UW Huskies’ Rome Odunze looks for final starring chapter in CFP

Dec 27, 2023, 11:49 AM | Updated: Dec 28, 2023, 1:16 pm

UW Huskies Rome Odunze NFL draft...

Rome Odunze of the UW Huskies celebrates after a catch against Utah last season. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

SEATTLE (AP) — Rome Odunze will leave the UW Huskies in the discussion as the best wide receiver ever to wear the purple and the gold.

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He’s made all the big catches asked of him, had one very important and memorable run, played the middle portion of the year with a broken rib and finished the year as a first-team All-American on seemingly every list.

All that’s left for is the big stage of the College Football Playoff, where Odunze and the No. 2 Huskies will face No. 3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl on Monday.

“I think what people don’t talk about enough is how great of a person he is outside of football, like the most humble guy you could ever meet. Just an awesome guy all around,” Washington running back Dillon Johnson said. “But as a football player, man, he’s just different. He’s the best receiver that I’ve seen.”

On the Huskies’ way to the first 13-0 season in school history, the last Pac-12 championship in the current form of the conference and a spot in the playoff, Odunze became a star. While quarterback Michael Penix Jr. ended up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting, it was Odunze on the other end of so many of his passes.

Odunze has 81 receptions for 1,428 yards and 13 touchdowns going into the matchup with Texas. Seemingly every time Washington needed a clutch conversion or a big touchdown, the ball ended up in the hands of Odunze.

It got to the point where Washington coach Kalen DeBoer almost took it for granted. Almost.

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“It’s the touchdowns. It’s the moving of the chains in the big, big moments. There’s been so many we forget about a lot of (them) and you take it for granted the gaudy stats that he has,” DeBoer said. “Just over and over again, think about how many times he’s come through when you really needed it. A lot of times you think about when you lose football games or you didn’t come through in the big moment. You remember those. I can’t remember Rome not coming through.”

But what Odunze has accomplished this season shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially in the context of what he played through during the midpoint of the year. Odunze suffered a fractured rib and collapsed lung after getting hit while recovering an onside kick in the final seconds of Washington’s 31-24 win at Arizona on Sept. 30.

Odunze was taken to a Tucson hospital after the game for observation but wasn’t cleared to fly back to Seattle. So with the help of his mom and members of the Washington medical staff, Odunze drove from Tucson to Seattle – with a stopover in his hometown of Las Vegas – while dealing with the uncomfortable injury.

Odunze’s injury didn’t come to light until after the Huskies won the Pac-12 championship when they beat Oregon for a second time. But two Saturdays after getting hurt against Arizona, Odunze had eight catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns in the first of Washington’s wins over the Ducks.

“(If) it’s not detrimental to you, the future, your career, to your body physically, I think that those things are the things I try and play through, especially when there’s not like structural damage or something that you’re at risk to messing up in the future,” Odunze said.

It could be argued that Odunze was even better after he was hurt because of how he came through in important moments. The second of his two touchdowns in the first Oregon win was the game-winner with 1:38 left. Two of his three catches against Utah went for touchdowns. He had seven catches for 106 yards and two TDs on a miserable rainy night at Oregon State, including his 19-yard catch on third-and-3 with less than two minutes left that clinched the victory.

In the Apple Cup against Washington State, Odunze again caught two TD passes, but it was his 23-yard run on fourth down that sparked Washington’s final drive and led to a game-winning field goal.

And in the second matchup with Oregon, Odunze had eight more catches on the way to the conference title.

Now comes his biggest stage to date, facing a Texas defense that was 94th in the country, giving up 240.8 yards per game passing.

“I knew he was a dog when I first got here,” Penix said. “It was just a matter of time, just being able to get him the ball, just get him those opportunities to show it to the world.”

Catch the UW Huskies in the Sugar Bowl against Texas with the live ESPN Radio broadcast on Seattle Sports 710 AM, KIRO Sports 97.3 FM or either station’s official mobile app at 5:30 p.m. Monday. The other College Football Playoff semifinal, the Rose Bowl between Michigan and Alabama at 2 p.m., will also air live.

More on UW Huskies in the Sugar Bowl

Why CFB insider Bruce Feldman thinks Washington will beat Texas
Caple’s Notebook: O-line wins the Joe Moore; Penix’s ‘catchable’ passes
RB Dillon Johnson has checked off 3 goals, with 2 in sight
Damon Huard: Why Michael Penix ‘is ready for the NFL’
Chris Petersen’s keys to a UW Huskies win over Texas in CFP

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