Caple’s UW Takeaways: 3 things to know from blowout of Cal

Sep 24, 2023, 12:12 AM

UW Huskies Michael Penix Jr. Ja'Lynn Polk...

Michael Penix Jr. and Ja'Lynn Polk of the UW Huskies celebrate a touchdown against the California. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — The UW Huskies jumped California early and coasted to a 59-32 victory in their Pac-12 opener Saturday night at Husky Stadium.

UW Huskies 59, Cal 32: Recap | Box score

Here’s what to know after the Huskies improved to 4-0.

More than just an offense

The Huskies led 14-0 as Michael Penix Jr. and the rest of UW’s offense took the field … for their very first snap of the game.

Sixth-year senior linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio snagged his first career interception on Cal’s first possession, returning the Ben Finley pass 45 yards for a touchdown. And after the Huskies forced the Golden Bears to punt on their second possession, Rome Odunze — the Pac-12’s leading receiver — returned the ensuing punt 83 yards for a touchdown.

It was UW’s first punt-return score since Aaron Fuller did it at BYU in 2019. Penix could be seen running up the sideline in celebration, his lone exercise through most of the first quarter.

The light first-half duty helps explain why Penix passed for only — only — 304 yards in this game, a relatively scant number compared to his three 400-plus-yard performances to start the season. The nation’s leading passer still averaged a whopping 12.2 yards per pass attempt, and pushed his season touchdown total to 16 — more than halfway to his 2022 total of 31.

UW safety Dominique Hampton and cornerback Jabbar Muhammad each added interceptions in the first half. The Huskies’ three interceptions brought their season total to seven.

They had seven interceptions in 13 games last season.

“We knew they weren’t as accurate as we’re used to seeing,” said Muhammad, who returned his interception 42 yards. “We knew when they took shots down the field, we were going to be able to come down and make some plays.”

The fast start paced UW to a 45-12 halftime lead, tying the most points the Huskies have ever scored in a half.

Odunze on display

Washington’s star receiver — one of them, anyway — had four catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, plus a punt-return touchdown, in the first half alone.

Odunze added a 13-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass in the third quarter, and finished with five catches for 125 yards and two scores. Through four games, Odunze already has 544 receiving yards and four touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown and a punt-return score.

He also wasn’t even UW’s leading receiver on Saturday. That was Ja’Lynn Polk, who caught eight passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, and, like teammates Odunze and Jalen McMillan, is still averaging more than 100 yards per game (106.8).

Prior to this season, UW only ever had eight games in which two receivers each eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The Huskies have accomplished the feat in all four of their games this year.

“At the end of the game, I just want to be proud of what I put on the field,” Odunze said. “If that’s 100 yards, then great. If that’s zero yards, but I blocked my (rear end) off and I got my teammates open, then great. It’s been definitely a hot start, for sure.”

UW Huskies injury update

The Huskies played without receiver Jalen McMillan, who left last week’s game against Michigan State due to injury and did not return. DeBoer said on Monday that he figured McMillan would be able to play this week, but he instead watched from the sideline with his jersey pulled over a sweatshirt.

“He’s working. I would anticipate him being back for next week,” DeBoer said, referring to UW’s game at Arizona.

Julius Buelow, a fifth-year junior offensive lineman, also left the Michigan State game with an injury and did not return. He didn’t play against Cal, either, and was seen on the sideline wearing a walking boot. DeBoer also had said he thought Buelow would have a chance to play against Cal.

“There’s a chance for next week” with Buelow, DeBoer said. “Those guys are really champing at the bit to get back on the football field.”

Senior safety Asa Turner missed his second consecutive game with an apparent hand injury, though he spent some time on the field doing conditioning a couple hours before the game.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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