The UW offense ran out of answers in the national championship loss to Michigan

The UW offense ran out of answers in the national championship loss to Michigan

HOUSTON – This is what losing looks like.

Strength and conditioning coach Ron McIvery appears to be standing in the darkness of the tunnel, hugging each Huskie as they walk off the field; Like wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk sitting alone on the grass, a towel draped over his head, while Michigan accepts the trophy he can’t touch; Like safety Asa Turner and running back Richard Newton — a pair of sixth-year seniors — walking arm in arm to the locker room, defeated but undeterred.

It feels like a green field full of yellow confetti, banners and missed opportunities; Such as uneven defense and a pair of ill-timed interceptions; Like a 21-game winning streak being snuffed out by a future conference foe.

Washington’s first loss in 15 months looked like all that.

Surprisingly, it also seemed like love.

“Man, it’s bad,” quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said after the Huskies’ 34-13 loss to Michigan in the national championship game on Monday. “We played a good team. They did some good things. I feel like on the offensive side of the ball, we missed a lot of opportunities where we needed to do our best to help our team, put our team in a better position to come away with this win.”

“But in the locker room, there’s a lot of love. We’re just a group that’s been through a lot together, man, and we’re not going to point fingers or anything like that. There’s a lot of love in the locker room. Everybody shows their appreciation for every guy who put his body on the line.” Not only during the season but off-season, with everything we’ve been through.

It’s easy to identify all the individual points on Monday where Washington could have pulled away.

When Michigan running back Donovan Edwards ran down the left sideline for an untouched 41-yard touchdown to start the game, the Huskies could have been shocked, stunned and burned on the national stage. When Edwards collided with Wolverines offensive lineman Trevor Keegan, collected himself and added a 46-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive, the Huskies could have buried their heads, dropped their helmets and gone home.

When Penix made an uncharacteristic mistake, missing a wide-open Roma Udunze field goal for a potential touchdown on fourth-and-7 with a 17-3 lead… UW could have collapsed for good.

“Leave it on me. I just have to make the shot. That’s it,” Penix said.

No, No. 2 Washington (14-1) didn’t leave inside NRG Stadium on Monday night.

But for a program still waiting to snap a 32-year national championship streak, that’s poor consolation.

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. looks frustrated by the fourth quarter, facing a 27-13 deficit against the Michigan Wolverines in the CFP National Championship game on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, at NRG Stadium in Houston.  225907

“When you see players care so much about what happens on the football field, when you see them love each other, when you see them have expectations, when you fail like we did tonight, you just… I’m sorry,” he said. University of Wisconsin coach Calen De Boer, his eyes sparkling. “I’m sorry they couldn’t make the championship this year.

“Because they made the sacrifices. They made the commitments. The goals they had, they were backed by the work. And tonight we couldn’t get over the hump.

Wolverine didn’t help.

Unsurprisingly, Michigan’s running game was brutal and methodical, racking up 209 receiving yards with 12.3 yards per carry and two touchdowns in the first half alone. Standout Blake Corum rushed for a 59-yard gain on the final play of the first quarter, en route to 133 receiving yards, 6.7 yards per carry and two touchdowns overall.

But after a disastrous opening stanza, UW’s defense suddenly tightened up — forcing five punts and a turnover on downs, while surrendering one field goal on Michigan’s next seven drives. Cornerback Jabbar Muhammad and linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio each turned in assists to stifle Michigan’s rallies, while linebacker Carson Bruner flattened Corum for a 1-yard loss on third-and-2 to force a punt in the third quarter.

“(We missed some games, to be honest with you),” said Olofushio, who had four tackles and a pass breakup in his final game. “So, I mean we got it right. But in games like this we can’t make huge mistakes like that. In the end it cost us.”

But while UW’s defense was revived, its offense got closer. On fourth-and-goal from the 3 with 46 seconds left in the second quarter, Penix took a punt, signaled a defensive penalty on Udunze…and found Jalen McMillan over the middle for a touchdown instead.

The Wolverines entered the locker room with an underwhelming 17-10 lead, despite outscoring the Huskies 290 to 160.

UW also received the ball to start the second half with a chance to tie the game.

That opportunity evaporated.

On the first play of the third quarter, Penix was pressured and opened up for a duck that cornerback Will Johnson dove in for a tackle and interception along the sideline. The Wolverines added an uninspiring 38-yard field goal seven plays (and 12 yards) later.

Which added to a sophisticated topic – and atypical for this team -:

While UW’s defense put the Huskies in a position to win, its offense was unable to respond.

That was the case on third-and-4 early in the fourth quarter, when Will Nixon dropped a surefire conversion on his own 33-yard line. That was also the case on UW’s next drive, when a questionable holding penalty at right tackle Roger Rosengarten negated a 32-yard completion from Penix to Odunze.

Facing college football’s No. 1 defense, UW needed Penix to deliver another immaculate performance, to lift the Huskies to their first national championship since 1991. The Huskies needed wide receivers to take on Michigan defensive backs and running back Dillon Johnson to make plays despite From a group of injuries.

“We didn’t execute anything in the moments we needed to,” Penix said. “I don’t feel like they did anything; I feel like we’ve outdone ourselves. And there were definitely times where we had opportunities to make big plays, to make the game a lot different. But it’s about implementation. They are a good team, but we had a lot of chances.”

When it mattered most, UW’s offensive opportunities eroded.

Its defense could not hold.

With 7:09 remaining in the fourth quarter, Corum capped off a five-play, 71-yard drive by shaking off a tackle by Alfonzo Tupotala and kicking in a 12-yard touchdown. Trailing 27-13, Penix finally found Odunze for a 44-yard strike. But Penix’s prayer on fourth-and-13 was intercepted by Mike Sinristil, who rambled around the Huskies for an 81-yard return. Corum added a seven-yard score to seal it two plays later.

In his final collegiate game, Penix completed 27 of 51 passes and threw for 255 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Michigan’s Corum and Edwards (104 yards, 17.3 yards per carry, 2 TD) both surpassed the century mark.

After it was over, Olufushio and McIvery stood, hugged and swayed, bringing a symbolic end to an era. Six-year-old Zion Tubula-Fitoye swallowed tears with a leo around his neck and another on his forehead, gifts from his family. Johnson limped into the locker room, while Will Rogers — a potential replacement for Penix, the soon-to-be senior from Mississippi State — looked on, leaning against the wall.

Together, these Huskies have won so much that they may have forgotten what losing looks (and feels) like.

It feels better with your brothers.

“I’m lucky to be here,” Benix said, sitting between Olovushio and DeBoer. “I’m lucky to be on this team, and these guys will forever be my brothers.”

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