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Washington Husky Football Season in Review: Evaluating the Passing Offense

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Horrible injury luck last season kept Washington’s passing game from ever approaching the highs fans experienced in 2016.

NCAA Football: Fresno State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In 2016, Jake Browning propelled himself to Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors on the strength of his 43 touchdown passes and the receiving duo of Dante Pettis and John Ross. After Ross became the ninth overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Husky fans grappled with the obvious and logical question: Who, if anyone, would step up to fill Ross’ shoes? And if no one could, how badly would the offense suffer as a result?

What We Said in the Preseason

As Husky fans know all too well, a poor offensive line can derail a pass offense. While that wasn’t a huge issue last year against most opponents, USC and Alabama basically negated the pass game, in part, with their ferocious pass rushes. Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary will both be entering their 3rd years as starting tackles, and shouldn’t have a problem keeping Jake upright and looking downfield. When he’s able to do that, he’ll find the open man.

By the Numbers

Jake Browning

Category Result Conference Ranking National Ranking
Category Result Conference Ranking National Ranking
Completions 230 6 43
Attempts 336 7 57
Yards 2,719 7 52
Yards per Attempt 8.1 4 29
Completion Percentage 68.5% 1 2
Touchdowns 19 5 40
Interceptions 5 6 50
Rating 152.10 2 16

Washington Receivers

Category Result Team Leader Conference Ranking National Ranking
Category Result Team Leader Conference Ranking National Ranking
Receptions 240 Dante Pettis (63) 8 67
Yards 2,889 Dante Pettis (761) 8 67
Average 12.0 Hunter Bryant (15.1) 9 50
Touchdowns 19 Dante Pettis (7) 6 68

Analysis

Back in August, Husky fans (reasonably) thought that Chico McClatcher could fulfill the role of John Ross Replacement, as the junior-to-be was coming off of an impressive 2016 season of his own that included 31 catches for 574 yards and five touchdowns. That hope ran aground, however, when the speedy receiver suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the conference opener against Colorado.

What happened to McClatcher can be seen as something of a microcosm of what the Washington passing game experienced in 2017: An abundance of raw potential and reasons for enthusiasm that were nonetheless sidelined by a seeming epidemic of bad injury luck. In addition to McClatcher, the Huskies lost freshman all-American tight end Hunter Bryant, potential all-American left tackle Trey Adams, tight end David Ajamu, and wide receivers Andre Baccellia and Quinten Pounds to injury for spans ranging from a game or two to the entire season. Even Dante Pettis and Lavon Coleman fell victim to the injury bug, when both incurred ankle injuries in the Apple Cup.

All this is to say that while Washington’s passing game was definitively worse in 2017 than it was in 2016, I’m not sure that there is all that much the Huskies could have done to avoid that outcome. The departure of Ross to the NFL, combined with the rate at which Browning’s best receiving options were sidelined, was simply too much for the team to bear, and no amount of reps or scheming could overcome that.

With that being said, Browning did not have the smoldering crater of a year that some fans would have you believe; rather, he regressed from excellent in 2016 to (at worst) average in 2017. His yards-per-attempt metric saw a modest decline, from 8.8 to 8.1, while his interceptions improved from nine in 2016 to five in 2017. Meanwhile, his most precipitous statistical drops — touchdowns (43 to 19) and yards per game (245 to 209) — can largely be attributed to the injury circumstances I described above. I suspect that many fans are loathe to admit it, but that’s not a horrible outcome in consideration of those factors.

Of course, the question fans now want answered has nothing to do with his sophomore or junior years, but rather his upcoming senior season. Will Browning return to his 2016 form, and help deliver a signature non-conference win against College Football Playoff contender Auburn in Atlanta? Or will his slow release and unimpressive arm strength again keep Washington from notching big wins on the national stage? If the answer is the former, he could go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Husky history; if it’s the latter, fan calls for Jacob Sirmon, Jacob Eason and Colson Yankoff could quickly become deafening.

Poll

How do you describe Washington’s 2017 passing offense?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    It exceeded my preseason expectations
    (1 vote)
  • 11%
    It met my preseason expectations
    (76 votes)
  • 88%
    It failed to meet my preseason expectations
    (598 votes)
675 votes total Vote Now