SEATTLE – Jake Browning was angry and probably had every right to be.
After four seasons as Washington’s starting quarterback, the last thing Browning expected was to be benched because of the Huskies’ offensive woes.
Instead of letting the benching a week ago against California fester, Browning responded as Washington hoped, throwing one touchdown and running for another in the Huskies’ 27-23 victory over Stanford on Saturday.
The win returned the Huskies (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) to the AP Top 25 at No. 20 and kept alive their Rose Bowl chances heading into a weekend off. If the Huskies beat Oregon State on Nov. 17 and knock off rival Washington State in the Apple Cup, they will play in the Pac-12 Championship game with a chance at a reasonable consolation prize for a season that began with College Football Playoff aspirations.
“I’ve gone through a lot of things in my career and I feel like I’ve responded to all of them,” Browning said after the victory over Stanford. “You can question a lot of things about me, but I’m pretty mentally tough and I’m not going to let something shake me.”
Browning wasn’t great against Stanford, throwing for only 194 yards, and Washington’s offense stagnated after a dynamic first half in which the Huskies scored on their first three drives. But he avoided any major mistakes and finished off one of the more trying weeks in his Washington career with a victory.
Browning was benched late in the third quarter of the Huskies’ 12-10 loss at California on Oct. 27. It was a questionable decision considering the Huskies were leading when the benching occurred and backup Jake Haener almost immediately threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Browning didn’t mince words in expressing his displeasure, but he tried to keep it out of the eye of his teammates and the public so as not to be a distraction heading into the Stanford game. That included a conversation with coach Chris Petersen.
“I was pretty frustrated … but had to move on,” Browning said. “Didn’t let that affect our season. Sat down, hashed it out. It’s a little bump in the road, but coach (Petersen) is my guy, and I’ve been through a lot with him, and like I said, I tried to handle it as maturely as possible, so it didn’t become this huge drama or whatever. Tried to move on to this game, and if we won this game everyone would feel better, and luckily we did that.”
Petersen agreed that Browning should have been upset and if he wasn’t, there might have been a bigger problem.
“I know that kid inside and out and if he wasn’t upset … that he got pulled out I probably wouldn’t have put him back in,” Petersen said. “That’s Jake. He’s a fighter. He’s a competitor. I would have expected nothing different.”
Browning said dealing with the benching was nothing compared with his sophomore season, when he played about half the year with a shoulder injury that required surgery after the season ended and not once giving a full indication of how hurt he was along the way. That was the best season of Browning’s career; he was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year and led Washington to a spot in the national semifinals. The Huskies won’t get back there this year, but still having a chance at a conference title to close out his career is plenty of motivation.
“That was something I was thinking about when I got benched for those two drives was crazy stuff happens in this league and if I mentally fold, which I’ll never do, then that really could have an effect on this team,” Browning said, “which is why I tried to handle it really maturely and continue to just keep pushing the issue in practice and continue to get better.”
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