BY Art Thiel 09:29PM 10/27/2018

Thiel: Browning benched in debacle by the Bay

A 12-10 loss to Cal may be the low point of Petersen’s Washington tenure, especially after benching QB Jake Browning for two series, and getting worse than nothing for his trouble.

QB Jake Browning was benched in the third quarter, and returned to do poorly again. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

Chris Petersen said he wanted to “shake things up,” he said, by benching in the third quarter his four-year starting quarterback, Jake Browning. The Huskies coach succeeded. Whether Washington (6-3, 4-2) will stop shaking is the test for the rest of a season that turned abruptly to disappointment Saturday night in Berkeley.

Redshirt freshman QB Jake Haener came in to throw a pick-six for Cal’s only touchdown in a 12-10 defeat (box) that may go down as the worst in Petersen’s five years at Washington. The 15th-ranked Huskies, 11-point favorites, gained only 128 yards and three points over the final three quarters and probably blew their shot at the Pac-12 Conference championship game and potentially a return to the Rose Bowl.

At the moment, however, they would be hard-pressed to handle the cupcakes for which their schedule has become infamous.

“We could not get anything going on offense,” Petersen said of the change at quarterback with 1:56 left in the third quarter and Huskies clinging to a 7-6 lead. “I was just trying to spark something.”

He succeeded there too, sparking a quarterback controversy that may drag down the remaining three scheduled games. Not only did Haener do just about the worst thing possible for a newbie QB — his only previous action this season was mop-up work in the blowout of North Dakota — he was kept in for a second series that, while managing a first  down, went nowhere too.

For the final two possessions, Petersen went back to Browning, with similar results — a combined 11 plays for 28 yards. The final possession with seven minutes left was particularly galling, because it began at the Cal 22-yard line, thanks to a 28-yard punt return by Aaron Fuller, the best play of an otherwise dolorous season by UW special teams.

But the first play thereafter, an end-around to RB Salvon Ahmed, was blown up for a 10-yard loss. Browning seemed ready to save the day with a 23-yard completion to WR Ty Jones for a first down at the Cal 9. But a run for no gain and two incompletions (including an apparent interception that was dubiously called off) made Petersen decide to take a field goal despite the fact that UW was behind by five.

His hope was to stop the Cal offense again and get the ball back for a final try for a game-winning field goal. But the Huskies defense, which had hung tough, ran out of energy and the Bears ran out the clock over the final 4:51.

The failure to get in the end zone from the nine was perhaps the season’s low point for Browning, although Petersen tried to deflect criticism.

“We’re not pointing arrows at Jake Browning,” he said. “One thing I’m never going to do is lay down and say, ‘We’re good.’ We wanted to look at some things. I know the was some leaky protection, some dropped balls. So it’s never (all) on that guy.

“We were really, really honestly poor on offense.”

It’s true that the contributors to debacle were many, including junior Henry Roberts making his first career start at left tackle, and career rushing leader RB Myles Gaskin being held out (shoulder injury) despite warming up in pads pre-game.

But after a game-opening drive of 64 yards in 14 plays that ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Browning to Jones, the Huskies were mostly staggered by a greatly improved Cal defense under coach Justin Wilcox, the former Washington defensive coordinator under coach Steve Sarkisian.

Browning was 11 for 21 for 148 yards and an interception, and the ground game was held to 91 yards in 33 carries.

“We never could get into our rhythm,” Petersen said. “I think our first drive was (14) plays, helped by a penalty, and we capitalized on it. After that, there was no rhythm. It was painful.”

Cal’s only touchdown was the 37-yard interception return by junior LB Evan Weaver of Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, who said to Fox TV after the game, “Shows we have a better culture than they do.”

Certainly there are those in Montlake who would like to take him up on the contention. But there can be no argument about who had the better team Saturday.

“Cal pretty much out-played us in every single phase,” said LB Ben Burr-Kervin, who again led Washington with 14 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. “Six points looks good, but put on the tape and see the missed tackles and assignments.

“We played some pretty bad football.”

All true. Also true is that the coaches did poorly too, especially the yo-yoing with the quarterbacks that did no one any good.

Petersen owned up, a little: “It really starts with us as coaches to give these guys some answers,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine Petersen going with Haener against Stanford, which lost at home to Washington State 41-38 Saturday. But in a week that figures to be rich in damage control for a season that began with high expectations, the Huskies find themselves in a place unimagined.

All is possible.

Chico McClatcher leaves team; ‘personal’ reasons

Beset by a slow recovery from two leg injuries, senior WR Chico McClatcher of Federal Way has stepped away from the team and did not make the trip to Cal, according to the Seattle Times. Against Colorado the previous Saturday, McClatcher fumbled twice.

A starting slot receiver as a sophomore in 2016, McClatcher led the Pac-12 in yards per reception that season. But a torn ACL and an ankle injury have compromised his ability to return to full speed.

“It’s a tough situation. I love that guy,” Petersen said Thursday before McClatcher’s decision was public. “He is such a wonderful kid and a football guy. We all go through things, and it is what it is.”


