No. 2 Washington hangs on to defeat No. 3 Texas in Sugar Bowl
League: NCAA Football
Posted on: 02 Jan, 2024 at 07:12 AM
Credit: Sara Diggins/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK
NEW ORLEANS -- Second-ranked Washington rode the precision passing of record-breaking quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to the lead and then held on in the final seconds for a 37-31 win over No. 3 Texas on Monday in the Sugar Bowl to earn a berth in the College Football Playoff final.
The Huskies (14-0) will face No. 1 Michigan in the national championship game on Jan. 8 in Houston. Michigan defeated No. 4 Alabama 27-20 in overtime in the day's first national semifinal.
Penix, a Heisman Trophy finalist, passed for 430 yards and two touchdowns, and Dillon Johnson scored twice on short runs for Washington, which won its 21st straight game. Rome Odunze had 125 yards on six catches, and Ja'Lynn Polk added 122 receiving yards and a touchdown on five receptions.
"He (Penix) set the tone pretty quickly and just made all the throws," Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said. "Obviously there's other people that have to make the plays as well, but he just was so, so good with his feet in the pocket, resetting and making throws. Doing the things that we know he's capable of doing. And with a good defense like we were facing in Texas today, he had kind of resorted to all the tools that he has and all the skill sets that make him special."
Washington broke away from a 21-21 tie at halftime by dominating the third quarter, keeping possession for 12:39 while outgaining Texas 157-34. The Longhorns ran just five offensive plays in the quarter.
"When we fell behind, it kind of stressed what we wanted the do," Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We made uncharacteristic errors and they hurt us throughout the game. The resiliency this team showed in the fourth quarter to have an opportunity to win the game is indicative of their character.
"This doesn't just happen. We worked hard to be in this position, but someone wins and someone has to lose."
Quinn Ewers passed for 318 yards and a touchdown, and Texas (12-2) ran for 180 yards but could never take the lead.
The Longhorns had a final possession that began at their own 31 with 45 seconds left and no timeouts, but they drove to the Washington 12 with 15 seconds left. They lost 1 yard on a first-down pass, and then threw three straight incompletions as Washington prevailed.
"We believe in the defense and that they were going to get that stop because they've done it all year. We've seen it so many times each and every week throughout the season," Penix said. "You know they would come up with big-time stops -- we never lost faith."
The Huskies scored on their opening possession, using a 77-yard pass from Penix to Polk to set the table for a 2-yard touchdown run by Johnson four minutes into the game. Texas responded on its ensuing possession with a 5-yard scoring run by Jaydon Blue that tied the game at the 7:06 mark of the first quarter.
Washington retook the lead on a 1-yard run by Johnson with 13:08 to play in the second quarter.
The Longhorns answered three minutes later with a 1-yard run by defensive tackle Byron Murphy II after a muffed punt by Washington's Germie Bernard was recovered by Texas' Morice Blackwell Jr. at the Washington 22.
Penix found Polk for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 1:27 to play in the half to give the Huskies a 21-14 lead. That gave the Longhorns enough time to drive the field, with Ewers scrambling 21 yards and absorbing a late hit to set the table for a 3-yard touchdown run by CJ Baxter with 17 seconds left before halftime.
Washington added a 19-yard Penix-to-Jalen McMillan scoring pass to make it 28-21 on the opening possession of the third quarter. Grady Gross added a 26-yard field goal midway through the quarter to expand the Washington lead to 10 points.
"The defense did a nice job getting off the field, whether it be with takeaways or, you know, get stops," said DeBoer. "I think we started feeling that there in the second quarter, and in the beginning of the third, getting a chance to have the ball to come out. Marching right down the field and then go to get in that 10-point lead -- that was a big time of the game for us to be able to be a little bit more control."
Gross added a 40-yarder on the second snap of the fourth quarter to make it 34-21.
The Longhorns pulled to within six points on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Ewers to Adonai Mitchell with 7:23 to play, but Washington drove to a 27-yard field goal with 2:40 left.
Texas' Bert Auburn made it 37-31 with a 25-yard field goal with 1:09 on the clock.
"If you look back at the entire season, you understand how hard we worked," Ewers said. "We will continue to work on ways to get better and continue to build."
--By Steve Habel, Field Level Media