After losing to Stanford, the questions about Jake Browning began to amplify.
Browning was under a microscope for why he took two, fourth-quarter sacks instead of getting rid of the ball. He faced inquiries about not being the passer who threw for 43 touchdowns last season.
His response? Browning was the architect of two late drives including the one setting up kicker Tristan Vizcaino’s game-winning field goal in a thrilling 33-30 win over Utah on Saturday at Husky Stadium.
In terms of importance and statistics, this may have been Browning’s best game of the season. He went 26 for 35 for 354 yards and two touchdowns.
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“The closest thing would probably be the Arizona game, and I lost a lot of games like that my freshman year,” Browning said about the comeback. “Probably haven’t had something like that since back in junior football.”
Browning and the Huskies (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) were down 23-16 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. He threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to Myles Gaskin on the next possession to tie the game at 23-23 with 49 seconds left.
After Utah (5-6, 2-6) took a 30-23 lead with 10:52 left, it forced Browning and the Huskies to get deep in Utes territory and face a critical 4th and 8. Browning ran for six yards, tried diving to grab the additional real estate only to be flipped on a bruising hit.
He slowly walked back to the bench and got another chance to tie with two minutes left.
Browning, after three incompletions, threw five straight passes to set up Gaskin’s game-tying touchdown. UW’s defense got a stop and it allowed Browning one last chance for a win.
He completed two straight passes to reach the Utah 21 and after one incompletion, UW went with Vizcaino for the win.
“You just have to keep attacking,” Browning said of the game’s final four minutes. “We practice that a lot just going through clutch drives in practice. We just have to keep battling.”
Browning’s dramatic final two drives capped a night where he set the record for most passing touchdowns in school history.
He broke the mark of 75 previously held by Keith Price.
In all, he has 77 career touchdown passes and could soon enhance his place in UW history. Browning has thrown for 8,836 career yards.
All he needs is 86 more yards to pass Price for second place. The all-time record is held by Cody Pickett who threw for 9,916 yards.
If there was a blemish, it was Browning’s need to hold onto the ball.
UW coach Chris Petersen said earlier in the week mobile passers like Browning can be tough to deal with because they can make so many things happen.
“It’s like, ‘When do I stay in, when do I not?’” Petersen said. “But Jake’s been making a lot of plays outside the pocket.”
Browning had a few moments when he hesitated and it gave Utah’s front a chance to press him.
The Utes defense wasn’t credited with a hurry but there were a few occasions when Browning’s indecisiveness rushed a throw.
Utah only sacked Browning twice and, even then, it’s not like he’s been grounded a lot.
Much has been made about Browning not matching his 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns from last season.
The trade off might be Browning having his most efficient season in his three years at UW.
He’s completing a career-high 69.1 percent of his passes. In fact, Browning only has 90 incompletions all season.
Even his sack numbers have improved. He took 30 as a freshman and 25 last season. Browning has been grounded 14 times this year.
Plus, he’s only thrown five interceptions.
“I’m proud of Jake,” Petersen said. “He did some really good things and made some clutch plays.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark