CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple’s Takeaways: Biggest win ever? Breaking down UW’s Sugar Bowl victory

Jan 2, 2024, 12:58 AM | Updated: 8:35 am

UW Huskies Sugar Bowl Michael Penix Jr....

UW Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. and teammates celebrate their CFP semifinal Sugar Bowl win. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS — In what was again one of the most thrilling games in the history of their program, the No. 2 UW Huskies held on for a 37-31 victory over No. 3 Texas in Monday’s College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Superdome.

UW Huskies topple Texas 37-31, punch ticket to national title game

The Sugar Bowl victory sends Washington to face No. 1 Michigan in next week’s national championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Here’s what to know.

Biggest UW Huskies win ever?

Maybe not, since the 1991 Huskies secured a share of the national championship with their 34-14 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan to cap a 12-0 season. But that UW team had no mechanism for winning an outright title — this UW team is one win away from achieving it for the first time in school history.

In fitting with the story of UW’s season, the Huskies had several chances to gain separation and put the game away, but it came down to one last stand.

The Longhorns wouldn’t have had more than 10 or so seconds if not for an injury sustained by UW running back Dillon Johnson on a third-down carry with 1:02 on the clock, which called for a stoppage rather than the Huskies being able to run another 40 seconds off.

Instead, Texas got it back with 45 seconds left at its own 31-yard line after a kick-catch interference penalty. Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers led the Longhorns to UW’s 12-yard line with 15 seconds left. He completed a pass for a short loss, then threw incomplete twice, the second time with a blitzing Mishael Powell bearing down on him.

One second showed on the clock. As he had earlier in the game, Ewers looked to receiver Adonai Mitchell in the end zone against UW cornerback Elijah Jackson, but Jackson knocked it away to secure the victory.

Penix’s best

If UW Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has ever played a better game, he certainly hasn’t done it on a bigger stage.

Penix, the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, completed 29 of 38 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns. He fit some passes into impossibly tight windows, and was on-target with his deep throws all night. Those throws helped Ja’Lynn Polk pile up 122 receiving yards and a touchdown on five catches, and allowed Rome Odunze to lead the team with 125 receiving yards.

“I mean, (he) just made all the throws,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said. “And obviously, there’s other people that have to make the plays as well. But I thought he just was just so good with his feet in the pocket and resetting and making throws, things that we know he’s capable of doing. And with a good defense like we were facing in Texas today, he had to kind of resort to all the tools that he has and all the skill sets that make him special and make him, in my mind, the best player in college football.”

Penix wasn’t sacked, and also finished with three carries for 31 yards, twice pulling the ball on read-option plays, a new wrinkle in UW’s offense.

Trice was nice

Bralen Trice, Washington’s All-Pac-12 edge rusher, didn’t put up the huge statistics some might have expected this season. But he sure did in the Sugar Bowl.

Trice finished with three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble, making several game-changing plays when Ewers dropped to pass.

Ewers finished 24 of 43 for 318 yards and a touchdown, but was only 10 for his first 20 for 102 yards and took a while to look comfortable in the pocket.

“I just think we prove everybody wrong time and time again,” Trice said. “And we’ll continue to do that. This is what we do as Dawgs, at UW up in Seattle. We’re bred for this. We prepare for this. And you can overlook us all you want, but we go out there and we prove everybody wrong every time.”

A Big Ten preview for the title

Michigan’s 27-20 overtime victory over No. 4 Alabama in the Rose Bowl means the Huskies will face a familiar postseason foe in Houston.

Not only have UW and Michigan met four times in the Rose Bowl, but the Huskies are joining the Big Ten, Michigan’s conference, next season. Monday’s championship game will provide a glimpse into how ready UW is to compete in one of college football’s two premier conferences.

But if their season so far is any indication, they might have already answered that question.

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.

More on the UW Huskies

Recap: Penix leads UW Huskies over Texas and into national title game
RB Dillon Johnson has checked off three goals, with two in sight
Damon Huard: Michael Penix ‘is ready for the NFL’
247Sports’ Huffman: Where UW Huskies’ 2024 recruiting class stands
Kalen DeBoer is AP coach of the year after leading UW Huskies to CFP

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Caple’s Takeaways: Biggest win ever? Breaking down UW’s Sugar Bowl victory