Here comes the inevitable Michael Penix Jr. Heisman hype.
For Washington’s quarterback, it accompanies a 39-28 home win over then-No. 11 Michigan State on Saturday. It accompanies a stat line that includes 1,079 passing yards (first in the Pac-12 and second in the nation), 10 touchdowns (first in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation), 66% completions and an interception. It accompanies an offense that cracks the top 10 nationally in yards per game (548.3, 4th), first downs (85, fifth) and third-down conversions (56.1%, ninth).
And, most important, it accompanies three wins (and counting).
“It doesn’t surprise me,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said Monday. “He was in it before, a couple years ago at this time in the season. [Winning games] is a huge part of anything when it comes to those type of awards. I think if he just keeps his focus on what it’s been on, and that’s winning football games, he’s naturally going to be a big part of us winning. So if we just focus on winning football games those individual accolades will come.”
Penix has the eighth-highest Heisman Trophy odds, according to FanDuel. That standing was elevated Saturday, when the fifth-year junior threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns against Michigan State — with perhaps the most impressive pass being a tight-window, back-shoulder sizzler to running back Wayne Taulapapa for a 19-yard score.
“That was a great ball, but just look at the placement,” UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said Monday. “Not only was it a great football that Wayne could catch, but it was also a protected throw. He had the body of the offensive player in front of the defender and the ball was pushed wide. It was a great play. It just shows you again Mike’s ability to process through things when it’s not perfect, when his first read goes away or gets stuck, and being able to know exactly where that next throw’s going to be and then get the ball out of his hand.”
Grubb said he’s been around only two quarterbacks who could make that pass — Penix and Fresno State signal caller (and former Husky) Jake Haener.
Of course, it helps that Penix has yet to be sacked in three games. But the 6-foot-3, 213-pounder also deserves some recognition for shifting protections to diffuse the opposing pass rush.
Against Michigan State, the only time Penix was touched — a roughing-the-passer penalty by linebacker Ben VanSumeren — he actually pointed out the rusher before the play but forgot to adjust the pass protection.
“Mike doesn’t make those mistakes twice, though,” Grubb added.
Through three games, he hasn’t made many — and the nation is beginning to take notice.
“Mike Penix Jr. for Heisman,” UW tight end Devin Culp tweeted Saturday.
About those botched fourth-and-goal quarterback sneaks …
UW twice had first-and-goal from inside the 2-yard line Saturday, and twice the Huskies were stoned on four running plays … including drive-ending quarterback sneaks.
Grubb attributed the troubles to a “lack of execution,” referencing pad level and poor blocking angles.
“We went back, and you have to be honest when you take a look at stuff. Was it just a bad concept?” he said. “Honestly, it was the look we expected, and we just misfired. Lack of execution. There’s no excuse for it. We know the detail that has to be put into those kind of plays. We’ll learn from it. We’ll be better.”
It might help if UW can turn to junior running back Richard Newton, a proven bruiser who was essentially a healthy scratch against Michigan State.
The 6-0, 212-pounder will likely have a more significant workload against Stanford on Saturday.
“Rich is going to be continuing to increase his role,” Grubb said. “Again, some of the practice limitations and things like that … I feel like Rich, probably this week I would say he’s full strength. Sometimes when guys get a little bit limited in the game planning and reps during the week it gets a little bit harder to get him in. But Rich will continue to get more involved. I would be surprised if you don’t see a lot more of ‘6’ out there this week.”
The Kirkland/Fautanu dilemma
Michigan State entered last week’s game ranked first in the nation with 12 sacks. Likewise, linebacker Jacoby Windmon’s 5.5 sacks were also the best in the FBS.
Michigan State and Windmon failed to sack Penix on Saturday.
Which wasn’t a surprise to Grubb.
“Honestly, and I’m not saying this in an overconfident way: I totally expected that. I did,” he said. “I would have been disappointed if [UW tackles Troy Fautanu and Roger Rosengarten] couldn’t have handled [Windmon], just because we had worked and drilled so hard. He had two very specific moves in his pass rush that we drilled into them. I thought they did a great job of defending those two moves.
“ … I thought specifically, Troy did a fantastic job. I didn’t feel like the pocket was ever in danger because of Troy.”
Fautanu — a 6-4, 312-pound sophomore — was named Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week on Monday.
And yet Grubb said he “fully anticipates” sixth-year senior Jaxson Kirkland — a two-time All-Pac-12 first-team left tackle — to be included in the game plan this week after sitting out again Saturday because of an injury.
In that case, who should start at left tackle: Fautanu or Kirkland?
Grubb said Kirkland would likely work at left tackle, with Fautanu possibly sliding in at left guard.
“We’ve got a lot of film of Troy playing really, really well at guard as well throughout spring and fall camp, and comfort level [is important] as far as Jaxson’s concerned,” Grubb said. “I know earlier in Jaxson’s career he played a little bit of guard, and he could do that as well. But from a comfort standpoint we’d probably make that the starting point. It doesn’t mean that’s how things always end up, but I think that’s the easiest transition.”
- Penix was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, and redshirt freshman wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk — who caught six passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns — earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. DeBoer was named the Dodd Trophy national coach of the week as well.
- Left guard Nate Kalepo, who left Saturday’s game and did not return, practiced Sunday, and Grubb said the plan is for him to be available against Stanford on Saturday.