BY Art Thiel 12:03AM 12/03/2016

Thiel: Huskies are champs, with more to come

A play of pure athletic improvisation highlighted Washington’s 41-10 romp over Colorado Friday night, a win in which the Huskies did everything required to make the CFP playoffs.

With the cxhampionship trophy held high, the Huskies celebrated their 41-10 triumph over Colorado at Levi’s Stadium. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

SANTA CLARA, CA — The play that sealed the Pac-12 Championship Friday night had nothing to do with good coaching or clever scheming or luck. It was pure athletic improvisation, which makes the Washington Huskies slightly scarier for the opponent they draw in the College Football Playoffs.

Ahead 24-7 in the third quarter, QB Jake Browning, amid a mediocre game for him, dropped back from the Colorado 19-yard line and had nothing. The Buffaloes’ premium linebacker, Jimmie Gilbert, broke free of his blocker and laid hands on Browning. Beginning an awkward throw from below his right knee before he fell over, Browning flung a duck toward the sideline, seeking an incompletion.

Instead, the incomparable WR John Ross, from a standing jump, speared the ball one-handed, clasped with two, and needed only half of his warp speed to tiptoe down the sidelines for the touchdown.

It should have been a sack. Or at least an incompletion. Instead, it began a giggle-fest among the 47,118 at Levi’s Stadium, an acknowledgement that they had gotten their money’s worth. At least, if they weren’t fans of the semi-helpless Buffs.

The Huskies? They received a trophy that rewarded a splendid 12-1 season with their first Pac-12 title since 2000 after a 41-10 thrashing of eighth-ranked Colorado.

The Huskies did everything required to make irrelevant the “very small” margin a CFP spokesman said Tuesday existed between No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Michigan, a  no-doubt rout that was executed despite an 9-for-24 passing day for Browning.

Somewhere in Ann Arbor, MI., a clipboard undoubtedly died a horrible death. Police are looking for a khaki-clad suspect with a red face.

The pullaway triumph left CFP committee with no wiggle room to deny Washington a berth in the playoffs. At the moment, Washington would play No. 1 Alabama in a semifinal Atlanta’s Peach Bowl Dec. 31. But the Crimson Tide has to play Florida Saturday for the SEC championship, and No. 3 Clemson has an ACC title game, too with, Virginia Tech.

All will be sorted at 9 a.m. Sunday when the committee announces the field. As far as RB Myles Gaskin is concerned, he could do without that nonsense.

“It’s up to a whole bunch of people I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t care for it personally.”

That bureaucracy held no sway after the game amid the confetti and fireworks that celebrated a return to dominance for Washington that seemed far away until Petersen arrived.

As much as the Buffaloes rightfully should be celebrated for their one-year turnaround from 1-8 to 8-1 — the biggest flip in conference history —  Petersen is king of the West  Coast because it took him just three years after his hugely successful run at Boise State to resurrect the Huskies in his careful yet clever image.

“I have so much respect for this conference, and what types of coaches and players that we have,” he said. ” I don’t take for granted at all sitting up here” with the trophy.

Amid all the NFL-caliber talent on the Washington team, a freshman led them.

Safety Taylor Rapp, the precocious kid from Bellingham’s Sehome High School, held the Most Valuable Player trophy above his head on the post-game presentation platform as securely as he clutched two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown that broke open the game.

“Honestly, I didn’t see any of this coming,” Rapp said. “It’s so crazy and surreal. It felt l like a dream out there.”

He was part of a defense that suffocated the mistake-prone Buffs, held to 163 yards of offense, a season low as well as a Pac-12, championship-game low. The only other team the Huskies humbled as thoroughly was Portland State.

UW also temporarily knocked out of the game QB Sefo Liufau, the Buffs’ primary weapon, during a first-quarter sack by LB Psalm Wooching.

Liufau, from Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep, had his sore leg wrapped at halftime and returned. But his first pass of the second half was tipped, then grabbed by Rapp, who scooted 35 yards with the pick-six to break open the game.

Asked if he knew that Liufau was limited, Rapp said, “The quarterback was out there.  Doesn’t matter to me. Play ball.”

The Huskies offense plodded through a first half leading 14-7 so awkwardly that a national reporter in the press box inquired of a Seattle reporter whether Browning was hurt.

No. He was waiting. While he waited, he handed the ball off to Gaskin (159 yards) and Lavon Coleman (107 yards). They were the first pair of backs to each top 100 yards in the championship game’s six-year history.

The rest of the night was up to the defense. They picked Liufau twice more to set up short fields so the Huskies didn’t have to rely on the passing game Petersen called “awkward.”

But if the Huskies had little going in the air, consider the Buffs: Besides the three picks, they completed seven of 22 passes for 76 yards.

A wild Colorado kickoff return in the third quarter that included a fumble recovery by RB Phillip Lindsay reached the Washington 2-yard line. As they have done several times season, the Huskies mustered a goal-line stand that forced Colorado to accept a field goal, thwarting any momentum it hadmomentarily from the return.

“The only thing to keep them in the game was to return the kickoff,” Petersen said. “When (opponents) get down there to the five, I always think, ‘I don’t know if they’re going to score.’ A lot of times, they don’t. That was the case again.”

Even when the Huskies are awkward, they have the defense and the raw talents like Browning and Ross. Those virtues can take a team a long ways past awkward, all the way to Atlanta for a New Year’s Eve party of a kind the Huskies football program has never experienced.



