Jake Browning’s removal as Washington’s quarterback in the heat of the battle at California—a move that directly led to the Huskies’ 12-10 defeat—made no more sense on Monday than it did last Saturday.
Coach Chris Petersen took the line of questioning head-on during his weekly press briefing but he never offered an explanation that really made total sense for benching his four-year starter and one-time Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year in favor of a redshirt freshman with almost no experience, and certainly no snaps with a game on the line. It was a gamble that backfired badly.
Browning gave way to Jake Haener, who on his fifth play in Berkeley threw a 37-yard interception that was returned for a touchdown by Cal linebacker Evan Weaver in the third quarter and resulted in the deciding points.
“I just told him that I’m going to give Haener a couple of series to see what we can do here,” Petersen explained. “If I’m Jake, I’m not liking it either. That’s what I love about Jake Browning. That dude is a competitor. I don’t care what happens. That’s why I told him, ‘You’re going back in but I’m going to give this guy a couple of series.’ ”
Petersen didn’t say it, but it was an impulsive decision borne out of frustration and it came from a coach who has built his program and reputation on staying the course. His team was ahead 7-6 and grinding through a defensive battle when he made the move. So why take Browning out when he did?
“Because everybody else had already been taken out before—we rotated receivers, backs, line—and it’s just about doing something,” Petersen said. “You have seven points and so that’s hard for some people to swallow. But like I said, we’ve been kind of plodding along on offense here for the last few weeks, not necessarily because of Jake’s fault, but you’ve got to try and do something.”
The coach scrambled like Russell Wilson as he continued to give his rationale for making the quarterback switch. Asked if this was the first time he had ever considered sitting Browning, he seemed to get flustered some. Yet Petersen acknowledged he understood the questions.
“Yes. Yeah. Yeah, I mean for sure,” Petersen responded. “Like I said this is more about the offense than any one player. But I get it when it’s the quarterback that’s such a big deal. And so you hesitate on those type of things but we’ve all been there. So you just try to do what you got to do to help your guys.”
Browning was starting his 48th game out of 49 (he missed one because of an injury) for the Huskies. He sat for two series while Haener got his chance at Cal. Browning will be back in the lineup against Stanford on Saturday night at Husky Stadium, according to his coach.
“Jake Browning is and always has been our quarterback here,” Petersen said. “There’s no one I care for more, have more respect for as a football player and as a person, than him, and I’ve been coaching a long time.”
The Huskies coach said he expected his senior quarterback to show no adverse reaction in his upcoming play because of what happened last weekend in California.
“Jake Browning, he’s the toughest guy in the room,” Petersen said. “He can take it. He will be fine. Does he like it? Is he irritated as all get-out? Yeah. But he won’t go in the tank. He won’t back down.”
Here’s the full transcript of what the Washington coach said of the game, the quarterback change, his offensive coordinator and others:
(Opening) “Like the way our defense played, obviously. I think special teams was solid, I think we made strides there. There was one explosive, but we made some strides there. But it’s obviously painful when you lose a game and you up a defensive touchdown. We’re all trying to figure out how to help that. We will be working like we always have. I love our guys and I know they’ll come out on a mission to get better. I know that for a fact.
(On Browning) “I’ll talk about the Jake situation: That guy, there’s no one I care for more, have more respect for as a football player and as a person, than him. And I’ve been coaching a long time. The situation was, we were not doing anything on offense and just trying to create a spark and see if that would work a little bit. Jake Haener’s taken a thousand reps since the fall and it was much more about our offense than it was about Jake Browning. Jake played solid. There’s always a couple of plays you’d like to have back but he made some very nice throws. So it was really about being frustrated with our offense and trying to get something going. But Jake Browning is and has always been our quarterback here.”
(If it was more about the offense, why did you choose to take him out?) “Because everybody else had already been taken out before. We rotated receivers, backs, line, and it’s just about doing something. You have seven points, and so … that’s hard for some people to swallow, but like I said, we’ve been kind of plodding along on offense here for the last few weeks. Not necessarily because of Jake’s fault, but you’ve got to try and do something. You’ve got to try some stuff in practice and you try some things in games. Defense is playing really well and you still think you’re going to be able to score more than 10 points no matter who you put in there. That was the thought behind it.”
(Why is the offense plodding?) “I don’t know. We go down on a 17-play drive, and those are painful. That’s pretty impressive, 17 plays, and then you score. You’d like to get some explosives in there where guys break tackles and make some things happen and that’s really hard to do. But that seems to be a little bit of who we are right now. We’re working hard to change that. For whatever reason, we have little margin for error.”
(Jake Browning will be your starting quarterback Saturday?) “Absolutely.”
(On the exchange between him and Browning on the sideline, it looked like Jake asked ‘why’?) “I don’t know. I don’t remember him saying why. I just told him that I’m going to give Haener a couple of series to see what we can do here. If I’m Jake I’m not liking it either. That’s what I love about Jake Browning. That dude is a competitor. I don’t care what happens. That’s why I told him, you’re going back in but I’m going to give this guy a couple of series.”
