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Washington Huskies’ Jake Browning returns to scene of Sun Devil nightmare

Washington’s Jake Browning (3) gets off a pass as Arizona State’s Christian Sam (2) applies defensive pressure during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Tempe, Ariz. It was on that day that the Huskies blew a 17-point lead and lost to the Sun Devils. Washington has gone 21-2 since then. (File / Associated Press)
Washington’s Jake Browning (3) gets off a pass as Arizona State’s Christian Sam (2) applies defensive pressure during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Tempe, Ariz. It was on that day that the Huskies blew a 17-point lead and lost to the Sun Devils. Washington has gone 21-2 since then. (File / Associated Press)
By Adam Jude Seattle Times

Rock bottom arrived on Jake Browning’s 52nd and final throw of the game. The pass ended up in the hands of an Arizona State player, Browning’s fourth interception of the afternoon, third in the game’s final 6 minutes.

It cemented Washington’s 17-point collapse in a 27-17 loss to Arizona State in Tempe on Nov. 14 2015, and it left a young UW team with a 4-6 record with two regular-season games remaining.

The Huskies, holding a 17-0 second-quarter lead, should have won that game. They knew it then. They know it now.

“It was a low point for our team, or at least for me personally,” Browning said this week. “We played well in the first half and then came out in the second half and played awful. … You don’t forget stuff like that.”

Side by side, Browning and Chris Petersen had made the long walk off Sun Devil Stadium’s grass turf back to the visitors’ locker room mostly in silence after the loss. Petersen did have a short message for his true freshman quarterback about his last throw: Just throw it away. We’ll live to fight another down.

What transpired after that is, in hindsight, a seminal period for Petersen’s tenure at UW. The Huskies whipped Oregon State the next week, routed Washington State in the Apple Cup six days after that, then blew past Southern Mississippi in their bowl game, sending the Huskies to a 7-6 finish and into the offseason with momentum.

For what was at the time the youngest offense in the Pac-12 — featuring a true freshman at QB (Browning), a true freshman running back (Myles Gaskin) and a true freshman left tackle (Trey Adams) — that positive finish to the 2015 season, and the hard-earned confidence that came with it, proved to be a springboard for UW’s 2016 breakthrough.

“After that season was over and we won our last three games, it was like, ‘Yeah, this is what we’re talking about,’” Petersen said this week. “It was really the body of work put together. You could feel the vibe. There was tension in a good way. They were not going to back off, they were not going to stop.

“Most people can’t do that — when you care about something so much and you’re working so hard (but the results aren’t there), it’s like, ‘Forget it.’ It’s an ego-protection mechanism. You’re not going to invest anymore because it hurts. It hurts too much. But those guys just kept going and kept going.”

The Huskies are 21-2 since their last visit to Tempe.

As the No. 5 Huskies (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) prepare to return to Sun Devil Stadium for Saturday’s game f against Arizona State (2-3, 1-1), many of the same names remain for UW. There’s Browning and Gaskin and Adams and Dante Pettis as centerpieces of the offense. They’re expected to win this game, and they know they should. They now have the results, and the confidence, to back that up.

The Huskies beat Arizona State, 44-18, at Husky Stadium last season. Winning in Tempe has been another story for UW, which hasn’t won at Sun Devil Stadium since 2001.

“We know this is going to be a hard-fought game … and this will be the toughest game we’ve had this year,” Petersen said. “Talk about a tough place to play, whatever — they’ve got really good coaches and got really good players. That is what makes it a tough place to play.”

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