Washington’s football coaches looked at the statistics, and figured Arizona State’s weak pass defense presented an opportunity for quarterback Jake Browning to throw the ball.
So that’s what they had him do.
Browning set career highs with 405 yards passing and 52 attempts — he completed 28 of them, with a touchdown and three interceptions — as the Huskies tried to exploit a Sun Devils defense that entered Saturday’s game ranked 103rd nationally in pass defense efficiency and 106th in yards per attempt allowed.
That strategy appeared to work in the first half, when the Huskies totaled 341 yards — including 132 rushing — and could have added more if their receivers had been able to come down with a few catchable passes into the end zone.
Browning also missed what would have been a sure touchdown throw to tight end Joshua Perkins on a fourth-down play in the second quarter, though UW still led 17-3 at halftime.
The last Huskies quarterback to throw for 400 or more yards in a game was Keith Price against Baylor in the 2011 Alamo Bowl (438 yards).
“Just looking at it statistically, some of the yards and whatnot in the passing game, (we) felt like we could attack inside and then over the top,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “And the first half, we got some things done there.”
Arizona State blitzes frequently, and sacked Browning four times. But the freshman said he didn’t think the Sun Devils blitzed nearly as often as they usually do, and lamented the scoring chances that the Huskies squandered in their 27-17 loss.
“They handed us opportunities, and I’ve got to capitalize on those,” Browning said. “I missed on a lot of stuff that I don’t usually miss on. That’s probably the most frustrating part, and then not giving us the best opportunity to win. So I’ve got to improve.”
The Huskies had 22 pass attempts and 15 rushes in the second half. UW coach Chris Petersen said that was by design, and added that he thought it was the right approach, despite the fact that tailback Myles Gaskin rushed for 108 yards on 18 carries (though 100 of those yards came on his first 10 rushes, and Arizona State shut him down in the second half).
“Jake, he threw some really good balls,” Petersen said. “… We threw it a lot. And we knew we were going to do that. If we get a little more accurate and give our receivers a little more of a chance on a couple of those, it might change the game as well. But he’ll learn. He battles. The one thing is, I know that guy will learn. I know he’ll get better from it.”
Browning threw interceptions on three of the Huskies’ final four possessions.
“They’re a team that plays the run very well,” Browning said of Arizona State. “So I kind of figured we were going to have to throw the ball a lot. I feel like we did at times, and at times we just left points on the field, and like I said, that starts with me.”