Monday night showcased Michael Penix Jr.’s extraordinary versatility on the football field. Even when Texas tightly covered his receivers, the Washington quarterback skillfully delivered precise passes across the middle. When faced with pressure from the Longhorns, Penix adeptly executed checkdowns. And when his favorite targets streaked down the field, Penix unleashed a series of impressive throws, propelling Washington closer to the end zone in a thrilling 37-31 victory over Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
Penix’s stellar performance in this showdown may be considered his magnum opus, setting the stage for the Huskies’ upcoming national championship game against Michigan next Monday night. Despite receiving only a fraction of the Heisman votes compared to other players, the 23-year-old played as if he were determined to prove himself to each of the 592 voters who overlooked him.
In a display of remarkable skill, Penix contributed over 460 total yards (430 in the air and 31 on the ground) on 29-of-38 passing, securing two touchdowns in the process.
Serving as both orchestrator and magician, he led five scoring drives consisting of eight or more plays, captivating the New Orleans crowd with an array of explosive plays covering 20 yards or more. Penix’s standout performance earned him the title of offensive MVP, while Bralen Trice received recognition as the defensive MVP of the game.
Michael Penix Jr. consistently targeted his season-long favorite, Rome Odunze, connecting on six receptions for 125 yards. Each of these long throws proved increasingly devastating for the opposing team.
The Huskies’ offensive momentum was swift as Penix quickly found Ja’Lynn Polk for a 77-yard bomb on Washington’s fourth play of the game. Shortly after, running back Dillon Johnson punched in a 2-yard score, the first of his two touchdowns, opening the floodgates for Washington.
Polk contributed significantly, finishing the game with 122 yards on five catches, including a touchdown. Despite Texas’ resilient defense, they couldn’t contain the explosive plays orchestrated by Penix.
To their credit, the Longhorns, led by quarterback Quinn Ewers, faced unrelenting pressure from Washington’s formidable front seven. Ewers, despite challenges connecting with star receivers Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell, amassed 318 yards on 24-of-43 passing with a touchdown. The Longhorns consistently pushed into the red zone, resulting in three additional rushing scores.
However, Penix’s brilliance proved overwhelming. Despite Ewers’ commendable performance, untimely turnovers limited the Longhorns to just five offensive plays. By the time Texas initiated its sixth offensive snap in the second half, Washington had secured 13 game-shifting points.
The second half unfolded as a thrilling continuation of a neck-and-neck first half, where both teams scored three touchdowns and accumulated over 500 yards.
Ewers and the Longhorns relentlessly drove forward, even assembling a 10-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, their season of destiny ran out of time. With one second left to play, the Longhorns had a final opportunity to seize the lead and shock the Huskies. However, Ewers’ end zone pass to Mitchell fell incomplete, preserving Washington from an improbable comeback.
The wild final drive
Following an unsuccessful onside kick attempt, the Texas defense achieved a crucial three-and-out stop. With 50 seconds remaining, the clock halted when Washington’s Johnson suffered an injury. This pause presented the Longhorns with an opportunity to orchestrate a nine-play drive in the last minute, covering 56 yards. Noteworthy moments included a 41-yard reception by Jordan Whittington and a 16-yarder by Jaydon Blue.
In the final 15 seconds, quarterback Quinn Ewers had four attempts for a touchdown pass. However, the Huskies’ secondary rose to the occasion, particularly safety Makell Esteen, who made a game-saving pass breakup against Mitchell on the conclusive play of the night. This decisive defensive play secured the Huskies’ ticket to the national title game, as recounted by Max Olson, senior college football writer.
Penix was as close to perfect as a QB can get
Penix secured the second spot in the Heisman Trophy race, yet the outcome might have been different had the voting occurred post the College Football Playoff. On the grandest stage of his career, he displayed magnificence by amassing 430 passing yards and two touchdowns, completing 29 of 38 passes.
Throughout the game, his precision and arm talent were evident, notably highlighted by a remarkable streak at the beginning of the second half, where he completed his initial 11 passes. Despite a history of injuries, Penix remained injury-free during his two seasons in Seattle. His career underwent a revival when he joined forces with new Washington coach Kalen DeBoer, a former Indiana OC.
Penix’s opening play set the tone with a 77-yard rainbow to Polk, merely a prelude to the remarkable performance that followed. Consistently eluding sacks and skillfully extending plays, he showcased a skill set he had demonstrated all season.
This virtuoso performance, witnessed by the largest audience of his career, has positioned Washington on the cusp of a national title, as observed by David Ubben, college football senior writer.
Washington was an underdog, again, and won, again
Despite being ranked lower in the 247Sports Team Talent Composite, with Texas at No. 5 and Washington at No. 26, the undefeated Huskies, feeling slighted as underdogs once again, prevailed against a supposedly more talented opponent, akin to their victory against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Washington, featuring a roster with nine sixth-year players, including the quarterback, demonstrated resilience and skill, avoiding the mistakes that proved costly for the Longhorns.
With the exception of a muffed punt in the first half, the Huskies handled the pressure of the big stage, playing in front of a predominantly pro-Texas crowd inside the Superdome.
Notably, they became the first team to achieve an undefeated record since the Pac-10 transitioned to the Pac-12. Additionally, this marked the second instance this season where they secured a victory as outright underdogs on the road. As noted by Ubben, the Huskies’ ability to manage the game and overcome adversity played a pivotal role in their undefeated success.