SEATTLE – Jake Browning has been the quarterback for more victories than any other player in Pac-12 Conference history.
He’s rewritten the record book for No. 16 Washington and despite the undue criticism that has come his way by the fan base at times through his career, will long be regarded as one of the great quarterbacks to wear the Huskies’ purple and gold.
The capper to his career could come Friday when the Huskies face No. 7 Washington State in the Apple Cup. No quarterback in Washington history has ever beaten Washington State four times, and a victory over the Cougars would keep alive Browning’s hope of closing his career by playing in the Rose Bowl.
He’s been a conference offensive player of the year, has taken Washington to the College Football Playoff and has already won one Pac-12 title. Yet going 4-0 in his career against Washington State would a difficult accomplishment to top.
“I think I would want to beat them regardless,” Browning said following Washington’s 42-23 win over Oregon State on Saturday. “It’s a good situation to be in, but I’m not going to prepare harder because there’s more on the line. We want to beat the Cougs.”
The winner of the Apple Cup will face Utah in the conference championship game on Nov. 30. This was the situation that faced both teams two years ago, also in a game played in Pullman, and Browning was outstanding, throwing three touchdowns in the first quarter of a 45-17 rout. It was the best of his three games against the Cougars; Washington has outscored Washington State 131-41 in those three meetings.
“I think we’ve been able to run the ball every single year,” Browning said. “I don’t totally remember all the games to be honest, but most of the times we do well on offense it’s because we’ve been executing well and be able to get explosives. Those are probably the main keys.”
Browning is an enigma in the history of Washington quarterbacks. Saturday’s victory over Oregon State was the 37th game Washington has won with Browning as quarterback, breaking a Pac-12 mark he shared with Marcus Mariota and Kevin Hogan. He is the first four-year starting quarterback in school history and will leave Washington as the career leader in seemingly every important passing category.
But he’s been the focus of critics, especially later in his career. Some of it has been fair, but much of it has seemed unfounded for someone who’s had so much success. Whether it’s his average throwing arm, his sometimes baffling mistakes an experienced starter shouldn’t be making, or Washington’s failures in past big games against Alabama, Penn State and Auburn, Browning has worn the brunt of blame during his tenure.
“I think it’s something I’m proud of, but if you’re proud of not folding mentally or giving up on a season, then you’ve got some pretty low standards,” Browning said. “Just keep battling, keep doing our deal, and get ready for the Cougs. One game at a time.”
That sounds like something Washington coach Chris Petersen would say, but it only highlights how close the coach and quarterback have been through their careers. There’ve been rough patches, like earlier this year when Browning was surprisingly benched in a loss at California, but Petersen has been one of Browning’s staunchest defenders.
“These guys we are talking about are as good as they come,” Petersen said. “You ask them to do something and they do it, they take care of business, they’re always all-in, it’s been awesome being around them.”