Huskies Sweet Sugar Bowl Win

Washington is heading to the National Championship.  The Huskies have flown under the radar for most of the season.  Those of us that watch college football closely may have had a marginal awareness of the northwest team, but it was rare to see them on prime-time TV in the central and eastern time zones.  Washington put on a late-night spectacular as they defeated the Longhorns in New Orleans.

While the score was tied at half time, it felt like Washington had the edge.  The Huskies edge is Michael Penix Jr., who threw for 430 yards and two touchdowns last night.  After Washington forced the Longhorns to punt, Penix hit J’Lynn Polk for a 77-yard touchdown, three plays into the drive.  Penix started the game throwing dots and never let up.  With nine minutes to go in the 2nd quarter he had already thrown for 190 yards.  Texas managed to pressure him, yet Penix usually found a way out of it.

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) scrambles with the ball against Texas defensive end Justice Finkley (1) during the second half of the Sugar Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Third down was an interesting down in the Sugar Bowl.  Washington didn’t convert a third down until their first drive of the second half on their way to a go-ahead score.  Instead, they spent the first half either scoring without reaching a third down or they were forced to punt.  Washington and Texas each scored three touchdowns in the first half.  However, Washington still appeared to have the edge for one other reason.  Their defense forced Texas to punt three times, while Washington only punted twice.  This little statistic was a harbinger of things to come in the second half.

Washington’s pass rush and pass defense played better than expected.  In the first half they forced Texas to end two of their drives on long incomplete passes.  On one drive, the pass rush forced Texas to hold on third down two plays in a row forcing a third and 27.  Texas called a draw resulting in a punt on fourth down.

Washington won the game early in the third quarter.  After scoring a touchdown on the opening drive, CJ Baxter fumbled his first carry of the second half away placing Washington on the Longhorn 33-yard line.  Texas managed to hold the Huskies to a mere field goal, but the damage was done.  Washington now had a ten-point lead.  After forcing Texas to punt on their next drive, Washington was again held to a field goal, but they now had a thirteen point lead.  The Washington defense again came out storming and forced another turnover four plays into the Longhorns next drive.

At this point in the game, it seemed as if Washington thought they had it in the bag and they became slightly undisciplined in their play.  They allowed Texas back in the ball game instead of executing their offense.  They tried a couple of trick plays that blew up in their face and Texas ended up forcing a punt and scoring a touchdown.  Washington did manage another long drive ending in yet another field goal but now Texas was back in the game as they pulled within six points of the Huskies with the score at 31 -37.

Washington wide receiver Jalen McMillan (11) makes a touchdown catch against Texas during the second half of the Sugar Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Texas was held to a field goal on the next drive.  Then, the Longhorn defense managed to force the Huskies into another punt.  With 45 seconds left in the game, Quinn Ewers hit Jordan Whittington on a 41-yard pinpoint pass.  Three plays later he hit Jaydon Blue for another 16-yard gain putting Texas on the Huskies twelve-yard line.  The redzone play calling lacked the ingenuity needed to win the game.  Two low percentage fade routes were called in the waning seconds of the game and Washington survived a game they should have won by two scores.

Washington’s offense is explosive.  Their defense is opportunistic.  However, they lack attention to detail.  After going up thirteen points they thought they had the game won.  They cannot play with the same attitude against a hardened veteran Michigan team who came back to beat Alabama in overtime.  Washington’s explosive offense tends to shock and awe their opponents.  Their defense is susceptible to being pushed around, as Texas punished them for 180 yards rushing.  In fact, but for the Huskies two forced turnovers, the game may have had a different outcome.  The timely fumble early in the third quarter, allowed Washington to break the deadlock once they capitalized on the turnover with a field goal.

Michigan’s defense won’t be shocked and awed.  The Wolverines have ten defensive lineman they rotate regularly in games who are very experienced.  Penix won’t have the same amount of time to throw as he did last night.  Washington can celebrate their escape from the Longhorns, but they will need to lock it in if they hope to defeat the Michigan Wolverines next Monday.

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