Had to really stretch to find three positives last week from Washington’s 31-14 loss at Stanford. It was the other way around this week after the Huskies beat Arizona 49-3. But here we are with three positives and three negatives, like always, and they are as follows:
1. Jake Browning’s shoulder seems to be just fine.
Guess that extra week really made the difference for Browning, who was in visible pain when trying to throw during warmups prior to the Stanford game, then had maybe his most impressive performance of the season seven days later against Arizona.
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Browning finished 16-of-24 passing for 263 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 12-yard rushing touchdown. He showed no ill effects from the shoulder injury that kept him out last week, and proved why the Huskies needed him back so badly.
“It was good, no doubt about it,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “He progressively got a little better during the week. Earlier in the week, it was a little bit questionable. We didn’t think he was as far ahead maybe early in the week as we were thinking last weekend. But he kind of worked through it and did a great job. Played with toughness and made some plays.”
Browning said it was “miserable” sitting out last week against Stanford, knowing all he could do was sit and watch. But he made the most of his return, leading UW on three first-half scoring drives and throwing touchdown passes to Dwayne Washington, Joshua Perkins, Brayden Lenius and Dante Pettis. Browning also completed passes to nine different receivers, and actually caught a pass, too, on a 4-yard trick-play toss from Deontae Cooper.
“I do think when our protection is clean, the guy can operate pretty well, if we can just continue to clean that up,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “I thought another thing that showed up was guys caught the ball and ran after the catch tonight. We had a couple of plays like that, which were big.”
2. The Huskies scored a first-quarter touchdown (and three first-half touchdowns).
Washington had scored just one first-quarter touchdown in its first seven games, so the Huskies were obviously pleased to finally get another one on the board when Browning connected with Dwayne Washington for a touchdown pass on a wheel route.
And the Huskies tacked on another two scores in the second quarter, bringing their first-half touchdown total in Pac-12 games to four.
“We just came out with better energy, and I think that’s big for us,” Browning said. “Obviously a big thing for us has been starting fast and finishing fast. We’ve been doing well in the second half, but we had to start doing better in the first half and I thought we did that today. That was good to see.”
Petersen said he thinks a lot of the team’s first-half failures this season were due to players “pressing and kind of stumbling over ourselves sometimes, so getting points on the board made them breathe a little bit easier.”
3. The Huskies played their most complete game of the Chris Petersen era.
That’s the big-picture takeaway: eight games into an up-and-down season, the Huskies finally put together a complete, dominant performance against a Pac-12 team and ran away with a blowout victory.
Washington’s defense has been stout all season, but this might have been its best effort yet. The Huskies held Arizona to 3.8 yards per play and 2.9 yards per rush. And while Arizona’s offensive stats are inflated by a weak nonconference schedule – particularly a 77-point performance against Northern Arizona – the Huskies still did to UA something no other team has this season: they held it without a touchdown.
Then again, a strong defensive performance wasn’t all that surprising. UW leads the Pac-12 and ranks 15th nationally in scoring defense, and the Huskies’ athletic group of linebackers matches up well with the Wildcats’ up-tempo, spread, run-pass option offense.
“I think every game, they’ve played well,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “I just think the offense put up some points and that was awesome. We took advantage of field position and special teams played really well.”
Said Petersen: “We didn’t turn the ball over at all, which was huge tonight, and we got a bunch of turnovers. I think it was four or five (it was four). We tell our team that all the time. We did that a couple weeks ago ourselves. You have very little chance of winning a game like that. So really proud of our offense to hang onto it, let alone create some things.
“And our defense. We always talk about creating turnovers. They’re not going to just give it to us. Every now and again they will. But I thought our defense was really physical, and you could feel it on the field. They’ve been physical just about every game this year.”
1. The attendance.
This is admittedly a pretty minor “negative,” because there were obviously several factors working against a decent attendance. The weather forecast was miserable, the game didn’t kickoff until 8:05 p.m., it was Halloween, and the Huskies entered the game with a 3-4 record and were coming off their most discouraging offensive performance of the season. Just not a lot of reason for people to want to come to this one.
Attendance was announced as 56,749, though there obviously weren’t actually that many people in the seats. Afterward, Petersen thanked the fans who did show up, saying that he thought the crowd made a good amount of noise, all things considered.
The sky isn’t falling, of course. Next weekend’s game against Utah will certainly attract far more fans (in part because the game kicks off at 4:30 p.m.), and I don’t think Saturday’s game was some kind of indictment of the fanbase or anything. But on a night when the offense and defense finally played at a high level, together, for an entire game, it seems the only thing that could have made it more enjoyable for the Huskies would have been playing before a full stadium. So, that ultimately rates as a negative.
2. Arizona might not win another game this season.
It’s easy to couch a blowout victory by pointing out that the opponent probably isn’t very good, but … Arizona probably isn’t very good. The Wildcats made their hay against weak competition – they’ve beaten Texas-San Antonio, Nevada, Northern Arizona, Oregon State and Colorado – and they’ve now been crushed by UCLA, Stanford and Washington, and needed a strong fourth-quarter comeback just to lose 45-42 at home to Washington State. They’re beat up, they don’t have a bye week to recover, and this season simply has not gone the way many envisioned.
There was talk in Tucson that Washington might have been the Wildcats’ best remaining chance at a victory, and they lost by 46 points. It will be a struggle for them to get a sixth win and qualify for a bowl, considering their remaining schedule: at USC, vs. Utah, at Arizona State.
So while this was still a very thorough, impressive victory that UW should feel very good about, Arizona probably rates as the kind of team the Huskies should be able to push around.
3. Elijah Qualls left the game with an apparent ankle injury.
The severity of Qualls’ injury isn’t known – watching the replay, it looked like he got rolled up on from behind – though Petersen did say there was talk during the game that he might try to go back in, so maybe it’s not a dire situation.
The Huskies will obviously know more this week, though it should be assumed that they’ll probably try to keep that information close to the vest. If Qualls has to miss any more time, that’s a big blow – UW’s linebackers have been very productive this season, and Qualls, a 6-foot-1, 311-pound nose tackle, is a big reason why. He plugs the middle and allows the linebackers to run clean, and he’s proven a nice replacement for the void left by Danny Shelton’s departure.
Vita Vea and Greg Gaines did a fine job in Qualls’ absence on Saturday, and those guys have played regularly all season, too. So UW’s depth at that spot does appear to be pretty healthy.
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple