Caple’s Takeaways: UW Huskies 10-0 after 35-28 win over Utah
Nov 11, 2023, 6:19 PM | Updated: 9:51 pm
The No. 5 UW Huskies stayed unbeaten with a 35-28 victory over Utah on Saturday at Husky Stadium.
Here’s what to know:
They keep finding a way
Trailing last-place Arizona State in the fourth quarter, UW’s Mishael Powell ripped off a pick-six to give the Huskies their first lead in a game they won 15-7.
Clinging to a two-point lead at Stanford, the Huskies watched a Cardinal receiver drop a pass on fourth down, then punched in a final touchdown to win 42-33.
And leading last week by three points at USC, Voi Tunuufi sacked Caleb Williams on third down to force a rare Trojans punt — after which Dillon Johnson immediately ran for 53 yards to spark the touchdown drive that sealed a 52-42 victory.
So maybe it should have been no surprise that on Saturday, UW followed an awful defensive half — Utah scored 28 points and put up 306 yards with backup Bryson Barnes at quarterback — by shutting the Utes out in the final two quarters. In fact, Washington’s defense outscored Utah’s offense, 2-0, thanks to a third-quarter safety (more on that in a moment).
It’s rarely pretty, but coach Kalen DeBoer’s team continues to find ways to finish games. The Huskies (10-0, 7-0 in Pac-12) join the 1991 team as the only in UW history to hold a 10-0 record.
“We’re gritty, we’re hard-nosed and we’re tough,” said junior linebacker Carson Bruener, who combined with defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa to tackle Utah running back Ja’Quinden Jackson in the end zone. “You can throw anything our way, and I know that I’ve got 10 other guys on the field, and I trust in every single one of them, and everyone else that comes in and rotates. We’ve all got each other’s back and we all play for each other.”
Barnes threw for 238 yards in the first half but just 29 in the second — on 4-of-13 passing, with two interceptions. Utah managed only 76 yards on 21 plays after halftime.
“We went back to our base calls,” said cornerback Jabbar Muhammad. “Coach Morrell (saw) some things. He didn’t abort the game plan, but we just went back to some of our base calls, that we know no matter what they come out in, we know what to run.”
One big mistake
With the Huskies leading, 33-28, UW linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala intercepted Barnes late in the third quarter, outran every Utah offensive player and crossed the goal line for what appeared to be a game-changing, 77-yard pick-six … except he dropped the football in celebration a full yard before he actually made it to the end zone.
HE DROPPED IT BEFORE CROSSING THE GOAL LINE?! 😱
UTAH GETS THE BALL BACK pic.twitter.com/AzhjizWAn4
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 11, 2023
The ball sat there on the 1-yard line until Utah offensive lineman Michael Mokofisi became the first to realize Tuputala hadn’t actually scored, and pounced on it to reclaim possession.
It was a critical mental gaffe, though it wasn’t as costly as it could have been: on the Utes’ next play, Letuligasenoa and Bruener dropped Jackson a good three yards deep in the end zone, so the Huskies at least got two points out of the fiasco.
Several UW players offered Tuputala words of encouragement on the sideline afterward.
“It’s a great lesson to learn from,” DeBoer said. “Fortunately, we won the football game, so you can learn from that. The defense getting back out there, getting some points with the safety, and just continuing to pick up and play ball. I saw a lot of guys as the game’s going along, going to ‘Zo and making sure (he) knew they’ve got his back.”
Penix to Odunze, times two
Michael Penix Jr. targeted Rome Odunze with 11 passes on Saturday, though only three of them were completed. Fortunately for UW, those three receptions totaled 111 yards, and two of them were touchdowns.
— Washington Football (@UW_Football) November 11, 2023
The first was a 34-yard score in the second quarter, Odunze hauling in a perfect throw from Penix against single coverage. Penix also found him with an accurate toss in the third quarter for a 33-yard touchdown. Odunze’s other reception, a 44-yarder earlier in the third quarter, helped set up a Grady Gross field goal.
Odunze’s three catches accounted for a large chunk of Penix’s 332 yards on a windy, rainy afternoon. The junior receiver now has 59 catches for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns this season, becoming only the second player in school history — along with Reggie Williams — to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark in consecutive seasons.
“That’s pretty special. That’s consistency at a really high level,” DeBoer said. “The couple big plays he made out there today — we’ve all grown accustomed to those not surprising us.”
UW tailback Dillon Johnson followed his 256-yard game at USC by rushing for 104 yards on 23 carries, the third time this season he’s exceeded the 100-yard mark. The Huskies’ 457 yards were the most allowed by Utah this season, and their 35 points tied for the most the Utes have given up (Oregon scored 35 two weeks ago in Salt Lake City).
Jalen McMillan played only a handful of snaps and was not targeted with a pass, but the junior receiver’s return was nevertheless an encouraging sign. He hasn’t seen significant action since injuring his knee during UW’s victory at Michigan State on Sept. 16.
“I think the biggest thing is just him getting out there,” DeBoer said. “He was going to be on a pitch count of some type, just kind of seeing how it felt. It could have been a little bit more. He’s making good progress.”
Senior receiver Giles Jackson, who has appeared in three games this season and could still potentially redshirt, suited up but did not play; DeBoer said he’s working through an injury sustained last week at USC. Junior safety Kamren Fabiculanan, who has battled injury since the Arizona State game, appeared early but exited and did not return. Redshirt freshman receiver Denzel Boston also left with an injury.
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.