(What did you think Haener was going to bring in that moment?) “He plays well. He does some very good things in practice every week. Jake Browning is our quarterback, but Jake Haener does some different things. He does. I was just trying to create that spark for our offense. It’s good for other guys to get reps in real-life situations and I know people are saying that’s a tough situation to put a guy … he was itching for it. There was no hesitation. He made a bad, kind of a missed throw where he could have come off a little bit, the receiver didn’t help him on where he was route-wise, talking about that interception. But we’ll all learn from it.”
(How easy of a call was it to kick the field goal on fourth-and-10?) “Yeah, pretty easy. Yeah. It really was. You’re playing those things by how it’s kind of going in the game and what your offense is doing. Time left in the game and all those kind of things.”
(On the defense and the final drive/not getting the ball back) “I think there’s two things with that as well as they played. You had to even bring it up because they played really, really well but we’d like to get some turnovers. Again I would say this: I mean I have a lot of … obviously Cal does a good job on defense. They have a very good scheme. I mean their stats back it up. All those type of things. But, I mean, that’s what we’re talking about. One of the things Cal had been struggling with a little bit is turning it over on offense. They didn’t turn it over and we did. So that’s an issue. And then they held the ball for, got two first downs four minutes and something and killed the game. So love to have a stop there.”
(On receivers not helping the QB out being a reoccurring issue) “As much as we throw the ball there’s always going to be those issues a little bit. Comes down to that word that we use all the time: details. Those guys got to be on exactly the same page or there’s a problem there and there were a few times.”
(Was this the first game you thought about replacing Browning?) “Yes. Yeah. Yeah, I mean for sure. Like I said this is more about the offense than any one player. But I get it when it’s the quarterback that’s such a big deal. And so you hesitate on those type of things but we’ve all been there. So you just try to do what you got to do to help your guys.”
(On the thought process heading into halftime) “We were talking about that. Whether we wanted to take some timeouts right now. That discussion was going on. Another feel thing that we didn’t do it and it worked out for us.”
(On what Haener does different than Browning) “He just, you know, I mean every guy is going to read things slightly different. Throw the ball slightly different. And it is different. All those quarterbacks we have are all a bit unique and different. And Jake is, Jake Haener is no different than those other guys. Everybody has a little uniqueness to the game and like I said it’s just about trying to create a little spark.”
(On anything more specific and what he wanted to see from Haener) “Moving the ball. Scoring touchdowns. I mean that’s what we’re trying to do. Like move the ball better and score touchdowns. That’s what we’re talking about, right?”
(On how much of the difference is simply letting the ball go) “Well maybe that’s what you’re talking about a little bit and just something different. I mean we always want them to trust the reads. There’s a read on every play and some guys see things a little bit differently. Might take the ball at a different spot than the other guy would, and so yeah that’s kind of what we’re talking about with this whole thing.”
(What did you hope to see from Haener that didn’t work out?) “Moving the ball, scoring touchdowns. That’s what we’re trying to do: Move the ball better and score touchdowns. That’s what we’re talking about, right?”
(Did you want to see Haener let the ball fly instead of hanging onto it?) “Maybe that’s what you’re talking about a little bit. Just something different. You always want them to trust the reads. There’s a read on every play. Some guys see things a little bit differently and might take the ball to a different spot then some other guys would. That’s kind of what we’re talking about with that whole thing.
(Remember specific moment when you decided to make a change at QB?) “I didn’t want to get deep into the fourth quarter. I just really didn’t. And then you look up and you’re almost into the fourth quarter and have seven points. And so you’re just trying to do something. I can’t emphasize this enough and I know it kind of seems like, ‘Why would you do that?’ To me, this was about our offense and not nearly as much about Jake. Just trying to help something. We’re sitting in there every week figuring out how do we make this a little bit better. We will make progress.
(With quarterback, is it as simple as next man up? Or do you have to make changes?) “I think in that situation and those guys are similar type, it’s not like one is more of a runner or things like that, you’re going to run the plays that you think can attack the defense.
(Does Browning look like a better QB than he was a year ago?) “I don’t know about better. I think he does some things better. I think sometimes the numbers can be a little bit deceiving when you got a new coordinator and you put some spins on those type of things. Jake makes a lot of plays. And he makes a lot of good plays. He made a lot of plays and some big-time throws in that game. We just need to figure out how to help him and this offense score more points.”
(How do you become more explosive on offense?) “We’ll do everything in our power as coaches. We’re attacking coverages and then you got to figure out the people they got that are going against your people and try to figure out how to give yourself a chance. We do some stuff where we do throw it downfield. One time we had one design where we were going to launch it downfield and protection did not hold up and he has to kind of throw it to a crosser and the ball gets knocked away. You see the end result and it looks like we’re not putting it downfield. It’s not that simple, obviously.”
(Has it taken more time than expected to get Browning-Hamdan relationship going?) “Again, I’m not putting this on any one person because it’s not. Everybody wants to talk about the quarterback, everybody wants to talk about the coordinator, everybody wants to talk about head coach. It’s always a little bit of everything until you get all those pieces kind of going together. We’ve got a handful of guys that looks pretty good on paper when you start this season with Myles in the lineup and Chico in the lineup and Quinten Pounds in the lineup and Trey Adams in the lineup and Hunter Bryant in the lineup. It’s a little bit of a lot of things.
