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Cone of silence keeps Huskies off radar

All Jake Browning was hoping for was a decent meal. It was moments after Washington dismantled California 66-27 Saturday night in Berkeley, and the sophomore quarterback was looking for some Chicken Parmesan. 

If I was Huskies Head Coach Chris Petersen, I would have raced down to Gypsy’s on Durant and gotten Browning anything he wanted. Same goes for the rest of the team as they shut down any talk of the No. 5 Huskies getting tripped up on the road against a California Golden Bears team that hadn’t lost at Memorial Stadium. 

But even if Browning had to settle for Chick-Fil-A, he earned his supper, going 19-28 for 378 yards and six touchdowns. He set the single-season record for touchdown thrown with 34, besting Keith Price. He had engineered an offensive effort that finished with 704 yards, second in Husky history for total yards in a game. 

To put that in a larger historical context, the biggest offensive output all-time was against San Jose State in 1996. Washington ripped off 734 total yards. UW’s Corey Dillon still holds the NCAA all-time mark for all-purpose yards in a quarter with 305.

The numbers continue to mount for the offense and the defense, whose current 12-game winning streak is second only to Alabama nationally. Washington is now one of only five FBS teams with an unblemished record, joining Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Western Michigan.

Offensively, Browning’s six touchdowns made him the only quarterback in FBS to throw for six scores twice this year. Not even Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson can make that claim. 

John Ross exploded for 208 receiving yards, the first 200-plus receiving day for anyone in the Pac-12 this season. 

“Kind of what’s going to happen when you want to play safeties so deep,” noted Browning, comparing California’s defensive game plan to Rutgers. And we all know what happened to the Scarlet Knights.

With 108 more yards from Lavon Coleman marks the sixth-straight game where Washington has had a 100-yard rusher. 

Washington’s defense held California to two touchdowns and 175 yards under their season averages. And they did it while playing backups for the fourth quarter. They did it with no Joe Mathis for the game and no Psalm Wooching for much of it. 

“Yeah I was looking forward to some competition,” said junior cornerback Sidney Jones, who came up with two interceptions on the night. “I love competition. They came at me this game. Not so much the other games. I like how today went.”

What should get Washington fans even more excited is how the Huskies are handling adversity. 

Against Utah the offense came right back with an immediate response. And Saturday night in Berkeley the Huskies found themselves only up one with less than nine minutes left to intermission.

All UW did was stuff 38-straight points inside a halftime sandwich (as well as a fumble on a punt return) before California could respond.

“Just don’t take your foot off the gas,” said Ross. “Continue to win. It’s 0-0. Anything can happen at halftime. We want to be a second half team. That’s what we talk about.”

That’s putting the proverbial boot on the throat and never letting up. 

“It was nice to come out in the second half and get two strikes and get us a little bit of breathing room and our defense settled in,” Petersen said, clearly understating the case.

But as far as what Petersen and the Huskies want leaking out to the outside world, their lips are sealed. And why not? When it comes to the college football radar, Washington is currently in the cone of silence. They are getting tons of positive press and are always mentioned in the playoff discussion, but it hasn’t translated into the respect deserving of an undefeated Power-5 team. 

Here’s a sampling of the non-answer answers given Saturday night.

“A lot more ball to be played. A lot more ball to be played. That’s the truth. There’s a lot more ball to be played. It’s the first game in November. At the end of November, we can have this talk again. Right now there’s a lot more ball to be played.” - Kevin King

“There’s a lot of football left to play. Put us outside the top four and make us earn it. I think it’s good.” - Jake Browning

“We don’t really care. We have five games left and anything can happen in five games, especially in our league. We weren’t really worried bout being number five; we were worried about beating Cal because Cal is a very good team. They’ve shown a lot of things. I think they beat Utah. We wanted to focus on them and not on the rankings.” - John Ross

If it hasn’t become completely obvious by now, this is just the way Washington wants it. It keeps the players and coaches motivated, it keeps the chip on the shoulder. 

And make no mistake, with as little air escaping the UW bubble, everyone in the program is still feeling the outside pressure. That’s what happens when you start climbing to the high ground top college football teams currently claim as their own. 

These are young men trying to enjoy a fact that’s only happened two other times in school history. Starting a season 9-0 is something only the ’84 and ’91 programs can share with this year’s team, and all Washington fans know how those two teams are seen in the pantheon of college football’s great teams. 

Think about the time when you were 20 years old. How would you have handled the pressure? How would you have handled the outside noise, the constant distractions? 

Friends and family aren’t immune. They want to talk about the success. They want to talk about the future. They want to make plans. They want to stop their football buddies in Red Square and congratulate them on their successes. They want to shower them with all the props they so richly deserve.

And why not? That’s the beauty of college football. Everything can change week to week and at this point in the season every game is a playoff game. So you can’t take it for granted. You have to enjoy it while you have it. 

That’s where being in the cone of silence works in Washington’s favor. It’s helping the Huskies do the work for them. They can put in their work while under a modest spotlight and not under the harsh glare that most playoff teams have to deal with. 

Look at Texas A&M. On Tuesday the playoff committee pulled off a bit of a shocker when they put the one-loss Aggies ahead of Washington in the initial playoff poll. 

They promptly went to Starkville, Mississippi and laid an egg. Bye, bye Aggies.

That could have been the Huskies Saturday night in Berkeley, but they were bound and determined not to let that happen. And when faced with some adversity, they swatted it away with an emphatic response that left no doubt. 

Get ready, Washington fans. The same thing could happen this Tuesday. Ohio State, with a statement 62-3 win over No. 10 Nebraska, could very well jump the Huskies and take the spot vacated by Texas A&M. 

Petersen is hoping for it. He’s begging for it, because the only way Washington can stay hidden in the CFB cone of silence is if the outsiders continue to rationalize its existence.

With ESPN College Game Day coming to Seattle, the playoff committee could give the national press a reason to travel west. What better narrative is there than USC, a traditional power, trying to upend the newly-minted playoff contender? 

They want to turn Seattle into the next Starkville. It’s up to Washington to once again ‘prove it’. 

And when that happens, you can forget about the cone of silence. 

Like starting 10-0 for the second time ever, it will be history for the Huskies.


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