Signs point to Browning return for UW senior season

Washington quarterback Jake Browning drops back to pass against Utah during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By Bill Swartz

When the Pac-12 all conference honors were revealed this week, Washington junior quarterback Jake Browning was listed only as honorable mention. That’s quite a drop for a young man who was the league’s offensive MVP in his sophomore campaign.

Granted, USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen had monster seasons worthy of Pac-12 first- and second-team spots, respectively. Browning was efficient in most games, but not spectacular like the two other QBs in Los Angeles. Rosen and Darnold both appear NFL ready. What about Browning?

In 2016 the Huskies had big play targets John Ross III, Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher at Browning’s disposal. He piled up 3,430 yards through the air and set a school record with 43 TD passes. Browning was intercepted just nine times and had a passer rating of 167.5.

John Ross is now catching passes in the NFL. Chico McClatcher and promising freshman tight end Hunter Bryant suffered season-ending injuries, and Pettis faced double-team coverage nearly every snap. While Browning had a higher completion percentage, (68.8%) compared to a year ago, his yardage (2,544) and touchdown passes (18) dropped off significantly from the season before.

When the Dawgs lost starting left tackle Trey Adams they became more run-oriented with Jake handing off or throwing check-down passes to Lavon Coleman, Myles Gaskin and freshman Salvon Ahmed. Witness the Apple Cup victory over Washington State when UW ran the ball 45 times and attempted just 17 passes.

All of these numbers lead to conjecture about Browning’s best career move. Nothing has been asked or said by Jake specifically about coming back for his senior season, or making himself available for the NFL draft. All signs though point to his playing one more year for the Huskies.

Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith left to become head coach of the Oregon State Beavers. Immediately UW’s Chris Petersen hired former Washington receivers coach Bush Hamdan to be the Husky’s future offensive play caller. He won’t be on the job until the Atlanta Falcons’ season is over, but Jake Browning likes the hire.

“Bush is someone I’m very comfortable with. I think he’s very comfortable here as well,” Browning said. “I think it should be a pretty easy transition as far as terminology and stuff like that. From my perspective, he’s just coming off coaching the reigning MVP of the NFL, (Matt Ryan). That’s pretty cool, too. I’m sure he’ll have some different things I can work on.”

The Huskies back-up quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is clear enough about Browning’s plans to ask Washington for a release so he can graduate, then transfer to play for another FBS football program next year. That leaves redshirt freshman Daniel Bridge-Gadd and true freshman Jake Haener as Browning’s returning understudies.

Washington also has some hot-shot quarterbacks verbally committed for next year and beyond, including Bothell High School senior Jacob Sirmon, and junior passer Dylan Morris from Graham-Kapowsin High in Pierce County.

Browning is a very bright young man who enjoys college and likes winning football games even more. He reminds me lots of Kellen Moore, another quarterback Chris Petersen mentored to greatness for a full four years at Boise State. In his final season Moore became the first quarterback in FBS history to win 50 games in his career.

Hopefully Jake Browning has a terrific performance in the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State at the end of this month. I could see that game as a springboard for a huge senior season cementing him as one of the finest to ever play the demanding position at the University of Washington.