(Gaskin and Bryant injury update?) “Close. They’re close.”
(Change in QB about sending a message to the offense?) “It was way more about the offense than it was about the quarterback, for sure. And it wasn’t so much about trying to send a message necessarily to the offenses it was trying to create something for the offense. But in that ballpark of what you’re talking about, yeah.”
(And being that you had made changes at other positions) “You change every player. We changed every player across the line of scrimmage, but that position is different. We’re not acting like it’s not. So you try to be careful about that whole situation. But the one thing I also know: Jake Browning, he’s the toughest guy in the room. He can take it. He will be fine. Does he like it? Is he irritated as all get-out? Yeah. But he won’t go in the tank. He won’t back down.”
(And based on your experience, what tells you that will be the case?) “I know that guy. I know him inside and out. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve had a lot we’ve gone through the last four years.”
(How perplexing has the offense’s red zone struggles been for you?) “Yeah. Perplexing and frustrating as all get-out. We’ve tried a bunch of different answers and we just need to get into a better rhythm, some how, some way. That’s probably the best way to describe it — just a lack of rhythm on that. At times we are in a good rhythm. At times it looks really easy. At times it’s a thing here, a thing there. And we are well aware. We’ve got to create the situations a little bit better in practice and call some things over and over.”
(With Gaskin, is this something where he’s trying to convince you to play, or more of a day-to-day injury?) “He’s a day-to-day guy. But that goes to the doctors and trainers, always. With the players input, for sure, on how they’re feeling. But at the end of the day, it’s those situations (with doctors). If we do think it’s best to put a guy in there we’re not going to do that.”
(On Browning’s interception: Was he just trying to throw that away? And do you maybe need more from Aaron Fuller on that play?) “Absolutely. Yes and yes. It’s a little bit of miscommunication. I think Aaron thought (Browning) was going to take off and scramble, so he hesitated on that. It was very subtle how Jake moved and read that, so I think (Fuller) read that that (Browning) was going to go, so (Fuller) pulled off and the DB didn’t. And I think Jake was trying to push it out of bounds late and it didn’t turn out good.”
(Has there been any thought to going to more tempo on offense?) “There’s been a lot of thoughts. There really have. Yeah, there has been.”
(The play before the field goal, third-and-goal at the 10. It looked like Browning was trying to throw it away again and it nearly gets picked off. Was that another) “No, that’s not on (Browning). We’ve got to give him better answers.”
(On poor kickoff coverage) “I think maybe there is two things. You get late into the season and our kickoff team looks significantly different than maybe it did early on. That’s how it always goes. You get certain bodies dinged up, certain bodies take a lot of reps that were on that that you may need to pull out and get some younger guys going. And then it’s very hard to replicate in practice because we do spend a decent amount of time on it, believe it or not. It’s amazing. We had a couple of new guys on there covering really well, reading where the return was supposed to go like any good returner he aborts the return where it’s supposed to go because there is a hole right there because the guys are reading it so hard they’re doing a good job of reading indicators and there is a big seam there. Live and learn. That won’t happen again to those two guys.”
(Are you concerned about how that area is being coached?) “Absolutely. Every area on our team is always concerned about how it’s being coached. For sure.”
(How would you characterize the mood out of the team?) “You tell me.”
(Angry?) “All those things. Disappointed, depressed, angry. These things are way bigger to us than they are to you guys and you guys are probably the next most; this is your job and all that, and I can’t emphasize enough how painful. People don’t get it. And I can’t say that loud enough.”
(You control your destiny in the North) “It’s not even worth talking about. I’ve said it forever. We control everything. We control our happiness. We control how we practice. We control our improvement. All those things. That’s just always the message. Even if we didn’t control anything, even if we had nothing, no games, nothing, I would expect us to like, ‘How are we going to get better?’ That’s who we are in our core.”
(On Stanford’s Bryce Love) “I think last week he was looking like the Bryce Love I knew last year. I hadn’t really seen Stanford up until this week. I haven’t looked at much of anything. But I know he’s one of those guys who has breakaway speed but he’s deceptively strong. He just breaks tackles. I saw that again in that Stanford game. He can change the game.”
(On Stanford’s defense) “Their defense, I think they have some really good players. There are some guys that really flash. It’s different than it was last year. They have some younger guys in there that flash quite a bit and I think those guys are on an upward trend for sure. I know those Stanford teams, how they play. They’re tough, they’re hard-nosed, they get better, they compete their tail off and I know how this game will be. It will be a tough fight for sure.”
(What can expect in a week’s time for Jake and the offense to be different?) “I don’t know about that. But I know how he’s going to work and how he attacks the week. And I know he was sitting in there in the film room when I walked over here. That doesn’t change. He doesn’t flinch. I know he’ll do everything in his power to help us all get better. And the little things he can do to help improve his game, he’s going to do that. That’s all we can ask.”
(Do you still think Trey Adams will play this season?) “I don’t know about that. He’s a ways away.”