University of Washington

With or without Jake Browning, Huskies want more big plays in passing game

Washington quarterback Jake Browning throws against Sacramento State in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Seattle.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning throws against Sacramento State in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Seattle. AP

Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said Wednesday that quarterback Jake Browning is still day-to-day with a shoulder injury sustained last week against Oregon, and that the Huskies are “not sure at this point” whether the freshman can play against 10th-ranked Stanford on Saturday night.

This much, however, is certain: Regardless of who is throwing passes — on Saturday or in the future — the Huskies would like those passes to cover more yardage with greater frequency.

Through six games, the Huskies are tied for 57th nationally in yards per pass attempt with an average of 7.4. That’s serviceable, at least. But their downfield passing game, notably absent last season with Cyler Miles at the helm, still hasn’t taken off under Browning. UW has completed 16 passes of 20 or more yards this season — an average of 2.67 per game, just a little more than the 2.57 the Huskies averaged last year. Only 28 FBS teams have recorded fewer such plays.

Just about half of the Huskies’ completions this season have covered 10 or more yards — 57 of 113 — which puts them near the middle of the national rankings in that category.

Stanford (5-1, 4-0 in Pac-12) is notorious for stout defense, though it hasn’t been impenetrable this season — the Cardinal allow 6.4 yards per pass attempt and have given up 18 completions of 20 yards or more.

“We would like to be more explosive there, without question,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “(And) be able to try to throw that ball down the field. That’s one thing that hasn’t really been how we like it.”

The Huskies’ receivers also account for only 50.4 percent of their total completions, a lower percentage than every Pac-12 team except Stanford. That’s partially by design, Smith said, because two of UW’s top targets don’t play receiver: Tight end Joshua Perkins leads the team with 264 receiving yards, and tailback Dwayne Washington is second with 240.

Senior receiver Jaydon Mickens leads the team in catches with 22 (for 193 yards). UW’s other starting receivers, Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius, have combined for 25 receptions, 341 yards and zero touchdowns.

“Obviously, the wide receivers are there to catch the ball,” Smith said, “but we kind of distribute it, and then you can’t zero in on one group because we’ve thrown the ball a little bit to the tight end and the backs. I think there is some benefit to that.”

Receivers coach Brent Pease said he thinks the potential for bigger plays exists.

“I think we’ve got some guys that can stretch it, and some size — at least get the ball close and we can get it,” Pease said. “You saw Dante. He came out and started out and had some really nice catches. So I think we’re getting that.”

The uncertainty at quarterback, Lenius said, isn’t an issue as the Huskies prepare for Stanford, partially because the receivers are used to catching passes from different quarterbacks throughout practice.

“They all switch reps in each kind of drill and each team segment, so we’ve got the same amount of chemistry with each quarterback,” he said. “They throw all of those passes.”

Redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels relieved Browning against Oregon, completing a short pass to Lavon Coleman before throwing the interception that clinched a Ducks victory.

Petersen wouldn’t commit to Carta-Samuels as the definite starter if Browning can’t play — Jeff Lindquist will get a look in practice, too, he said — though it’s hard to imagine Carta-Samuels would lose his status as the team’s No. 2 quarterback in a matter of days.

He earned the backup spot, Smith said, because “he had done some good things in clutch periods through camp. That was really the call there.”

Lenius said he isn’t worried about it.

“We’ve just got to do our job and make plays,” he said. “They’ve got to put the ball in the right spot, and we’re good.”

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

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SATURDAY: UW (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) at Stanford (5-1, 4-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM

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