CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple’s Takeaways: UW Huskies hold on 42-33 vs Stanford

Oct 28, 2023, 9:09 PM

UW Huskies...

Rome Odunze of the Washington Huskies catches a touchdown pass at Stanford on Oct. 28, 2023. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

STANFORD, Calif. — The UW Huskies improved to 8-0, but again struggled to defeat a seemingly overmatched opponent, eventually prevailing in a 42-33 victory over the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday. Here’s what to know about the win.

Penix throws 4 TDs, No. 5 UW Huskies survive at Stanford 42-33

Another clunker

Since their thrilling victory over Oregon, the Huskies have now played two games in which they were favored by nearly four touchdowns … and struggled to win both of them.

They needed a late pick-six to win the first, 15-7, over Arizona State, the Pac-12’s last-place team.

And while they did beat Stanford (2-6, 1-5 in Pac-12) by two scores, the outcome was in doubt until the final two minutes — and could have turned out much differently, if Stanford receiver Jayson Raines hadn’t dropped a trick-play pass by receiver Tiger Bachmeier on fourth-and-two from Stanford’s 28-yard line with 3:20 left in the game.

With Washington clinging to a 35-33 lead after Michael Penix Jr. threw a bad-luck interception in the end zone, Bachmeier took a pitch in the backfield and had Raines wide open for at least a first down, if not a bigger gain after the catch. Instead, Raines dropped it, UW scored four plays later — all runs by tailback Dillon Johnson — and Stanford did nothing with its final possession.

 

Like ASU last week, Stanford outgained the Huskies, 499-460 (though UW enjoyed a healthy edge in yards per play, 7.1 to 5.8). Stanford quarterback Ashton Daniels threw for 367 yards, the most by a UW opponent this season, and the Huskies committed a pair of red-zone turnovers in the fourth quarter with an opportunity to put the game away.

“I think this was just a grind of a week, all week long, just with the health of our team,” said UW Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer. “Some of that showed, as far as the execution on both sides of the ball, when it came to playing tonight. I think there will be a few guys that hopefully we can get back, that can be fresh.”

About the health situation

Considering Stanford’s nearly 500-yard output — nearly 130 yards per game more than its season average — the health of senior defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa might be of most interest. He suited up but didn’t play, DeBoer saying that Letuligasenoa’s leg injury limited him to potential emergency use only.

“That’d be a really important guy for us, especially with stopping the run, maybe getting a little bit more pressure and finishing plays in the backfield, and taking a few reps off some other guys up front, as well,” DeBoer said, speculating that Letuligasenoa might be able to play next week at USC.

Receiver Jalen McMillan, who had essentially missed UW’s last four games due to injury, made the trip and started, but apparently tweaked his injury for the second time. McMillan also played sparingly against Oregon before exiting due to injury, and spent the second half of Saturday’s game watching from the sideline in street clothes.

“He’s super frustrated,” DeBoer said. “He had a crazy positive attitude about really trying to get out there and help us tonight. He’s trying to will himself to get on the football field and get it done, to get all our guys kind of working together.”

Sophomore receiver Germie Bernard barely practiced this week, DeBoer said, but made the trip and played, and caught three passes for 43 yards — including a crucial third-and-eight conversion on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive.

“Really proud of the way he fought tonight and helped us win,” DeBoer said.

The Huskies also were thin at safety, with fourth-year sophomore Makell Esteen starting in place of injured senior Asa Turner … whose primary backup, Kam Fabiculanan, also missed the game due to injury. UW also was without reserve safety Vincent Nunley, who missed each of the Huskies’ last two games for what DeBoer has termed a non-injury reason.

Even Penix is still under the weather. He sounded congested throughout his postgame interview, and indicated he didn’t feel well throughout the week. The Heisman candidate finished with 369 yards passing and four touchdowns, plus one interception on a bobbled throw to Rome Odunze in the end zone.

Polk makes plays

Even in the ASU game, Polk managed to eclipse the 100-yard receiving mark. He did it against Stanford, too, for the sixth time this season, catching five passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns.

The first was something of a gift. A Stanford defender fell down — after he committed a pass-interference penalty, no less — and Penix’s deep throw found Polk all by himself. He caught it and covered the remaining distance, uncontested, for a 92-yard touchdown — the second-longest completion in school history.

The second Polk score was a fade ball in the red zone, Polk beating one-on-one coverage for a 10-yard score. Through eight games, Polk is now averaging 100-plus yards per game, with 46 catches for 836 yards.

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.

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