The hidden side of politics

Washington tops Texas, will face U-M for CFP title

Reported by ESPN:

NEW ORLEANS — There would be no doubting Washington by the time the final seconds ticked off the clock against Texas in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Michael Penix Jr. made sure of that. Penix delivered one of the most dominant quarterback performances in CFP history, as the Huskies held off the Longhorns 37-31 on Monday night. Now, Washington will play Michigan in the CFP national title game on Jan. 8 in Houston — its first national championship opportunity since 1991.

Though Penix threw for 430 yards, Washington could never quite get complete control of the game. Texas made it a one-score game twice in the final seven minutes as it attempted to erase a 13-point fourth quarter deficit. After closing it to 37-31 with 1:09 remaining, Texas attempted an onside kick, but Washington recovered.

After forcing a three-and-out, Texas got the ball back with 45 seconds left, the ball at its 31-yard line. Quinn Ewers drove Texas down to the 13-yard line with four attempts to win the game. But on fourth down, Makell Esteen batted a pass away from Adonai Mitchell in the end zone and Washington prevailed.

When it was all said and done, Penix went 29-of-38 for 430 yards and two touchdowns, and as a result, became the first player with multiple 4,500-yard passing seasons in Pac-12 history. His 430 yards Monday ranks No. 4 among all CFP games played. Odunze and Polk each finished with 100 yards receiving, too.

The decision Penix made to come to Washington in 2022 has helped change the trajectory of the Washington football program. But that all started with the hiring of coach Kalen DeBoer, an offensive mastermind who won three NAIA championships as head coach at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota before working his way up the FBS ranks and landing with the Huskies.

One of his first phone calls after taking the job was to Penix, whom he coached for one season as offensive coordinator at Indiana. Penix wanted to play for DeBoer, noting his comfort level, trust and belief in him not only as a coach but an offensive innovator. In their two years together, they have won 25 of 27 games and are on the precipice of accomplishing something much greater.

The program has been more than just Penix, of course. While DeBoer has done an excellent job using the transfer portal, he also has nine sixth-year players who started their careers at Washington under a different coaching staff — willing to buy in and believe in his message, too.

There are other veteran seniors, too, including Odunze and linebacker Bralen Trice who have taken the lead in helping establish the culture DeBoer wanted to instill.

Despite everything this team has accomplished this season, it went into its semifinal against Texas as the underdog — the second straight game where it was not favored to win. That irked the Huskies to the point where they used that as extra motivation. Trice told ESPN earlier this week, “I want to go out there and smack them.”

Penix, too, had enough of the way Texas’ defensive front had called the guys in front of him “just another o-line,” saying in defense, “We’re not playing the 49ers D-line or the Eagles D-line, so we’ll be good.”

It was Penix who was proven right, as once again his offensive line kept him upright and provided all the time he needed to do what he does best. In the first half alone, Penix was 8-of-8 for 222 yards and a touchdown targeting his wide receivers.

Then to open the second half, he had 11 straight completions. By the time the third quarter had ended, Penix had 372 yards passing, two touchdowns and just four incompletions as the Washington fans chanted, “Let’s Go Huskies!”

Though Washington threatened to blow the game open after going up 34-21 midway early in the fourth quarter, Texas hung around and its defense stepped up to keep the Longhorns in the game. After Jaydon Blue fumbled, Washington could not take advantage and was forced to punt.

On the ensuing drive, Ewers threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell, a transfer from Georgia to make it 34-28. Mitchell is automatic in the CFP — with a touchdown reception in all five CFP games in which he has played.

On the next possession, Penix did what was needed to move Washington down the field — including a 32-yard pass to Rome Odunze down the left sideline that was enough to get into field goal range and make it a two-score game before Texas tried one last comeback.

Texas stayed in the game in the first half, too, thanks in large part to its run game. The Longhorns had three rushing touchdowns – including one off a muffed Washington punt that led to defensive lineman Byron Murphy II scoring from 1-yard out. Texas averaged 6.4 yards per carry for the game.

But Ewers was not nearly as effective or consistent with the Texas passing game, and that hurt the Longhorns when it came time to put together sustained drives. Ewers finished 24-of-43 for 318 yards and a score, as Texas fell short in its attempt to play for a national championship for the first time since the 2009 season.

Instead, the spotlight belonged to Penix and the Huskies.