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YourThoughts

  • unknownone

    Not sure what you mean by a “quarterback controversy,” Art. Those require at least the illusion that the backup is better than the starter and would give the team a better chance to win. No one who watched Haener’s two series, which included the pick-six that cost Washington the game, could make a credible claim that he’s a better choice to play than Browning, and anyone who says the true freshmen third and fourth stringers should get the call is not to be taken seriously. In fact, any who advocate for that should be prohibited from watching anything more complex than tele-tubbies. And now is simply not the time for dumb experiments. As I write this whoregon is getting boat raced by Arizona, which means Washington still controls its destiny. If they win out, they’re north champs and will play in the pac-12 title game for a trip to the rose bowl.

    This loss falls squarely on Petersen’s shoulders. I love that he’s our coach, but his decision to yank Browning in favor of Haener at that point in the game—on the road, leading 7-6, backed up deep in their own end—was monumentally stupid. To compound the stupidity by having him throw the ball was inexcusable. Teams have to be able to win on nights they’re not playing their best. Washington was in position to do so today until Petersen let frustration get the better of him. It cost Washington the game.

    • art thiel

      As I wrote, a change is hard to imagine. But so was going to Haener with a lead in a pressure spot on the road. Then going back to a pissed-off Browning wasn’t likely to work.

      Petersen out-thought himself. L’s on him.

  • 1coolguy

    The bottom line here is:
    – CP made a lousy hire in Hamdan and he needs to take over the play calling.
    – It is inexcusable CP has not developed real QB competition in FOUR years, resulting in having Browning still the starter.
    – Jake the -oke is a very, very average QB who has the worst hang dog posture in UW QB history – this kid is a 4 year starter? His dad must be paying off CP on the side, as I can find no other reason for CP to not have developed a better QB in 4 years.
    – Inserting a backup QB with effectively ZERO game experience in a “save us” situation is professional malfeasance. Even though I am not a Browning fan, when Heaner went in I said “WTF???”.
    – I will take Leach’s play calling and Minshew’s QB’ing over Hamdan and Browning all day long. WSU by 10+.

    • Effzee

      Hamden’s play calling is atrocious. And this (and the Oregon loss) are indeed squarely on CP. But Browning is just a kid. He’s playing the final few games of football that he will ever play. What are you, a 50-60 year old man? Does it make you feel good to tear apart a kid who is trying his best at a thing he loves to do? This isn’t the NFL. These players aren’t grown men with salaries. Back off.

    • unknownone

      You wanna talk bottom line? Fine. Fact: Browning is two wins shy of becoming the all-time PAC 12 leader in qb wins for his career. Fact: Browning is already Washington’s career passing leader, and he did it with a higher completion percentage and in far fewer attempts than the guy (Cody Pickett) he passed. Fact: Browning has thrown more touchdown passes than any quarterback in Washington history. So yes, he’s a four year starter. He has nothing—NOTHING—to apologize to you for, and for all of the “weaknesses” you perceive in his game and his character, that’s one helluva career. Effzee is absolutely correct about where you can put your “fandom.” Better yet, make good on your last line and take it to the Palouse.

      • art thiel

        Browning has had a good career. He’s made some critical mistakes that shade some of his feats. Same came be said for Jake Locker and Keith Price. Petersen’s decision-making has compromised him on occasion, something that can be said of all head coaches, especially including Leach.

    • rosetta_stoned

      You don’t like Jake Browning. We get it already.

    • art thiel

      No name-calling college kids. Knock it off.

      If Petersen wanted to light a fire, he needed to have a competent threat ready to go. Coaching fail.

  • coug73

    Old coaching proverb: when your offense is in a funk run the ball. Man up and get physical.

    • Husky73

      I agree. They were on the nine with a chance to win, and they ran two sweeps and then Jake B loses his mind (again). They should have rammed it forward three times. In the words of Revenge of the Nerds, we’ve got Bush.

    • art thiel

      Don’t know how that principle escaped Hamdan.

  • Husky73

    I’ve learned two “d” words recently….dolorous from Art, and dotard from Kim.

    • art thiel

      Your world is expanding, as long as you rely on North Korea for your English.

  • woofer

    It’s hard not to sympathize with CP’s frustration with Browning. His career got off to such a promising start and then the expected improvement didn’t materialize. From a mental standpoint, Browning might have been better off starting out more modestly and being less burdened by expectations. He lacks the confident personality of a natural leader; any comparison with Minshew in the category of intangibles is devastating to Browning.

    As for the team itself, a year of blown opportunities. Three close losses, two of them largely inexcusable. Five teams in the league are sporting new coaches and another has a second-year hire. These teams are all likely to improve down the road. The door was wide open for a Husky team with senior leadership to take charge.

    • art thiel

      I disagree with the leadership assessment. I think Browning has the respect of all his teammates. He’s made misjudgments on a number of plays that can’t be forgotten. He sometimes tries too hard, which is a criticism of many QBs that can be overcome.

      He’s not likely to be pro material beyond NFL practice squads. Unfortunately for him, that is a high standard that many UW fans hold. As great as Tui was in college, he never sustained in the NFL either.

  • ll9956

    I wish I’d caught this article sooner–but I digress. There has been much praise lavished on the defense in this game, and it is well deserved. That said, as Art pointed out, in the last five minutes of the game, when the chips were really down and the Dawgs desperately needed the ball back to try and pull out a victory, the D just seemed to crumple. They couldn’t stop Cal from making two first downs, which allowed them to run out the clock. For me, that was the most painful part of the game to watch.