SEATTLE — It was so out of character it became the defining moment of his time at Washington. Maybe that's because the most exuberance Jake Browning had ever shown before was a fist pump and a smile.
Then came "The Point."
As the sophomore quarterback glided into the end zone for a touchdown early in Washington's blowout of Oregon, Browning quickly pointed in the direction of an opponent. It was a different side of Browning, one that is filled with self-confidence and a little cockiness.Underneath an exterior that seems to be a plug-in of how Washington coach Chris Petersen is wired, Browning has a feisty competitiveness that emerges only on occasion.
"You see him in the hall, you go like this," Washington offensive lineman Trey Adams said, mimicking Browning's point. "Coach Pete hates that. That was awesome. I love that play."
Thanks to Browning's evolution, Washington exceeded the preseason expectations of being a program on the rise and reached the College Football Playoff, where it will face top-ranked Alabama in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve. Browning has developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the country as just a sophomore and every so often — like the play against Oregon — his self-assuredness has emerged.
"I probably appreciate him more because he has a calmer demeanor than I do," Petersen said. "I think it's easier when you're a player. You can just let it go out there. When you're on the sideline it just gets bottled up and you just try and bite your tongue as best as you can. I think the thing is we're both really competitive and sometimes, he's awesome, but I try and do the best I can and not be too competitive over-coaching him because he gets it."
Browning was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year in a vote of coaches after throwing for 3,280 yards and 42 touchdowns. He led Washington to its first conference championship since 2000 and barely missed out on a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Browning's sixth-place finish in the Heisman voting was still the second best in Washington history behind only defensive lineman Steve Emtman who finished fourth in 1991.
Browning is still an unassuming figure on a national stage. He was an unplanned player of the year because of an unexpected jump from the end of his freshman season to now, and he's on the verge of setting Pac-12 records for the most touchdown passes in a season. Browning's potential sophomore slump instead became a sophomore showcase.
It was improvement his coaches hoped to see after throwing him into starting as a true freshman.
"His accuracy in the red zone has been at a high level throughout the year. He's really improved there. His decision making when he has extended the play has improved, not forcing a couple of balls where he did his freshman year," Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. "We're putting a lot on his plate in recognition in coverage and changing plays."
It's the combo of Smith and Petersen that have come to understand Browning's personality. They had a good feel of how Browning would respond to the college game through years of recruiting Browning first at Boise State and then, Washington.
"You don't really know what you're going to get, but I think with him with as long as we recruited him and as much as he was around us we had a pretty good idea that he was going to be like he is," Petersen said. "And then you just wait to see how winning and losing affects guys. Do they change?"
Browning's numbers this season are also the result of those around him. The return of John Ross can't be overstated, giving Washington an athletic speedster they desperately lacked a season ago. That was never more evident than the Pac-12 title game victory over Colorado when pass Browning intended to throw away instead became a spectacular TD catch for Ross.
The combo of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman have been productive on the ground; Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher have made significant jumps as receivers; and Washington's coaches no longer have limitations on the playbook.
Browning sums up his season like this: Getting rid of negative plays. Plays that might have been interceptions as a freshman have been incompletions or sacks. Browning knows those negative plays can't return if Washington is to have a chance against Alabama.
"I don't think we're a team that's going to come out and throw the ball every play, or come out and run the ball every play. We stay balanced and do our thing," Browning said. "They're good, but you can't let a good team get you away from what got you there."
This article was written by Tim Booth from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.