CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Michael Penix Jr.’s 3 best clutch plays for UW Huskies

Nov 22, 2023, 4:12 PM

UW Huskies...

Michael Penix Jr. of the UW Huskies celebrates a touchdown against Oregon on Oct. 14, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The case for UW Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner begins with the fact he leads the nation in passing, and is top-10 nationally in yards per attempt and touchdowns.

CFP Rankings: Finally, unbeaten UW Huskies are in the top 4

There are other quarterbacks, though, who might make a stronger statistical case.

Oregon’s Bo Nix leads FBS in completion percentage, is second in touchdowns and third in passing yards and yards per attempt, and his two interceptions are second-fewest among regular FBS starters. LSU’s Jayden Daniels leads the nation in passing touchdowns and yards per attempt, and is second in passing yards per game — and also has rushed for 1,014 yards and 10 touchdowns.

If a case is to be made for Penix, then, it must rely to some degree on the handful of game-changing plays he’s made this season as the Huskies have compiled an 11-0 record going into Saturday’s Apple Cup game against Washington State.

Which plays have best exemplified Penix’s Heisman traits? Here are three clutch plays from UW’s biggest wins.

The game-winner: Washington 36, Oregon 33

After Oregon’s failed fourth-and-three attempt, Washington took over, trailing 33-29 with 2:11 to play, at the UW 47-yard line. Penix needed only two plays to get the Huskies in the end zone.

The first was a deep shot to Ja’Lynn Polk, who leaped to haul in Penix’s throw for a 35-yard gain. The second was a play that will be remembered as one of the top highlights of the Kalen DeBoer era at Washington.

With an option to throw a receiver screen to the right side of the field, Penix instead saw star receiver Rome Odunze in single coverage to his left, and threw his patented back-shoulder fade in the end zone. Odunze made the catch against Oregon cornerback Trikweze Bridges for an 18-yard touchdown with 1:38 to play, which turned out to be the decisive score.

It was Penix’s fourth touchdown pass of the game, and Odunze’s second touchdown catch.

The scramble drill: Washington 52, USC 42

UW tailback Dillon Johnson was the star of the Huskies’ 52-42 win over the Trojans in Los Angeles, rushing for 256 yards — fifth-most in a game in school history — and four touchdowns to key the victory.

But Penix still made a play that will be shown on his season highlight reel, and which prevented USC from seizing momentum in the first half.

Facing a third-and-18 from USC’s 22-yard line, Penix first spun out of a sack attempt, then scrambled to his left, toward the sideline. He saw tight end Devin Culp open in the end zone and lofted a throw to him. Culp made a spectacular catch to secure an improbable touchdown, tying the score 14-14 with 11:37 left in the second quarter of a game that featured 94 points and 13 ties or lead changes.

The big first down: Washington 22, Oregon State 20

From a statistical perspective, this was Penix’s worst game of the season, as he completed only 13-of-28 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns. A steady downpour made it difficult to throw the ball, and UW’s receivers had trouble catching it.

But with UW leading 22-20 in the final two minutes, needing to convert a third-and-three to ice the game, Penix and Odunze connected for a completion very similar to the game-winning touchdown against Oregon.

Again, the Huskies had a receiver screen option to the right side, and again, Penix instead put the ball up for Odunze in single coverage to the left. He hauled it in for a 19-yard gain, allowing the Huskies to kneel out the clock and secure their 11th victory.

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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