The notion of QB Jake Browning as a runner tends to scare Huskies football fans because his four-year tenure has produced some vivid moments not unlike a giraffe falling down stairs. But without his critical rushes Saturday night, the Washington victory drought against UCLA in Pasadena would have added a 24th year.
His 13 carries for 49 yards included five third-down conversions, which proved critical in the Huskies’ 31-24 triumph (box) because the Bruins, 21-point underdogs, proved they were a whole lot better than their 0-4 record entering the game.
“That’s Jake’s game,” said Huskies coach Chris Petersen. “When he moves forward, not backward, slides up in the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield, he’s really an effective runner.”
The added weapon — including three quarterback sneaks for first downs, and a third-and-15 scramble for 16 yards — helped the 10th-ranked Huskies to a 24-7 halftime lead, part of 335 yards of offense to that point.
But UW slipped into cruise control and let the Bruins back in. New coach/old nemesis Chip Kelly took some pressure off his freshman quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, by running the ball, which put the heat on a surprised Huskies defense.
The national leaders in scoring defense gave up a season high in points as well as yards — their 422 was two more than the previous best by Auburn in the season opener.
“The momentum changed — those are hard lessons to learn,” Petersen said. “You get up at halftime, and when you go back out (for the second half), you have to re-establish yourself. They did a better job of that than we did.”
Instead of trying to play catch-up through the air, the Bruins ran the ball on the first six plays of the second half. They took five minutes to score a field goal, then after stopping Washington at midfield, took six minutes to go 90 yards on 17 plays for a touchdown to cut the lead to 24-17.
You could almost hear the demons that have haunted UW’s regular-season trips to the Rose Bowl clear their throats.
“They got under center and knocked us off the ball, then had a short-pass game,” Petersen said. “Kind of a good plan.”
Kelly, who dominated Washington while coaching at Oregon (2007-12), doesn’t yet have the same personnel at UCLA, especially on defense. The Bruins have 52 freshmen on the roster and seven seniors. The Huskies relied on a Kelly staple of a misdirection-laden, run-heavy offense — 55 carries against 26 passes — to wear down the young Bruins.
After an exchange of punts in the fourth quarter, the Huskies put the game out of reach with an 81-yard scoring drive that ate up nearly seven minutes in a fairly remarkable way.
On third-and-6 from the UW 23, Browning checked down to a deep throw to his tallest receiver, Ty Jones, who pulled the ball down 34 yards away at the UCLA 43.
“Play of the game,” said Petersen. “Jake to Ty, and Ty does what he does.”
The next nine plays were all runs, including a 14-yard scramble by Browning and the final four plays from RB Myles Gaskin, who set a school record with the 22nd 100-yard game of his career. He had 116 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns, both scores coming on wildcat-formation snaps directly from center. However, Gaskin at the end appeared to be hurting, and reserve Sean McGrew finished out the final possession.
Gaskin’s two-yard TD run for a 31-17 lead came with 3:42 left, but that was plenty of time for the Bruins to blow down the field and score again. Thompson-Robinson completed six of seven passes against the Huskies’ vaunted secondary and closed to 31-24 with 1:38 left. But the ensuing onside kick was recovered by TE Drew Sample and UW ran out the clock.
The Bruins’ winlessness is deceiving, because the combined record of their five opponents is 22-2. And since it was Washington’s fifth win in the series’ past 18 games, there is no diminishing the seasonal significance of the win.
But the game exposed some vulnerability with Washington’s defense. RB Joshua Kelly had 125 yards on 20 carries, and the open-field tackling by UW was less than stellar. It’s a bigger deal now because the next game is Oregon Saturday in Eugene. The 4-1 Ducks had a bye, and had to like some of what they saw in Los Angeles.
And they likely don’t have to be reminded that the Huskies’ last visit produced a 70-21 rout of the Ducks.