Caple: What to know as UW Huskies beat Tulsa 43-10
Sep 9, 2023, 7:15 PM | Updated: 7:17 pm
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The UW Huskies left Husky Stadium on Saturday feeling like they should have put more points on the board, but still scored enough for a comfortable, 43-10 victory over the visiting Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
Here’s what to know as the Huskies improved to 2-0.
Penix Heisman campaign check
So far, so good for star quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who completed 28-of-38 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns Saturday, one week after putting up 450 yards and five touchdowns against Boise State.
Penix did throw his first interception of the season, on what he described as “just a high ball” that sailed over the head of receiver Rome Odunze in the second quarter. It didn’t cost the Huskies, though, as safety Kam Fabiculanan nixed Tulsa’s next possession with his own interception in the end zone, and Penix led the Huskies on an 80-yard scoring drive to take a 22-3 lead.
“We try to be perfect, but nobody’s perfect,” Penix said. “We’ve just got to come out here and execute at a high level next week. … It’s not always as good as you think, and it’s not always as bad as you think. We’ve just got to keep our head on straight and continue to keep pushing forward.”
Versatile receivers, but little tailback production
Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk do more than catch passes.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 9, 2023
Through two games, each player also has recorded a rushing touchdown, with Polk (27 yards) and Odunze (14 yards) both scoring on clever misdirection plays against Tulsa.
Last week, McMillan took a 19-yard wildcat snap for a touchdown, and also completed a 9-yard pass on a trick play.
Sophomore receiver Germie Bernard also carried twice on Saturday for eight yards, even lining up at tailback to take one handoff. As Washington’s offense evolves in Year 2 under coach Kalen DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Huskies want to leverage their most talented players in as many ways possible.
“That’s Grubb doing his little rocket science,” McMillan said. “You know how he is in the lab. He likes to put us in different positions, and I like how he uses us.”
In fact, UW’s receivers accounted for 49 of their 109 total rushing yards on Saturday. The Huskies’ tailbacks carried 16 times for just 49 yards (3.1 per carry), with just one of those attempts gaining more than nine yards.
UW would like better production from that position, no doubt. But DeBoer also said that when an opposing defense presents greater vulnerability against the pass — as both Boise State and Tulsa have, based upon their game plans — there’s no reason to force the run.
“When you see so many things that are just open, that are given, and your guys can attack and go make plays, it’s hard not to call those plays,” DeBoer said. “We do have to work on that (the running game), and we will continue to emphasize. … We haven’t hit the big long one that you’d like to see at this point yet, but it takes more than just a few carries, and we haven’t had enough opportunities.”
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 10, 2023
… but this still wasn’t the receivers’ best game
The Huskies made it through their season opener against Boise State without dropping a single pass. That was not the case Saturday afternoon, as Odunze dropped a pair of Penix throws and McMillan dropped what likely would have been a 49-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Even on a day when McMillan led the team with eight receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown — and Odunze, too, eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second consecutive week — the Huskies knew there were more yards (and points) left to capture.
“I’m going to probably think about it until 8 o’clock tonight, and I’ll be fine,” McMillan said of the drop. “But I need to make that play. I have no excuse for it.”
The Huskies’ offensive performance, McMillan said, “definitely wasn’t the standard. We need to execute better. That’s really all I’ve got to say about that.”
Dillon Johnson, who started Washington’s opener at tailback, didn’t suit up for Saturday’s game, instead watching from the sideline in a jersey and shorts. Johnson injured his knee last season before transferring from Mississippi State, and had another clean-up procedure following spring practices this year. He was somewhat limited during preseason camp, but still carried seven times for 12 yards against Boise State.
DeBoer said Johnson is still recovering from the same knee injury, but should be available for next week’s game at Michigan State.
“(He) didn’t feel like he was where he had hoped (to be) last week,” DeBoer said. “We know what he’s capable of, and he’s not there yet.”
Zion Tupuola-Fetui, UW’s sixth-year senior edge rusher, also sat out due to injury, but DeBoer expects him back next week, too.
The status of senior safety Asa Turner is less clear. Turner started Saturday but left for the locker room on UW’s first defensive series and never returned, due to “something with his hand.” Turner had been nursing a thumb injury earlier in preseason camp, though it’s not clear whether it’s related to the injury that forced him out of Saturday’s game.
With Turner out, Fabiculanan, Makell Esteen and Vincent Nunley helped fill in at safety. Tulsa quarterbacks Cardell Williams and Roman Fuller combined to complete 18-of-32 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown, and had only three completions of 15 or more yards. The Golden Hurricane also totaled only three rushes of 10 or more yards and averaged 4.4 yards per play overall, to Washington’s 9.1.
This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.