overmatched Hornets, who had no clue on how to contain the Huskies aside from an occasional blitz the UW true freshman QB didn’t pick up. He got sacked twice, and some other plays were prevented from blowing up by his ability to improvise behind the line of scrimmage.
Make no mistake: Browning was not born to run, or scramble, or perform any of the other tasks associated with athletic, dual-threat quarterbacks. He was born to drop back in the pocket and deliver footballs through windows with narrow openings.
But not even the most immobile quarterback should be limited to a single dimension. On a fourth-and-1 inside the Hornets’ 20, Huskies offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith called for Browning to execute a read-option.
Browning took the ball to the left side and astutely kept it, not only achieving the first down but also putting himself in position to score an uncontested touchdown. And then, at the 11-yard line, he tripped — an unforced error that will draw hoots from teammates when they review the game on tape.
“I probably didn’t look real athletic on that one,” Browning said.
No matter. He looked like a real quarterback the rest of the time.
Regarded as the football equivalent of a gym rat since the age of 8, Browning was at his best Saturday when operating in hurry-up mode. There were just under two minutes remaining in the first half when the Huskies, leading 21-0, began a drive at their 10-yard line. Browning threw a 13-yard dart to Jaydon Mickens for a first down and proceeded to move the chains on three of his next four passes.
It took Washington all of 59 seconds to advance into field-goal range, and when Browning connected with Joshua Perkins for a 21-yard gain inches shy of the goal line, the Huskies were able to blow the game open.
Because Browning’s football I.Q. is off the charts, don’t be surprised if the hurry-up offense becomes an essential component of the UW arsenal. A two-minute drill can rattle even a veteran pro quarterbacks, but the two-minute drill Saturday found Browning developing a take-charge rhythm.
“We have to put the tape on,” Petersen said when asked to assess Browning’s progress from last week. “There were a couple of things that he was making a lot harder on himself than he needed to, but you can see that the kid can throw it in there.”
And when his throw isn’t in there, when it isn’t precise, there’s a chance the pass still turns into a 78-yard touchdown.
This is going to be so fun.