As Saturday night pulled to a close, a search party was still out looking for the BYU Cougars. The nation’s 20th-ranked football team never showed up at Husky Stadium.
However, there was no mystery whatsoever surrounding the whereabouts of Washington quarterback Jake Browning. He was front and center, and never better, against a bunch of pretenders in blue and white uniforms. How did these guys ever beat the other UW—powerful Wisconsin—on the road?
Browning’s pinpoint efforts, combined with an uncharitable defense, presented the 11th-ranked Huskies with a surprisingly easy 35-7 victory on a relaxed night before FOX TV cameras and a crowd of 70,155 on the edge of Lake Washington.
Enjoying the most efficient performance of his four-year career, Browning completed his first 11 passes, later hit 12 in a row, threw and ran for touchdowns, and finished the intersectional game as the Huskies’ all-time passing yardage leader with 10,347 yards and the Pac-12’s sixth player responsible for 100 TDs in a career both passing and rushing.
Standing behind an offensive line that gave him all the time he needed, the senior from Folsom, California, picked apart BYU, completing 23 of 25 attempts for 277 yards. He missed only on a second-quarter out route to Aaron Fuller and a fourth-quarter lob into the end zone for Ty Jones on his final toss—needing just one of those to be complete to earn a share of the NCAA record for game accuracy.
“We ran the ball really well the last two weeks and that made my job easier," Browning said. "I was able to set my feet, to go through my reads and we were able to do something with it. I thought we were ready for a breakout performance.”
Said Huskies coach Chris Petersen, “When everyone’s doing their job, that’s what he looks like. When he can stand under there and look at things, he’s hard to beat.”
Maybe the dominant night by Browning and friends will stop the UW’s rankings freefall that has seen the Huskies drop practically a notch each week this season even while capturing four of five outings.
The Huskies wasted a series before it put everything at full throttle. Browning happened to roll out and run right into 6-foot-9, 275-pound defensive end Corbin Kaufusi and was humanely sacked, blunting the opening drive and ultimately bringing a punt.
Yet once they got the ball back, the Huskies zipped 65 yards in eight plays for a Salvon Ahmed 5-yard scoring run and the mismatch was getting started.
Early in the second quarter, the Huskies took advantage of a missed BYU field goal and traveled 72 yards in six plays for Myles Gaskin’s 6-yard TD run.
At this point, all Washington players were accounted for—even Trey Adams. The one-time All-Pac-12 offensive tackle and top NFL draft prospect wore street clothes, waved a towel on the sideline and proved he’s still alive and breathing. While the school has never addressed the senior’s absence, he reportedly suffered some sort of injury and had surgery—possibly involving his back—that put him out before the season started. The good news was he was reaching up and twirling that towel without any outward pain.
Without Adams, the Huskies held up well behind a line that has just one senior on it. The remaining old guy, Kaleb McGary, admittedly had a tough outing at right tackle with three holding penalties but the others played mistake-free football. Browning had nothing to fear on this night.
“We were dialed in with the protection,” junior center Nick Harris said. “When we give him that time, he’s going to throw the ball perfectly. He was lights out.”
Behind this motivated crew, the Huskies rolled up 187 yards rushing, too, with Ahmed collecting 86 yards and two touchdowns and Gaskin finishing with 81 and a score.
“I was really pleased with how those guys were blocking,” Petersen said. “I didn’t really know how many passes Jake completed because I was so focused on the run game.”
Amid all of these offensive inroads, it took a defensive play to put this one away. With 31 seconds remaining in the first half, Huskies inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven slammed into Lopini Katoa on the BYU 17 and separated the running back from the football, and then recovered the fumble.
Three plays later, Browning picked his way through the Cougars defense and scored from 9 yards out for a 21-0 advantage at the break. While Petersen credited Burr-Kirven with making the play of the game, the beneficiary of the turnover made light of his ensuing touchdown scramble.
“I think 16 wanted to come and kill me,” Browning said, referring to BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki. “I made an unathletic move on him and was able to score.”
Earlier in the quarter, Browning became the Huskies' all-time passing yardage leader, moving by Cody Pickett, who finished with 10,220 in his career.
Halftime did nothing to slow Washington’s momentum. The Huskies reached the end zone again on their first possession of the third quarter, moving 48 yards in seven plays for a 15-yard TD pass from Browning to tight end Drew Sample.
On the next UW possession, Ahmed nearly broke one, going 37 yards on the first play. He finished up the eight-play, 80-yard drive with a 6-yard TD run and the Huskies had all of their points for the night.
The UW defense was down another starter—senior defensive lineman Shane Bowman wore a cast after breaking a bone in his foot in practice that will force him to miss several weeks—but it held up well. Bowman’s replacement, Levi Onwuzurike, crashed into the backfield in the opening quarter to spill BYU’s Squally Canada for a 2-yard loss to show what he could do in his first career start.
The UW defenders held the usually offensive-minded Cougars (3-2) to seven first downs and 194 yards of total offense. They served up a touchdown only in the final seconds after Chico McClatcher committed the Huskies’ lone turnover of the night, fumbling a punt on his own 21. The only other drawback was a pair of missed field goals by Peyton Henry.
Otherwise, it was crisp, methodical whipping served up by a team capable of winning a lot of games but having trouble convincing the national pollsters and pundits of that. This outcome should go a long way in getting everyone to take Washington seriously--on Sunday, the voters bumped the Huskies to 10th.
“Yeah, I think it was probably our best game,” Petersen said.
Next up for the Huskies is a regular-season trip to the Rose Bowl to face a surprisingly bad UCLA team, suffering through an 0-4 start, and its new coach Chip Kelly. Kickoff will be at 4:30 p.m.
Browning's arm may or may not be cooled down by then.