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Washington is learning what it's like to be under the microscope

BOULDER, Colo. -- His team had just polished off Colorado in its most impressive victory of the season, but Washington quarterback Jake Browning was still annoyed.

Browning, the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, was clearly miffed by a theory that had developed over the first three games of the season: that the Huskies couldn’t run the ball. Or at least not nearly as well as they did in 2016, when they averaged 198.1 rushing yards per game.

The 2017 outfit failed to crack 100 yards rushing against both Rutgers and Fresno State, and people started to talk.

“All we were hearing about is how we can’t run the ball,” said Browning, fresh off Saturday's win, his tone dismissing the idea out of hand.

A rational thinker with no patience for overreactions, Browning knew there was nothing broken. Room for improvement? Always, but three games is an insignificant sample size and, even so, the Huskies averaged 47 points. That came against inferior competition, but the sky wasn’t falling.

Any long-term concern, he thought, was misguided, and Washington’s performance against Colorado provided the proof he didn’t think was needed. Behind a career-high 202 rushing yards from Myles Gaskin, the Huskies ran for 254 yards and soundly defeated the Buffaloes 37-10.

“We finally got everybody to stop talking about how we can’t run the ball,” Browning said.

Slowly, No. 6 Washington is learning what it’s like to be a national power.

Perception isn’t created by victories, but rather from how impressive they were while winning. Any potential deficiencies are magnified because the Huskies (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) are no longer being evaluated against their conference peers; they’re judged against teams in pursuit of the College Football Playoff and a national title.

Any flaw could be the flaw that keeps the Huskies out of the playoff, or out of the title game, so all facets of their play are now grounds for more thorough external evaluations than in the past.

Internally, things remain as process-focused as they’ve always been.

“I think we took a step forward in the run game,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “We still have some things to clean up, there’s no question about it, but we did get some things done that we hadn’t got done in the past.”

On paper, Colorado represented what might be the Huskies’ stiffest test until November, and as a rematch of last season's Pac-12 title game, it carried some extra weight.

“I think they just play really sound, they always have a lot of energy at home and they’ve played a lot of close games at home,” Browning said. “Obviously they had a chip on their shoulder about the Pac-12 championship, so we knew they were going to give us their best shot.”

The resounding victory made it tempting to look ahead, certainly beyond Saturday's trip to Oregon State.

A peek at Washington’s schedule shows eight games left in the regular season, all of which the Huskies would be favored in if they were played tomorrow. The next six are against unranked opponents, followed by home games against No. 20 Utah and No. 16 Washington State.

It's not a question if the Huskies are good. It's a question of how good. And that doesn't figure to change anytime soon.