The throw was supposed to go elsewhere, a play-action pop-pass designed for tight end David Ajamu that would have relied more on superior scheme than flawless execution.
Instead, Jake Browning turned it into Exhibit A — by this point, maybe more like Exhibit F or G or H — of just how much the Washington Huskies have upgraded at the quarterback position since last season. And just how much brighter their fortunes might be this season because of it.
On second-and-goal at Utah State’s 3-yard line, Browning faked a handoff, spun out of a sack attempt with a move he must have borrowed from someone far more athletic, bought some more time, then lofted a touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Drew Sample — a tight end, but not the one the Huskies drew the play for — to put the Huskies ahead by three scores late in the third quarter.
“Drew is, like, not even a factor on that play,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said afterward. “He made the decision to throw it to Drew, and it worked out.”
Washington won this game, 31-17, before a crowd of 59,464 at Husky Stadium, improving to 2-1 going into its Pac-12 opener next week against California. And Browning, the true freshman prodigy from Folsom, California, continued to play in a manner that makes it hard to believe there was ever a quarterback competition during preseason camp.
He completed 22 of his 31 pass attempts for a UW freshman-record 368 yards and three touchdowns, the lone blemish an interception he threw on the first play of the second half.
That throw, which he tried to get to Jaydon Mickens deep up the left sideline, was “a dumb play by me,” Browning said. “You can’t make that throw. That could have been a big momentum shift.”
At the time, the Huskies led 17-10, and they had allowed a late Utah State touchdown to end the first half. Browning’s mistake gave the Aggies a chance to tie a game they otherwise never had a chance to win.
But the Huskies’ defense, stout again after posting a shutout last week, came to their quarterback’s rescue. Junior cornerback Kevin King intercepted a Chuckie Keeton pass attempt three plays later — King’s third interception in three games this season — and the Huskies responded with maybe their most impressive scoring drive of the game.
It covered 78 yards in eight plays, and was capped by Browning’s 33-yard touchdown pass down the middle to a wide-open Dwayne Washington, the Huskies’ junior tailback who scored UW’s first touchdown on an 81-yard, check-down catch-and-run early in the second quarter. Washington finished with five catches for 131 yards.
The Huskies took a 17-3 lead with 4 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first half after Tristan Vizcaino, the team’s kickoff specialist and backup place-kicker, lined up for a field-goal attempt and took a direct snap before sprinting to the front-right corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run.
But it was hard not to identify Browning as the game’s foremost star. His most impressive feat might have been completing 12 consecutive passes following his interception, eight of which gained 13 or more yards.
“That’s kind of how he is,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s kind of like, next play — whether he throws a touchdown or he throws an interception, he’s on to the next play. I think that’s kind of a rare and unique quality.”
Washington’s defense limited Utah State (1-2) to just 254 yards and 4.0 yards per play. The Aggies didn’t score a touchdown until late in the first half, when a 49-yard pass from Keeton to Hunter Sharp set up a 1-yard score by 300-pound nose tackle David Moala.
USU’s next score capped a bizarre sequence in the fourth quarter that began with Huskies safety Brandon Beaver intercepting Keeton at the goal line, then returning the ball 96 yards to the Aggies’ 3-yard line. Two plays later, Huskies backup quarterback Jeff Lindquist, who again appeared sporadically as a change-of-pace rusher, fumbled into the arms of Aggies defensive back Jontrell Rocquemore, who sprinted 97 yards for Utah State’s final touchdown.
But it didn’t matter. Browning and UW’s offense — though not the running game, which averaged only 2.1 yards per carry — had already provided necessary separation.
Asked if his young quarterback is outperforming expectations, Petersen hedged.
“I just think we take it one game at a time,” he said. “I think the competition’s going to continue to increase, and we’ll just see how he does. That’s how I want our whole team to look at it. That’s how I want our staff to look at it. I think he’s doing what we thought he could do, and we’re pleased.”
That’s probably not entirely true, of course. Not even Petersen could have thought the kid could shimmy like he did before his final touchdown pass.