Michael Penix Jr. is no stranger to Michigan State.
On Sept. 28, 2019, Penix — then a redshirt freshman quarterback at Indiana — completed 20 consecutive passes in the Hoosiers’ 40-31 shootout loss to the No. 25 Spartans, two completions shy of a Big Ten record. And he did it after missing IU’s previous two games with an injury.
“He didn’t practice all week,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said on the postgame radio show. “You can see why we picked him as the starter. Peyton Ramsey did some amazing things when he was in there (the prior two games). We have two quarterbacks we believe in. But Michael is special.”
Added UW coach Kalen DeBoer — then Penix’s offensive coordinator — nearly three years later: “It said a lot about Mike. And man, we were very confident about what we could be with him at quarterback.
“That same thing is going to be the case here. He’s not going to be in awe. He’s played in many of these games. So you’re comforted, having one of your team leaders and your quarterback be a guy that has played in big games and understands the color of jersey that’s across from him. It’s nothing new to him.”
Indeed, Penix has met Michigan State — which Washington hosts inside Husky Stadium at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday — twice as a starter, answering the 2019 defeat with a 24-0 win in 2020. He completed 58 of 80 passes (72.5%) for 606 yards, with six total touchdowns and two interceptions along the way.
When asked Tuesday about the 20-pass completion streak, Penix said: “During that game, I didn’t even know (it was happening) until they came up and told me. I’m just out there playing, having fun. Coach DeBoer was the offensive coordinator that year, and he was dialing it up. It was definitely great.”
But though Penix and DeBoer are together again, the situation is not the same.
Nor is the opponent.
“It’s not about (the past),” Penix said. “It’s about this team, going out and having fun with these guys, making sure I’m prepared at a high level and going out there and executing. It’s definitely a great opportunity. They’re a highly ranked team and we’re going to respect them, but we’re going to come out there and do what we do, and that’s win.”
Washington has won in its first two weeks, and in scintillating style. Of UW’s 19 drives (discounting those that ran out the clock), there have been 13 touchdowns, two field goals, three punts and an interception. Penix has also enjoyed the hottest start of his college career, completing 69.7% of his passes while throwing for 682 yards with six touchdowns and an interception.
Perhaps most important, Penix — whose four college seasons have each ended with injuries — has yet to be sacked.
But Kent State and Portland State … are not Michigan State.
Through two wins against Western Michigan and Akron — an equally deceptive sample size — No. 11 Michigan State leads the nation with 12 total sacks. Senior linebacker Jacoby Windmon (a UNLV transfer) is also No. 1 in the nation with 5.5 sacks, to go along with 12 tackles and four forced fumbles.
Both literally and figuratively, Penix will be under pressure Saturday.
And he isn’t the only one.
“We’re familiar with (Windmon) from when he was at UNLV, and he’s a good football player,” said UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who faced Windmon and UNLV at Fresno State. “One of the things you’ve got to look at immediately is making sure one guy doesn’t beat you and having some answers for that and making sure we’re ready to accommodate that.
“We’ll have to have good tackle play, honestly. (Right tackle Roger Rosengarten) and (left tackle Troy Fautanu) and potentially Jaxson (Kirkland) are going to have to have good football games against those guys. If you let those guys get started early it can be a problem.”
Still, the same goes for Penix — as well as Washington wide receivers Jalen McMillan (9 catches, 214 yards, 3 TD), Rome Odunze (7 catches, 84 yards, 1 TD), Giles Jackson (8 catches, 126 yards), Ja’Lynn Polk (6 catches, 92 yards, 1 TD), Taj Davis (3 catches, 72 yards, 1 TD), etc. UW scored touchdowns on its first four drives against both Kent State and Portland State.
Meanwhile, Michigan State ranked dead last nationally in pass defense (324.8 yards allowed per game) in 2021.
On Saturday, the Spartans will have an opportunity to leave the past behind.
While Penix faces his.
“I wasn’t trying to get away from nothing (when I transferred out of the Big Ten),” he said. “I just felt like this is my best opportunity, pursuing my career and my future. But I knew the schedule when I first got here. It’s football, man. Let’s go.”
As Penix has repeated, Saturday is not about the past.
But the lefty’s pedigree — big wins, clutch throws and 20 consecutive completions — creates confidence that UW’s quarterback is made for this moment.
“Mike is great, man,” UW running back Richard Newton said. “He’s been in big games. So I feel like as an offense, we’re all confident in him, that he’s going to get the job done. He’s going to make his reads. He’s going to lead us to this W.”
Added Grubb: “He has been on those stages. He has played against those type of teams, and played really well. So I think there’s some pieces where not just his coaching staff but his teammates look and go, ‘Mike’s been here. He’s done that.’ There’s some confidence that brews from that for sure.”