In the wake of his team’s worst loss of the season, Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen answered a question about hope.
As in: Is there much hope that starting quarterback Jake Browning can return from a shoulder injury and play next week against Arizona, which visits Husky Stadium for an 8 p.m. kickoff on Halloween night?
To that inquiry, the coach replied: “Oh, yeah. I think there’s a big hope.”
The Huskies (3-4, 1-3 Pac-12) need him. Their offense mostly sputtered without Browning during a 31-14 loss at Stanford on Saturday night. Redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels made the first start of his career, and the Huskies’ passing game suffered as a result.
Carta-Samuels seemed to settle down in the second half, and he led a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. But he completed only nine of 21 passes for just 118 yards, and Washington’s predictable offense failed to offer Stanford much competition.
Arizona (5-3, 2-3) possesses a far more porous defense than Stanford, which makes it that much more important that Browning be able to play. The Wildcats have lost several defensive starters to injury, and they’re coming off a 45-42 home loss to Washington State.
In their other conference losses, the Wildcats allowed 55 and 56 points. They allow 7.6 yards per pass attempt, which is tied for 91st in the country, and they rank 101st in pass efficiency defense.
In other words: If there’s one team left on the Huskies’ schedule against which they should be able to pass the ball some, it’s Arizona. But that proposition becomes far more difficult if Browning can’t play.
The true freshman suited up and threw a few short passes during warm-ups on Saturday, but he still appeared to be in some pain. He injured his shoulder late in UW’s 26-20 loss to Oregon on Oct. 17, and Carta-Samuels took the majority of the repetitions with the No. 1 offense during practice last week.
“His mindset the whole week was that he was going to start,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said of Carta-Samuels. “We were going to look how Jake looked throughout the week, and he did not look good in pregame (Saturday). But the whole week, K.J. was getting a lot of turns with the ones (first string).”
Of course, UW’s pass offense has been spotty this season even with Browning at the helm. The Huskies rank 78th nationally in passing efficiency, but in Pac-12 games only, they rank 11th in the conference in that category. And their team average of 5.6 yards per pass attempt in four league games is tied with Oregon State for the lowest mark in the Pac-12.
Petersen said some of the issues in the passing game are due to UW’s youth along the offensive line, and that the Huskies’ run blocking has been better so far than their pass protection.
“We will get good quarterback play,” Petersen said. “We get good quarterback play. We just need to be more consistent. But we’ve got a young front, too, and that definitely can lead to some quarterback issues.”
Those issues aren’t going away. But it’s clear now that there are at least fewer of them when Browning plays.
SATURDAY: Arizona (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) at Washington (3-4, 1-3), 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM