SEATTLE — Imagine you just turned in an outstanding performance as a quarterback in your debut on a big, national stage for the hottest team in college football. After playing it cool with reporters who find umpteen ways to tell you how great you were, you’d probably rush back to your dorm or apartment and watch the highlights and soak in the commentators’ plaudits.
Oh, don’t even. That’s exactly what you’d do.
But Washington quarterback Jake Browning said that’s the last thing he’d do. He, in fact, views the very idea the way a motivated dieter might view a Krispy Kreme commercial.
“If I see myself [on TV], I turn it off — good or bad,” he said after leading now-No. 5 Washington to a 44-6 blowout win over then-No. 7 Stanford on Friday.
When gently challenged on this — “Oh, come on!” — Browning doesn’t relent.
“One week, you’re the greatest thing ever. The next, you’re…” he said, leaving the thought incomplete. “Quarterbacks get too much blame or too much credit. Right now, it’s going to be too much credit. So it’s stay humble, stick to the grind, and hopefully I’m so busy working on football that I don’t even really pay attention.”
Interviewing Browning seems a lot like talking to a coach, even though he is merely a true sophomore who turned 20 in April. He is polite and self-contained, and he makes eye contact. Also like a coach, he claims to ignore the media while being completely aware of the most recent media narratives.
When asked this summer about those who question his arm strength, Browning replied, “First of all, I don’t read it. Sportswriters, I’m not a fan. Second of all, that’s something I said I want to work on. I recognized that after the season as something I needed to get better at. But I’m not reading articles about what people have to say about me, or Twitter posts.”
When Washington (5-0) needed overtime to win at Arizona on Sept. 24, Browning was quick to note the Huskies’ 352 yards rushing: “Seattle media has been freaking out about our run game, so I think we feel pretty good about it now,” he said.
Finally, after the Huskies whipped Stanford, Browning volunteered, “All these people talking about, ‘Prove it! Prove it! Prove it!’ Obviously, we have more to prove, it’s only five games, but as far as five games go, we’ve put together five good ones.”
For the record, his media tweaks are both interesting and pretty darn accurate.
As is his passing. Browning ranks fifth in FBS in Total QBR and second in conventional passing efficiency, and his 9.6 yards per attempt are tied for 10th in the nation with a fella named Lamar Jackson. These days, coaches are falling all over themselves making sure they no longer seem to question Browning’s arm strength, while also pointing out his accuracy, quick release and ability to rapidly track through his progressions while buying time with efficient movement in the pocket.
Said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who is preparing to face Browning and the Huskies on Saturday, “He has plenty of arm strength. He makes plenty of those midrange throws that are flattened out — great throws.”
As for deep balls, Washington ranks third in the Pac-12 with 11 passing plays of 30-plus yards. Browning ranks third in the nation in touchdown passes (17) and seventh in completion percentage (70.7). On his watch, the Huskies have scored at least 35 points in eight consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the FBS behind South Florida, and the longest such streak in school history.
For those whose eyes glaze over at statistics, even ones as compelling as those, let’s put it this way: Browning is a big performance at Oregon away from becoming a Heisman Trophy candidate. If he ends Washington’s horrific 12-game losing streak to the Ducks with some flair, he’ll at least be on his way to becoming a Huskies legend.
Huskies coach Chris Petersen jokes that he might “have to take his phone away” if Browning becomes a national figure, but he also notes Browning doesn’t do social media, such as Twitter, where a player can read every take imaginable on his and his team’s play.
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No two fan bases on the West Coast troll each other more. For Washington, Saturday is the perfect time to end 12 years of futility against its hated rival.
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As for recording big wins that push him a few clicks up the celebrity ladder, Petersen said of Browning, “He’ll be in the film room the next day grinding away.”
Browning set national records at Folsom (California) High for touchdown passes in a season (91 in 2014) and a career (229). He is notorious for his love of watching film and his relaxed personality.
“He has one mood, and it’s always mellow — he’s the most chill guy,” receiver John Ross said. “‘Let’s go!’ That’s him being aggressive.”
Browning said his chill is partially by design, emerging from his belief that a quarterback can’t get too high or too low. He said he can recall wanting to “frickin’ kill the other team,” but that caused him to force throws instead of taking what was there. Yet that chill is also who he is. He said you can’t fake fire, so he’s not going to try.
“I think if I gave a rah-rah speech, everyone would look at me like I’m dumb,” he said. “That’s not really my thing.”
Instead, his thing is a demeanor that meshes perfectly with Petersen. Browning’s teammates pick up on this, and they seem eager to see how far this collaboration takes things.
“[The Stanford game] was one of his best [performances], but he still has so much to show everyone,” Ross said, “And he’s getting better every week.”
A Heisman candidacy? Winning the Pac-12? The College Football Playoff? Those are media narratives you can be sure Browning is aware of.
But here’s what Browning is thinking about right now — as in right now, as you read this. On Thursday, Browning was told by his coaches what the Huskies’ first offensive play will be at Oregon.
“So I’m just thinking about the first play, going through it mentally, and I’m not going to get past that,” he said.