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12 for ‘16: Jake Browning’s precision thrusts the Washington Huskies into the national spotlight

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The sophomore quarterback creates Heisman buzz and elevates his team into the playoff hunt

Stanford v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: The individuals, games, and plays that made up the character of the 2016 season are the reason for the 12 for ‘16 series. This isn’t a countdown. Rather, we are talking about what we were talking about in 2016. Enjoy.

2016 Washington Husky Football: Whew, that was an okay ride. Assaulted with un-ending preseason hype and gratuitous predictions of success, UW fans kinda slapped themselves back into reality and refused to embrace that a playoff run was realistic. Or at least I did.

Then Stanford came to Seattle on a Friday night and in front of the entire country a decent west-coast viewing audience, the Huskies turned a highly anticipated matchup of top-10 teams into an unrelenting 44-6 ass-kicking. Jake Browning authored a master-class performance; his precise throws and impeccable timing had the Cardinal on their heels all night. Browning completed 15 passes on 21 throws while averaging (what became his standard) 10 yards per-attempt. Does the fact that Stanford was down its two starting cornerbacks tarnish Browning’s performance that night? Maybe.

Probably.

But at the same time, it highlights what Jake Browning is as a quarterback and as a team leader. It’s no coincidence that all 15 completions went to wide receivers that night against Stanford. If a team has a weakness, Browning will find it. If he has an advantage somewhere on the field, he will exploit it. And when he has a chance to hit someone for a touchdown in the redzone, he doesn’t usually miss it.

Watching Jake sometimes, I really feel like he has super powers. Not in the brute-strength, Superman, Cam Newton kind of way. No, Super-Jake would be no stronger than you or I. Jake Browning the superhero would be akin to the uber-intelligent DC Comic villain Brainiac (minus the pure evil).

The Pac-12 opener in Tuscon saw Browning and the Huskies have an uneven night against a considerably less talented Arizona team. The defense gave up big plays and the offense continually failed to score despite multiple trips into Arizona territory. One of the most memorable individual performances of the 2016 season was Lavon Coleman’s behemoth 181 yard effort against the Wildcats where he put the Huskies on his back and broke free again and again. Of those 181 yards, 138 came on three pivotal carries where Coleman sprinted through gaping holes. Jake “Brainiac” Browning audibled the Huskies into all three of those plays, seeing something before the snap and changing whatever play was originally called into a Coleman run designed to attack a recognized weak spot in the Arizona defense. Browning also ran for a score, hit John Ross for a TD (yawn), and drilled a ball high and away from the safety where Dante Pettis made one of his signature leaping snags to secure the eventual game winner.

Courtesy of the Pac-12 Network

What does it mean to be a “precise” quarterback?

Being precise (and accurate) is much more than just being able to throw a football through a tire in the back yard. Chris Petersen installs a very complicated offense. It depends heavily on the quarterback’s ability to read the defense and the team as a whole to be perfect in their timing and execution. There are handoffs where the running back is reading the defense at the snap, and Browning must be ready to adjust his handoff to side Gaskin or Coleman is choosing to take the ball on. There is the fact that despite the two-zillion formations and shifts the Huskies use, you almost never see an illegal formation penalty or an eligible receiver accidentally covered up.

“Not on my watch,” Brainiac would probably say.

Browning is thorough not only in doing his job, but like any valuable leader, also in making sure he doesn’t let anyone else forget a detail about their own job. Pointing, yelling, directing; even grabbing someone and tugging them to the side of the formation they belong on... Jake Browning is precise.

I decided not to make this article overwhelmingly about numbers. Browning tied the record for the most TD passes (43) in Pac-12 history in 2016, and no doubt it was his gaudy completion percentage, lofty QB rating, and sumptuous number of TD throws that garnered him so much recognition and entered the Husky signal caller into the weekly Heisman Trophy conversation for much of the season.

But one number that needs to be brought into the discussion about Browning and what he meant to the 2016 Washington Huskies is the number 8. Brainiac used his super powers to shred the Oregon Ducks for EIGHT touchdowns. He ran them, he lofted them, he sizzled them, he looked to one side of the field and flipped them to the other. He inspired me to go to the Custom Ink website and play with designs for a T-Shirt to wear to the Oregon game next season in Seattle:

Browning and his Husky teammates scored 10 touchdowns in Eugene, all on offense. They did whatever they wanted all day, and from the first score of the game, Jake “pointed” out that the 12-year losing streak to the Ducks was about to end. Possibly the pointing taunt was not the smartest thing to do; quite uncharacteristic for Brainiac. But even as he was assessed a penalty in the game and sentenced to 500 push-ups by his coach afterward, one can’t help but think that Browning knew what he was doing. He made sure this wasn’t just a win, but one that would be talked about for years to come (and inspire T-Shirt ideas).

Browning would injure his labrum two weeks later against Oregon St. (or at least that is when most think it happened... Chris Petersen is pretty mum on injuries). For the rest of the season, he lacked the zip throwing the football that he had early on, and his statistical output would slow to those of a mere mortal. But when your ultimate weapon is your mind, a gimpy shoulder is just a bump in the road on your quest for a conference title. He still managed to connect on six TD throws in a slaughter of Cal, and with his arm looking weaker than it had all season, he tossed three scores and amassed a 191 QB Rating in a route of WSU in the Apple Cup.

Would a 100% healthy Jake Browning have given the Huskies a better chance in the Peach Bowl against Alabama? Of course, but it still wouldn’t have been enough. Remember, Browning’s strength is exploiting the advantages he sees on the field, finding the one-on-one matchups that work to his favor. He studies every player on a defense and finds the weak link. Alabama had no weak link on defense, at least in their matchups with Washington’s offense. UW would have needed receivers like Clemson’s Mike Williams (6’3”, 225) and Jordan Leggett (6’5, 260) in addition to John Ross and Dante Pettis. And someone to block Jonathan Allen would have been nice too.

Regardless of how the season ended, let’s appreciate what Jake Browning did in 2016. Coming off a 16 TD/ 10 interception season as a freshman and a modest 7-6 record, Browning led the Huskies to 12 wins, a conference championship and played so well that he became a weekly name on the Heisman watch list, all while looking fairly unspectacular. While Louisville's Lamar Jackson spun through tackles, hurdled defenders, and outran secondaries, Browning simply recognized defensive alignments, read coverages, and delivered room service passes squarely into his receivers hands the moment they came out of their breaks.

Brainiac’s deep ball still needs work. As a freshman, he overshot his long passes. Last season, he left them a little short. Something tells me that he will go full Goldilocks on his deep passes as a junior.. and they will be just right.