  • 1coolguy

    “The Huskies offense plodded through a first half leading 14-7 so awkwardly that a national reporter in the press box inquired of a Seattle reporter whether Browning was hurt.” No, it’s only him and Smith now.
    Even though it has been written here that Tedford (the QB whisperer) had no contact with the players, including Browning, I am not one to believe in coincidence. Tedford left the program the week before the USC game and the last four games are Browning’s worst of the season, his (3) 1st qtr TD’s in the WSU game notwithstanding. Since Tedford left, Browning has been a different player and as scary as this sounds, it is now back to Smith, as in what we saw last year.
    My concern at this point is how much Browning will regress next year, when it continues to be just Smith and him.
    As to the CFP, CP should call Tedford and get him back part-time, through the CFP, otherwise I don’t hold out much hope. A run-only team will not go far going forward.
    We saw this similar thing when Keith Price and Doug Nussmeier teamed up his record breaking sophomore year, then he dropped off due to Nussmeier leaving for Alabama.
    That said, this 31 point win ensures the Dawgs at least a 4th placed finish: The voters cannot find a legit reason now to drop them out.

    • art thiel

      Good observations. Don’t know whether it’s regression or two good pass-rushing defenses in USC and COL. But give Petersen 3 weeks, and chances for an uptick are good.

  • 1coolguy

    As the CFP is 12/31/2016, 29 days from now, anyone know if there is any chance Victor heals and returns?

    • art thiel

      Neither Victor nor Mathis will be ready in time. No will Gardenhire get a chance to pee in a bottle.

  • Steed

    Great win by the Dawgs.

    That was funny after the game when the announcer guy called him Tyler. You could hear Taylor correct him and say “Taylor” and the announcer guy went on like “whatever kid, I’ve got a trophy presentation to do here.”

    I don’t know if they have any more wins in them, but it will be fun to find out.

    • art thiel

      I doubt the same mistake will be made in the next couple of years.

  • coug73

    Congratulations Huskies. Domination football. Good luck in your bowl game.

    • art thiel

      Gracious of you Coug.

  • Bruce McDermott

    I confess that sticking to Harbaugh is a wonderful ancillary benefit to all of this.

    • art thiel

      No need for confession, counselor. In these parts, there is no guilt in that pleasure.

  • Diamond Mask

    Browning may be overthinking this whole QB thing. He needs to relax and play. Go Dawgs!

    • art thiel

      Colorado helped him overthink. But so will ALA.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Phenomenal win. Regarding Browning, he seems to be holding the ball too long waiting for the play to develop and then carefully floating the ball. He really needs to make more rapid reads and then zing it, maybe try to overthrow someone on a deep route just to get the right feel of it.

    • art thiel

      Colorado’s secondary is very good, and they weren’t going to let Ross or Pettis beat them. Browning forced too much, which is why the TD by the TE was an inspired call and execution.

      • 1coolguy

        The TE seam route was open all night, as I watched for it after the wide open TD pass. They never went back to it -??????????????????? Hello, anyone home?

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  • Paul Harmening

    Everyone is assuming Dawgs retain #4 in the CFP and will next face the Tide…How ev ah, I’m hoping for the CFP to REALLY get it right this time and put them in the 3 spot. Why? How bout a guaranteed repeat of last year’s championship game between Bama and Clemson over there in Southland and in the West (which should have been in the Rose Bowl instead of the Fiesta Bowl), the natural with Pac 12 and Big Ten teams Washington and Ohio St. squaring off, although I would have preferred Michigan just so the NW could stick it to “what’s his deal” one more time.

    Now this would make the TV folks deliriously ecstatic. And then, it would be (presumptively) the Tide and Dawgs for the big one.

    You think there’s a chance?

    • rosetta_stoned

      I’d rather have four weeks to prepare for Alabama instead of just one.

      • art thiel

        Four weeks won’t make Huskies superior athletes.

        • 1coolguy

          I watched the Alabama game and the things I saw in the UW’s favor are: The Florida QB was a stiff – he threw 3 interceptions, including a pick-six. I have to think Jake will be an upgrade at QB in comparison. The Alabama defense scored as did the special teams off a blocked punt, in the FIRST QUARTER! So Florida was toast by halftime, the game was over.
          Also, I was not favorably impressed by Hurts, ‘Bama’s QB. He is a frosh, #34 in the country, 146 rating, 22 TD’s, 9 Int’s. He can be defeated with our rush and secondary.
          This game will be about whether the Dawgs score early and are either ahead or close at halftime. Watching Alabama, I think we can do it, but two things must happen: Jake needs to play like Jake, not the guy from the past 4 games, and we cannot turn the ball over.

    • art thiel

      There’s a chance. ALA and CLEM play today, so nothing is set, including Big 10 title game.

  • woofer

    The good news is that the Dawgs’ running game and defense were stout enough to win easily against the Buffs even with a bad day at quarterback. But that won’t get it done in the CFP chase. Browning needs to become quicker getting the ball out or he will be eaten alive. Fortunately, CP has three weeks to figure out a solution, and the QB kid is a hard worker.

  • 1coolguy

    Interesting on 2 levels – I read an article in the Denver Post and MacIntyre said they weren’t worried about Browning and were instead geared up to stop the run. He was surprised at how well UW ran the ball.
    One that they determined the run was more of a problem than Browning and two they were not able to stop the run, as that is what they geared up to do.
    So they concluded, watching the past 3 games, that Browning was not the main threat and the run was. They saw the same things we have – Browning is not the same QB he was earlier, as he is MUCH more hesitant and at times looks lost.
    Sure hope he figures it out before the next game or TV’s in the NW will be turned off en masse by halftime. I hear the skiing is great……………..