The majority of the viewing public does not yet know who will start at quarterback for the Washington Huskies during Friday’s season opener at Boise State.
Could be Jeff Lindquist. Could be K.J. Carta-Samuels. But the most intriguing option is the touted Jake Browning, who could become the first true freshman to start at quarterback for a Chris Petersen-coached team.
And if Browning does end up being the guy who jogs out to take the Huskies’ first offensive snap on Friday night in Boise — the starter’s identity likely won’t be revealed any sooner than that — it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The Huskies coaches knew before Browning arrived on campus that he would have a chance to win the job, and they gave him more than enough practice repetitions to make his case.
“We expected him to be a part of it, especially when he got here early and went through spring,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith said. “I think it’s just a little different. You talk about a true freshman playing with the understanding that they weren’t having that bonus spring ball. I just don’t see that happen very often.
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“But because he had the spring, we felt like he was going to go up and down during the spring, but then continued to improve. We did anticipate when we recruited him that yeah, this guy could play early — some of it just because of his maturity. So that’s why he was in the mix the whole time.”
It helped, too, that Browning played in a pass-first (and second, and third) offense at Folsom, where he set the national high school record for career touchdown passes with 229.
Browning led Folsom to the California Interscholastic Federation Division 1 state championship in December, then enrolled at UW in January and participated in spring practices.
“You talk about the amount of passes, the amount of plays — he went through so many progressions,” Smith said. “And he played some pretty good football. Some of the teams he played in California were pretty good. So I don’t think he could have been more prepared.”
Troy Taylor, Browning’s co-coach at Folsom, told the Sacramento Bee this week that Browning set his sights on winning the starting job at UW the moment his high school season ended. Taylor and Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson both compare Browning to Kellen Moore, the record-setting passer who won 50 games as a four-year starter under Petersen at Boise State.
(Even Moore redshirted his first season, though.)
“When you watch Kellen Moore, he just distributed the ball and kept (Boise State’s) offense moving, and had the arm strength to take the shots downfield when you needed them,” Richardson told the News Tribune in February. “The great ones do that. … My deal was always if we can protect Jake and let him sit back there, he’ll beat anybody. Just let him do his thing.”
Smith said the coaches based their decision -- which they shared with their players, but not the public -- at least in part on how each quarterback performed during the final few practices of training camp.
“You’re trying to win now, so who gives us the best chance?” Smith said. “Some of the larger weight was offensively, what’s going to be our strength, what’s going to give the guy the best chance to have success? But at the same time, it just came down to which guy was a little bit more consistent toward the end, and we went with him.”
Huskies players say publicly that they have confidence in any of the three quarterbacks who might play. Jaydon Mickens, a senior receiver, praises Browning’s poise.
“He has his ups and downs, he has his roller coasters, which all our quarterbacks even in the past have done,” Mickens said. “… But responding to that adversity is what a quarterback is supposed to do. Having poise is what a quarterback is all about. And from all three guys, and Jake as well, I’ve seen that.”
FRIDAY: Washington at Boise State, 7:15 p.m., ESPN, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM