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O’Neil: Don’t direct frustration from UW’s loss to Auburn at Jake Browning

Jake Browning's UW Huskies lost their season opener in Atlanta to Auburn on Saturday. (AP)

I’m disappointed for Jake Browning.

I’m not disappointed in him, and that’s a difference that every Washington fan should stop to consider as his performance in Saturday’s loss to Auburn is being picked apart.

No. 9 Auburn scores late, beats No. 6 UW 21-16

No one thinks Browning played particularly well against Auburn. The first-half interception may not have been primarily his fault, coach Chris Petersen saying the tight end should have come back on the play, but Browning should have gotten Washington out of the third-and-goal option before the snap. Then he failed to get so much as a decent pass off on either of Washington’s final two offensive plays.

It’s OK to be frustrated by Browning’s performance. It’s understandable even. But you should not be angry. Not at a college player, yet it’s become increasingly common to hear Husky fans venting their spleen on the quarterback who’s in his fourth season as the starter. I heard that anger in the stands at the end of the game on Saturday. I listened to it from fans in Atlanta afterward, and I’ve read enough of it online that before we move into what still could be a very fulfilling season, I think it’s important to talk about the rising level of hostility that Washington fans are directing toward our quarterback.

It bothers me. A lot.

It bothers me because it presumes that a college student, an amateur athlete, owes something to the fans and the school, and that’s just about the most backward approach to being a college fan that I can imagine.

We are not owed greatness by our school’s players. We should hope they achieve that greatness. We should cheer for it and try to encourage it. But we should not be angry at those players if they fail to play up to our inflated hopes. Not only that, but any disappointment we feel as fans should be tempered with compassion and the understanding that we are not talking about professionals here, but amateurs, some of whom aren’t old enough to drink legally.

I don’t know if Browning is going to break through and become a great quarterback. I really don’t. He was better than anyone could have ever expected when he played as a true freshman, had two months as a sophomore when he was eye-poppingly productive, and he has had breathtaking moments like the comeback against Utah last season or the touchdown drive at the end of the first half on Saturday.

But one game into his fourth season as a starter, we’re still waiting for him to be that stone-cold assassin in a big game. It didn’t happen in the national semifinal two years ago against Alabama. It didn’t happen in last season’s Fiesta Bowl against Penn State, and unfortunately it didn’t happen on Saturday against Auburn.

You know who that’s most disappointing for? Jake. And when I hear someone curse his reluctance to get rid of the ball late in a game or read some of the very personal criticisms of his performance in clutch moments, I feel that not only is it unfair, but those people have a fundamental misunderstanding about what college football is all about.

Browning has been a good quarterback for Washington, and I’m looking forward to spending the rest of this season hoping (and cheering) for him to be great. And if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be disappointed. For him. But I promise I won’t be mad at him, and you shouldn’t be, either.

More from 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil