Washington coach Chris Petersen knew his quarterback would be ready at some point.
It was just a matter of when.
Well, it turns out sophomore year worked out just fine for Jake Browning.
After an up-and-down freshman campaign, Browning lit up the Pac-12 the second time around, leading Washington to a conference championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff and earning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors in the process.
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But both Browning and his coach feel that Browning is merely scratching the surface of what he can become.
His next step at that comes on Saturday, when Browning and No. 4 Washington (12-1) face their biggest test of the season against top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama (13-0) in the Peach Bowl with a shot at the national championship on the line.
“He’s still a work in progress,” Petersen said. “We all are. And I think that’s probably the best thing about him is that he’s really hungry to try to master this position if that’s possible.”
Heading into Saturday, Browning has already broken eight single-season school records this year, included among them marks for passing touchdowns (42), pass plays longer than 50 yards (8) and points responsible for (276). He also set a school record with six touchdown passes in a game -- twice.
Yet when he’s off the field, teammates say the quarterback remains as composed as when he’s driving his offense into the red zone.
“If Jake gets in trouble, then the world must be ending tomorrow” wide receiver John Ross said.
“He’ll never turn his back on us. That’s what everyone needs in a quarterback.”
Especially on the biggest stage of the 20-year-old’s young career to this point and in Washington’s first major bowl game since an appearance in the 2001 Rose Bowl. Not to mention that it comes against the Crimson Tide, winners of 25 straight and a two-touchdown favorite for Saturday’s matchup.
But Browning has no problem accepting the underdog mentality.
In fact, he’s embracing it.
“It’s exciting,” Browning said. “You want to play against the best. You don’t want to just play the teams that are just going to give it to you.”
Alabama certainly isn’t going to give Washington any free plays.
The Crimson Tide’s defense leads the nation in average yards allowed (247.8) and points allowed (11.8). Alabama has also scored 10 touchdowns on defense this year.
“They do play extremely hard with those guys, and they can really create pressure on the quarterback, not having to blitz,” Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “That will definitely be the toughest challenge we've seen so far.”
Washington looks to counter Alabama with its fast-paced offense and affinity for big plays. The Huskies are fourth in the nation in scoring offense at 44.5 points per game and seventh in yards per play (7.13).
“We kind of have a saying in our room that every play ends either with a touchdown or a tackle,” Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. “So we've got to find a way to get these guys on the ground.”
And it’s not just Browning making the plays.
Ross, a junior All-American a year removed from a torn ACL, led Power-five conference receivers with 17 touchdown catches.
Running back Myles Gaskin has rushed for over 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns for the second straight season.
The offensive line has kept him upright -- Washington has only allowed 21 sacks this year.
“I think we're at our best when we're balanced,” Browning said. “Can't drop eight against us because we can run the ball pretty well and you can't just stack the box because we've got some guys on the outside that can roll. … We just find a way to put up points. It's good.”