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Washington Football: Huskies' Offense Isn't Perfect, But It's Getting There

Washington Huskies QB Jake Browning

Washington Huskies QB Jake Browning

PASADENA, Calif. — The scouting report on Washington quarterback Jake Browning does not typically read, "dual-threat quarterback." He rushed for cumulative totals of 35 yards in 2015, 45 in '16, and 25 a season ago.

But after Browning rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown in the No. 10-ranked Huskies' 31-24 win at UCLA, the quarterback showed upcoming opponents another wrinkle for which to be prepared.

"When he can get out of the pocket and make big plays, it's good for our offense," said wide receiver Aaron Fuller. "They've got to account for that, and for the receivers down the field."

Washington's first win at Rose Bowl Stadium since beating the Drew Brees-quarterbacked Purdue Boilermakers in the 2001 Rose Bowl Game, and the program's first victory there over a UCLA team in 23 years, showed flashes of the full potential in Washington's offense.

The big-play threat from the receivers was evident, especially from Fuller, who stopped on a dime to adjust around a UCLA defender, haul in a nicely thrown ball from Browning, and score the game's first points on 25-yard connection.

Fuller also made a grab of 46 yards, and Ty Jones snared a crucial 34-yarder in the second half.

In the run game, when it wasn't Browning with some rarely seen footwork, running back Myles Gaskin racked up 115 yards and two touchdowns. Even Sean McGrew got in on the act with three carries for 19 yards. And on those successful drives, the Washington offensive line either created gaping holes, or pushed back UCLA's defensive front.

After opening the season with some offensively sluggish and turnover-plagued performances, the Huskies have put together their three best outings on that side of the ball over the past three weeks. But they are still chasing a completely consistent effort. The showing at the Rose Bowl demonstrated flashes of the offense's potential, sure, but letdowns in the second half allowed the Bruins to claw back.

Fuller said the Huskies left too many points on the board, scoring just once in the second half after a dominantly efficient start. Combined with a first-half possession that resulted in a field goal, there's still evidence of the growth Washington can make with the majority of the Pac-12 schedule still to come.

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There's a learning curve for the Huskies under first-year offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, who replaced new Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith after four seasons. An assistant on head coach Chris Petersen's staff in 2015 and '16, Hamdan spent last season with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

"When you switch [offensive coordinators], there'll always be some type of difference," said Fuller. "He brings that NFL mind. That's why you see those play-actions that are working."

Fuller said the professional approach blends with similarities to Smith's play-calling, a byproduct of Hamdan having previously worked with a variety of the Huskies still in the program. That familiarity eases the transition, but isn't the only change Washington's had to address on offense through the first half of the campaign.

Hamdan's schematic changes coincided with a significant shake-up before Week 1, as preseason All-America left tackle Trey Adams required season-ending back surgery. Adams' absence from the lineup has created an unusual dynamic, which Petersen explained before game day. Jared Hilbers initially manned the left tackle position.

"He's come along slowly, but steadily gotten better. It's been nice to see. We're also playing Henry Roberts at that same position, and it's not because Jared is not doing well," Petersen said. "And I love that combination. It creates depth, it creates competition."

Petersen noted Washington's tendency to rotate at other positions: Gaskin's split carries with Salvon Ahmed much of the season, with McGrew factoring into the equation on Saturday. Fuller's established himself as the No. 1 passing target with 35 receptions for 574 yards, but the Washington wide receiving corps may be the most well-rounded in the Pac-12. Jones has a team-leading four touchdown grabs, Andre Baccellia's made 16 catches, and both Quinton Pounds and Chico McClatcher add threats operating out of the slot.

So, while unorthodox, a rotation at tackle fits the M.O. of this fast-improving Washington offense.

"You're trying to get some continuity going at the [offensive] line position," Petersen said of typically using just one player at tackle. "When we're able to do it, as the head coach, I love that... With those guys rotating in, [a lack of continuity] has never come up at all."

The line's progress may be most evident in the clean pocket from which Browning operated Sept. 29 against BYU, and in a converted 4th-and-1 against UCLA. When a similar quarterback sneak failed against Auburn, Washington's offense vowed not again this season.

Browning got seven yards on a 4th-and-1 sneak in the Rose Bowl.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.