Michael Penix Jr. throws Washington past Texas in Sugar Bowl, into championship game

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NEW ORLEANS – One team had Michael Penix Jr. The other did not. 

Football isn’t always complicated. In fact, the sport is reliably predictable most of the time. That was true again at the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day as Washington danced past Texas, 37-31, because of a simple truth – Penix is the best player in college football. The Heisman voters were wrong.

Dominant. Surgical. Transcendent. Pick your favorite synonym of dominant from Thesaurus.com and use it to describe Penix’s performance. The Huskies passing attack rendered the Longhorns' stout defense helpless.

Penix finished the game with 430 yards and two touchdowns while completing 29 of his 38 pass attempts. His first pass of the night was a 77-yard completion to former Lufkin Panther Ja’Lynn Polk – the first of nine completions of 15 yards or more. Penix completed his first 12 attempts of the second half, a streak only broken with a drop on a swing pass. 

LSU’s Jayden Daniels won the Heisman thanks to gaudy stats in a forgettable season that effectively ended on Sept. 30 when the Tigers lost their second game of the season to drop to 3-2. Penix threw for over 400 yards in the first three games of Washington’s season. He passed for more than 300 yards in seven of the first eight contests. He surpassed the 300-yard mark twice against Oregon and accounted for at least two passing touchdowns in 10 of the team’s 13 regular season games. 

Only Oklahoma revealed Texas’ weaknesses for a full game. The Longhorns ranked 94th in pass defense in the regular season – sandwiched between Kentucky and Jacksonville State – allowing 240.8 yards per game. Texas also lacked a dominant pass rush despite ranking 38th nationally and tied with Michigan with 2.46 sacks per game. Nearly 25 percent of the Longhorns’ 32 sacks in the regular season came from the linebacker position. Ethan Burke led the Longhorns with 5.5 sacks. 

Texas’ only shot was for its quarterback – Quinn Ewers – to match Penix. He couldn’t. That’s not a knock on Ewers’ performance as it is another example of Penix’s pure excellence. Ewers was 9 of 18 in the first half for 97 yards. Washington averaged 23.2 yards a completion in the first half. Texas averaged 10.8. Xavier Worthy had one catch for seven yards in the first half. Adonai Mitchell didn’t catch his first pass until 6:22 left in the third quarter. 

Ewers rallied the Longhorns to end the contest with 262 yards and a touchdown pass on 22 of 35 completions. Texas ran the ball 28 times for 180 yards and three scores, but the offense simply couldn’t match Washington’s output. The Huskies accounted for 532 yards and 25 first downs. They ran 70 plays and averaged nearly 15 yards a completion. The Longhorns defense didn’t record a single sack on 39 Washington pass attempts. 

Despite the Penix-led onslaught, the Longhorns had a chance to win the game. Texas had four shots at the end zone from the 12-yard line, but Ewers couldn’t find Mitchell on fourth down as time expired. The sophomore quarterback finished the game 24 of 43 for 318 yards and a touchdown. Neither quarterback threw an interception despite a combined 81 attempts. The Michigan versus Alabama semifinal in the Rose Bowl was trench warfare. The Washington win over Texas was a dog fight. 

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