CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple’s Takeaways: UW Huskies make gutsy call in Apple Cup win

Nov 25, 2023, 7:04 PM

UW Huskies Apple Cup Rome Odunze...

UW Huskies WR Rome Odunze stiff-arms WSU DB Cam Lampkin in the 2023 Apple Cup. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The No. 4 UW Huskies again needed some late heroics to remain unbeaten, but they made it happen with a 24-21 Apple Cup victory over the rival WSU Cougars on Saturday at Husky Stadium.

Apple Cup – UW Huskies 24, WSU Cougars 21: RecapBig Plays | Stats

Here’s what to know.

Grady Gross, Apple Cup hero

Gross, the Huskies’ sophomore kicker, made a 42-yard field goal as time expired to clinch Washington’s first unbeaten regular season since 1991, and the school’s second 12-0 record ever.

Gross was 10 for 13 on field goals entering the game, but had missed one attempt in each of UW’s last two games. He missed another, from 43 yards, in Saturday’s second quarter — a streak of three consecutive misses dating to the Utah game.

A WSU timeout allowed him to take what was essentially a practice kick before the real thing. Both split the uprights, the second one setting off a wild celebration on the field.

Breakdown: Will No. 4 UW Huskies rise in CFP rankings after Apple Cup?

Afterward, coach Kalen DeBoer announced in the locker room that Gross will be put on scholarship (a decision the coaching staff already had made), to much celebration from his teammates.

“I was chomping at the bit to get an opportunity at redemption,” Gross said of his game-winner. “I would have taken anything.”

A gutsy call

With the score tied and UW facing a third-and-1 from its own 29-yard line, the Cougars stuffed tailback Dillon Johnson for no gain, apparently forcing the Huskies to punt with 1:11 to play and the score tied 21-21.

But after sending their punt-team out and trying to force WSU to jump offside, DeBoer called timeout … and then sent his offense back on the field, the Huskies going for it on fourth down deep in their own territory.

Michael Penix Jr. faked a handoff to Johnson, drawing the Cougars’ defense to the middle of the formation, then turned and pitched the ball on an end-around to star receiver Rome Odunze, who ran 23 yards for a first down.

It was the first time the Huskies had run the play this year, though they practiced it throughout the week. Penix had to read the defense to determine whether he would give the ball to Johnson or flip it to Odunze.

“Hats off to the offensive coaching staff, for putting this play in and having it ready to go for moments like that, for red-zone, short-yardage moments,” DeBoer said. “There are some moving pieces to that, too, and you’ve got to trust your players to read things right, have great timing, execute.”

Penix followed by completing a 6-yard pass to Johnson, with a borderline roughing-the-passer penalty moving the ball into field-goal range. The Huskies moved the chains once more before a second-down sack backed them up to the 25-yard line, at which point they let the clock tick to five seconds before calling timeout and sending Gross out for the game-winner.

Another close one

The Huskies have won their last eight games by margins of 3, 2, 7, 10, 9, 8, 3 and 7 points, rarely putting an opponent away but always finding some way to win in the fourth quarter.

Of most concern for UW, though, is that its once-vaunted offense now has sputtered to point totals of 22 and 24 in consecutive weeks, and with a rematch against No. 6 Oregon awaiting in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship game. On Saturday, the Huskies managed only 306 yards of total offense and 4.9 yards per play, and Penix’s Heisman candidacy won’t be helped by his 204 yards on 18-of-33 passing with two touchdowns and an interception.

“We’re just really close. To me, it’s just a fine line, just the rhythm,” DeBoer said. “You see times when we got into rhythm, and we’re just right there.”

DeBoer mentioned that it was good to get receiver Jalen McMillan involved, as he caught his first five passes since the Michigan State game for 26 yards. And Odunze put on a show, setting a UW record by eclipsing the 100-yard receiving mark for the eighth time this season, finishing with seven catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns, plus the crucial 23-yard rush in the fourth quarter.

But the Huskies again struggled to move the ball consistently, and Penix notably missed some open receivers in the first half. UW didn’t run the ball all that well, either, finishing with a sack-adjusted per-carry average of 4.1 yards.

“I think we need to clean a lot of things up, on several different moments where we’re not able to execute and move the ball,” Odunze said. “It comes down to our attitude, our effort on every single play, and it needs to improve, immediately. I am concerned with those things, and I think this week at practice, we’re going to go back to the drawing board and buckle up for yet another tough opponent and go execute.”

Immediately is right: Oregon hasn’t lost since its 36-33 defeat at Husky Stadium on Oct. 14, and has beaten several opponents — including Washington State, Arizona State, Utah and Oregon State — in far more thorough fashion than the UW Huskies did.

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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