BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Analysis: Missed opportunities sink UW Huskies’ offense vs Michigan

Jan 8, 2024, 9:16 PM | Updated: 10:27 pm

UW Huskies Michigan Michael Penix Jr...

Michael Penix Jr. of the Washington Huskies looks to throw the ball on Jan. 8, 2024. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

It’s strange to think that a team that gave up over 300 yards on the ground had every chance to take a game over and ultimately come out on top – especially when it ultimately lost by three scores. But that was the case for the UW Huskies in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Michigan 34-13.

Michigan 34, UW Huskies 13: Caple’s Takeaways | Instant Reaction | Recap | Stats

The Dawgs had a horrid start, falling behind 17-3 in the second quarter. The defense couldn’t stop the run at all, and the offense, which was one of the best in the nation entering Monday, was stuck in neutral.

A Michael Penix Jr. passing touchdown to Jalen McMillan late in the second quarter gave the Huskies plenty of life, sending them into halftime down just 17-10 knowing they would get the ball back to start the second half. But as the final score indicates, Washington never got into a groove offensively.

The defense toughened up in the second and third quarters and more than kept the Huskies in the game. And even though Washington lost by 21, the Huskies were down only one score until just over seven minutes left in the game when the dams finally broke defensively.

Penix had his worst statistical game in months as he completed 27 of 51 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown to two interceptions. Penix and the offense missed a number of crucial opportunities to tie the game, especially in the third and fourth quarters.

Second-and-14 TD run

This will focus primarily on the Huskies’ offense, but the game started off horribly for Washington’s defense.

The key for the Huskies’ offense was simple: stop Michigan’s downhill rushing attack.

Well, 305 yards later, it’s clear that didn’t happen.

Most of that came early in the first half, and the worst of it all was when the Huskies got Michigan into second-and-14 on their opening drive after getting gashed early on the series.

With Michigan on second-and-long, the Dawgs had a good opportunity to force a punt and get off the field.

Well, running back Donovan Edwards got the handoff on that second down, and he took it 41 yards to the house untouched around the edge to get the Wolverines on the board.

With Washington falling behind 7-0 early, it ultimately never tied the game up or took the lead.

The next drive, Edwards scored on second-and-long, as well.

Not cashing in early

After that rough touchdown drive, the Huskies’ offense was able to put together a long drive that resulted in a trip to the red zone.

Washington didn’t score a touchdown, though, settling for a field goal in what ultimately proved to be a bit of foreshadowing.

On both first and second down from around the 10, the Huskies ran the ball and got next to nothing. A third down target intended for Rome Odunze fell to the ground, and Grady Gross was sent out to kick the field goal. Washington then spent the game trying to tie things back up, but to no avail.

A rare Penix-Odunze miscue

The Penix-Odunze combination has been arguably the best of any quarterback-receiver duo in the nation this year. The two have shown elite chemistry these last two seasons, regularly combining for huge plays.

That connection had another chance to be great in the second quarter, but things didn’t work out that way.

With the Dawgs down 17-3 less than five minutes into the second quarter, Washington got aggressive and went for it on fourth-and-7 at Michigan’s 47-yard line.

Odunze broke wide open and Penix saw him, but the two couldn’t connect. Odunze appeared to run deep when Penix was expecting him to go more towards the sideline. The All-American receiver twisted his body to get a hand on it but couldn’t haul it in (watch here).

If Penix and Odunze connect in stride, that would have cut the lead to 17-10. And right after that incompletion, UW’s defense started to find its footing and kept Michigan in check.

A double-whammy out of halftime

After getting dominated in the first half, the Huskies had a great chance to tie things up during their first drive of the second half. But Penix threw his first interception of the game when looking down the left sideline.

To make matters worse, freshman center Parker Brailsford got pushed back by his defender and stepped on Penix as he threw the ball, which resulted in a softer, wobbly pass that was picked off.

From that point on, Penix had a hard time leading the Huskies’ offense. That injury wasn’t fully to blame as Washington’s offense largely faltered even before that sequence, but it sure didn’t help things.

Penix took a beating from Michigan’s defense and was clearly in a lot of pain as the game wrapped up.

A badly-timed drop

When you look at the final score, it reflects a thumping.

But up until late in the fourth quarter, that really wasn’t the case. Washington’s defense did enough for much of the game to give the Huskies a chance, but the offense couldn’t get going, regularly facing third-and-long situations.

One of the rare times the Dawgs had a manageable third down was third-and-4 early in the fourth quarter while down 20-13.

Michigan blitzed and Penix saw it immediately. He went to his checkdown, backup running back Will Nixon, who was open for a would-be first down.

Instead, Nixon appeared to glance up before securing the football, and it fell to the ground incomplete as Washington was forced to punt once again.

The Huskies were at their own 29 and they struggled to move the ball all game, so it’s not like that was the defining play from the evening. But considering how difficult Washington found it to move the chains on Monday, the Huskies needed every first down they could get, and that one slipped away.

Hold or nah?

After Dixon’s drop and another punt, the Huskies’ defense came up with yet another stop to keep it 20-13.

Washington’s deep passing attack didn’t get going on Monday with Penix unable to find his star receivers down the field, but that appeared to change when he connected with Odunze for a 32-yard gain well into Michigan territory.

But as the great Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend!” Right tackle Roger Rosengarten was called for a holding penalty, putting Washington well behind the sticks once again. Two short gains later, the Huskies punted again.

Upon closer review, it sure didn’t seem like Rosengarten was guilty of a penalty. And to make matters worse, the Husky defense finally faltered after holding its own as the Wolverines scored a touchdown five plays later to make it a two-score game.

More: Hold call looms large as UW Huskies lose to Michigan

On that drive, Michigan appeared to get away with a hold much more blatant than the one Rosengarten was called for.

Monday’s game was strange from an officiating standpoint as that unit seemed to let a lot of things slide that some crews wouldn’t, namely contact between defensive backs and receivers. But this call and not one, but two missed 12 men on the field situations by Michigan didn’t go Washington’s way in a game the Huskies needed every break they could manage.

UW’s O-line with six penalties

The UW Huskies won the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s top offensive line this season, but that decorated unit had a tough game against the Wolverines.

Michigan made things tough on Penix from a coverage standpoint, but the Wolverines also hit Penix, especially late, harder and more often than has been the case this season.

Washington overall was one of the most-penalized teams in America in 2023, but the offensive line wasn’t often the guilty party. That changed Monday with the O-line getting called for six penalties, including Rosengarten’s questionable hold.

The Dawgs faced third-and-long far too often, and four false starts sure didn’t help things. Four of Washington’s five starting offensive linemen were guilty of at least one penalty, with Rosengarten getting called for two holds and one false start. Left tackle Troy Fautanu was the lone blocker who did not get flagged on Monday.

Overall, just a missed chance heading into the unknown

The UW Huskies did something no Pac-12 team had ever done by going 12-0, including the first undefeated run in conference play since the conference expanded to 12 teams. They followed that up with a Pac-12 title game win over Oregon and a Sugar Bowl victory over Texas.

Washington is now heading to the Big Ten, and Monday was the final game for the Pac-12 as we know it. Strangely enough, the UW Huskies’ sixth game of the 2024 season will be against Michigan at Husky Stadium.

The Dawgs had a chance not just to add another trophy to the mantle, but to enter the Big Ten as the team in college football.

Finishing at No. 2 is certainly nothing to scoff at, but Washington will enter its new conference with a bit less momentum than the program hoped.

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Analysis: Missed opportunities sink UW Huskies’ offense vs Michigan