While Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is the name on everyone’s minds each time the Cardinal takes the field, Washington quarterback Jake Browning is rapidly becoming a household name. Friday night’s meeting, which will produce the Pac-12 North frontrunner and is the first top-10 showdown in Husky Stadium in nearly two decades, would represent quite the stage for him to burst onto the scene.
As a true freshman last year, he tossed 16 touchdowns over 12 games. He already has 14 this season through four games — tied for second in the FBS — and has improved his passer rating by 55.6 points, and elevated his adjusted yards per passing attempt from 7.7 to 11.5.
Chris Petersen’s Huskies score in droves, piling up 45.8 points per contest, the 10th most of any team. As is evidenced by Browning’s skyrocketing yards per passing attempt, Petersen is comfortable letting his quarterback take shots down the field. Browning, however, needs ample time to dissect his opponent, which is something Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson must take away to remain competitive.
Browning ranks third in pass efficiency (194.9), moving up from 41st a season ago (139.3) in large part due to the play of Washington’s offensive line, the same line which paved the way for a career rushing performance from running back Lavon Coleman last week against Arizona.
Browning isn’t a threat to run, nor is he someone who typically evades pressure with ease. He has never rushed for more than 28 yards in a collegiate game and only 38 quarterbacks with more than 200 passing attempts over the last two seasons have produced fewer rushing yards than Browning. Additionally, he has already been sacked eight times in 2016; Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns, for example, has been brought to the turf behind the line of scrimmage half as many times this year.
Stanford may have been picked for the first time in the 56-year history of the conference preseason poll to win the Pac-12, but Washington is now favored to win every game the rest of the regular season, and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Huskies a 61 percent chance to win Saturday’s matchup. To maximize those chances, Browning will need time in the pocket.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated this game was on Saturday, it will be played Friday night.