Caple’s Takeaways: No. 5 Huskies’ close call vs last-place ASU

Oct 22, 2023, 12:46 AM | Updated: 12:53 am

UW Huskies Michael Penix Jr....

UW Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. reacts after a turnover against ASU. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The No. 5 UW Huskies narrowly avoided a massive upset on Saturday, holding off Arizona State for a 15-7 victory at Husky Stadium.

UW Huskies 15, Arizona State 7: Recap | Box score

Here’s what to know about UW’s close call against the Pac-12’s last-place team.

An offensive dud for UW Huskies

One week after a scintillating victory over rival Oregon, the Huskies’ vaunted offense was essentially unrecognizable. They won the game without scoring an offensive touchdown, the first time they’ve accomplished such a feat since their 10-3 victory over Utah in the 2018 Pac-12 Championship Game. Michael Penix Jr. threw two interceptions — his fourth and fifth of the season — and totaled only 275 yards on 27-for-42 passing.

Washington finished with just 288 yards of total offense — and an average of 5.2 per play, more than three full yards below its FBS-leading average of 8.49 — and rushed for only 13 yards on 13 attempts. Five of those rushes lost yardage, and while Penix wasn’t sacked, he was often pressured or hit. The Huskies committed turnovers on four of their first six possessions.

“I thought they did a good job mixing up the pressures,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said of ASU’s defense. “If they didn’t get to Mike, they at least had a hand in the way and close. … We’ll expect to see more of that, certainly, in the weeks ahead. It’s nothing that we can’t handle schematically, or even personnel wise. But it’s just a matter of regrouping and looking at it and getting back to the details and getting it right.”

Penix’s passing total was his second-lowest as a Husky, higher only than a 229-yard performance in last season’s blowout victory over Colorado.

A defensive hero

Mishael Powell said he often saw ASU use similar pre-snap motion to what he saw on ASU’s fourth-and-three attempt in the fourth quarter, but the Sun Devils never threw the ball to the motion man. But when Melquan Stovall motioned from left to right on that fateful play in the fourth quarter, Powell thought he noticed the ASU receiver “looked a little more determined.”

Sure enough, Sun Devils quarterback Trenton Bourguet threw his way, and Powell undercut the throw, intercepted it and returned it 89 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with 8:11 left in the game.

Washington’s defense had bailed out its offense several times before that point, and despite struggling to tackle ASU tailbacks Cam Skattebo and DeCarlos Brooks, still limited ASU to 4.4 yards per play.

“Finding ways to win — with our defense today, doing what they did — only makes us stronger,” DeBoer said. “It only makes our team have that much more belief. I’m confident our offense is going to get back on track and get out there and do their thing again.”

No McMillan, no Bernard

Part of the Huskies’ struggles might be due to the continued absence of star receiver Jalen McMillan, who was injured Sept. 16 against Michigan State and has hardly played since. He missed the California and Arizona games, then returned last week against Oregon — only to depart after seven snaps.

McMillan didn’t suit up Saturday. Neither did fellow receiver Germie Bernard, who was injured during last week’s game.

The Huskies weathered McMillan’s absence against the Ducks, but seemed to miss him Saturday. Ja’Lynn Polk led the Huskies with nine catches for 102 yards, and Rome Odunze added 82 yards on five receptions.

“I think there’s some things one-on-one that just are really tough matchups for people,” DeBoer said. “There’s a lot more reps now that certain guys are having to take. When you can roll guys in, and the rhythm is just continual, you can’t help but believe (when) you take some of those great football players off the field, it doesn’t impact you in some form or fashion.”

UW also played without senior defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa, who appeared to injure his ankle against Arizona, then played a limited number of snaps against Oregon.

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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