Huskies' Lack of Execution a Troubling Sign in Loss to Sun Devils

Jake Browning had a helluva day in the desert against Arizona State Saturday. He threw for a career-high 405 yards, completing 28 passes. In fact, he completed the his final 12 passes in the game. That’s the way you want to finish, right?

Only if they all go to the guys wearing white. But three of those 12 passes went to the other guys as the Washington Huskies wilted in the heat of the moment. They blew a 17-point lead, ultimately succumbing to ASU 27-17. But that’s what Browning was resigned to when he couldn’t count on his own receivers to make plays when they had the chance, and ASU started rolling offensively. He had to over-improvise.  

Of Browning’s 21 incompletions assigned to him, he’ll own 10 of those passes. Those are the ones where he overthrew receivers - like Josh Perkins on a post-corner who was wide-open on a fourth-down play in the second quarter that would have put the Huskies up 17-0 at the time - or underthrew receivers, or had passes batted down or altered in some way. 

Browning, the true frosh from Folsom, Calif., had already shown plenty of Houdini-like moves in the run game. In fact he converted a third-and-four earlier in that drive that would have made Russell Wilson proud. 

But how much weight can a true frosh carry on his shoulders? When there are 11 passes thrown where a receiver got either one hand or both hands on the pass, you expect a much higher completion percentage. 

“I thought we were moving the ball the whole game, it was just we had to finish and capitalize on opportunities that they were handing to us and that starts with me,” Browning said, taking on an advanced leadership role normally reserved for upperclassmen. But the upperclassmen you would expect to show up in a showdown game in the desert disappeared. 

And that’s a crazy thought when a player like Jaydon Mickens had five catches for 100 yards. But he should have had 36 more yards on the first series of the game, a throw into the end zone that he couldn’t come up with. 

“We kind of figured we would have to throw the ball a lot,” Browning said, throwing the blame at his feet. “I feel like we did at times and at times we just left points on the field and that starts with me.”

It does start with Browning, but it should have ended with Mickens, but he was responsible for three drops. Sophomore receiver Dante Pettis had three more drops. But perhaps the biggest drop of the day came when Marvin Hall had a chance to extend a drive coming out of halftime and the Huskies were up 14.

On a third-and-14, Browning found Hall right in the middle of the field for a first down, but the senior flat out dropped it. He shook his head in disgust, but the damage was done. And the Sun Devils promptly ripped down the field and cut Washington’s lead to one score. The game was on, when it should never have been an issue. 

“It’s frustrating because you feel like everything has to be just perfect for us to move the ball, like sustain things,” Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen said afterward. “All the boxes have to be checked. We’re not there enough to create some things.”

The most disappointing thing about that drop was that it happened when the Huskies were trying to respond to Arizona State points. Momentum was shifting and Washington needed to shut down any hopes the Sun Devils had of working their way back into the game. Hall’s catch would have put the Huskies still well within their own side of the field, but it would have been a confidence-builder. 

As it was, that drop was as deflating as any Browning had to deal with all game long. And the four fourth-quarter turnovers just compounded the problems, but who can blame him? Who could he trust to hang on to the ball? And when he did get the ball to a veteran like Perkins, he fumbled away any last gasp Washington had at making things interesting. 

“From my vantage point it’s like ‘just throw it away. We’ll live to fight another down,’ said Petersen when asked about the turnovers. “I think one of the interceptions we had I think was a little bit of a mix up between he and the receiver if he was going to curl it or break it in. That comes back to us as coaches making sure they’re completely on the same page. A couple of those throws it’s like we need to hold those. We need to know we can make throws.”

But what is Browning supposed to do when the players around him aren’t pulling their weight? Of the 28 pass completions on the night, the total yards after contact was 80 yards. That’s an average of 2.9 yards per pass, and less than 20 percent of the total pass yardage the day. 

The UW receiving corps produced a measly three missed tackles on those 28 passes, and only two passes the whole day had yards after contact of 10 or more yards. One of those plays, a 23-yard play to sophomore Brayden Lenius, took place when the Huskies were down 10 with less than three minutes to play. 

The most egregious offender when it came to lack of YAC? Jaydon Mickens. The senior came up with five catches for 100 yards, not a bad day. But upon closer inspection, those five grabs yielded a whopping two yards of YAC. Two yards. And his biggest play, a 43-yard scamper down the Arizona State sideline, produced no yards after contact at all because he ran out of bounds before any Sun Devil could touch him. 

And of Marvin Hall’s 65 receiving yards, the senior speedster could only come up with eight beyond contact. 

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington skill players were breaking tackles left and right against Arizona. They made everything look so easy. On Saturday they came up with eight explosive plays (one more total explosive than they came up with against the Wildcats), six of them through the air totaling 190 yards. Ten percent of those yards came after contact. 

The facts are pretty clear; the only help Jake Browning received on Saturday was the help he gave himself when he set his feet in the pocket and delivered a perfect ball. Anything else and he was sure to receive (pun fully intended) zero support from those brought in specifically to make people miss. 

On top of that, the protection Browning received (pun not intended) the first half fell away in the second half. According to the Huskies, it wasn’t anything different the Sun Devils did - although I would certainly suggest ASU’s Antonio Longino play in the second half was eerily reminiscent of Terrell Suggs, and that changed things quite a bit. 

“I thought really our protection plan was pretty solid,” Washington Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “We were just losing some of those one-on-ones in the second half.”

The players aren’t the only ones on the hook here; the coaches are responsible for the game plan and for putting those players in a position to execute. And Smith was all-in when it came to throwing the ball. 

“If you look at it statistically, some of the yards and what not in the passing game, we felt like we could attack inside and then over the top,” he said when asked why he wedded himself to the passing game on Saturday. “In the first half we got some things done there. That was a lot of the thinking.”

And if Mickens catches his first chance in the end zone and if Pettis catches his first chance in the end zone, it’s 14-0 Huskies with only four minutes gone in the first quarter. Then Gaskin scores his touchdown to make it 21-0 with 6:43 left in the first, and if Browning doesn’t overthrow a wide-open Perkins for another touchdown, it would have been 28-0 Huskies with 11:26 left in the second quarter. 

Then Daniels scores on the exact same post corner route with eight minutes to half and it’s 35-0 Washington. The second half wouldn't have mattered because ASU's heart would have already been ripped out and stomped on by a bunch of size 16's. 

And if ‘if’s and but’s’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas. 

For the 49 plays and 341 total yards Washington produced by halftime, they only had 17 points to show for it - instead of the 35 they could have had if the play had matched the scheme. 

“It comes down to we have to execute better,” added Petersen. “They keep playing hard, but that’s not going to be enough. Now it comes to getting over the hump to be able to execute and make plays. When they do that we’ll spark ourselves; we’ll get energized, play with emotion down the stretch but that’s what we have to be able to do.”

And when those players step up, the ones whose job it is to block or make people miss, that will make Jake Browning’s job a lot easier. And that starts with those expected to lead from the front. 

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