Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies took care of business yet again, as they sneaked past Texas to reach the national championship game for the first time since 1991. Penix Jr. had a prolific outing by having tossed for 430 yards (2nd most in CFP Semi-Final game behind Joe Burrow's 493 yards in 2019), two touchdowns with an average of 11.3 yards per attempt, respectively. Washington wideouts Rome Odunze (125 reception yards) and Ja'Lynn Polk (122 reception yards) both proved why they are arguably the best pair of pass catchers in the country, as they both amassed over 100 reception yards on 6 or fewer catches in Monday's affair.
The blueprint for Texas was simple, keep the Huskies offense off the field as much as possible and sustain long, productive drives downfield but they did neither of that. The Huskies dominated the time of possession battle overwhelmingly (36:20 to 23:40) and only allowed the Longhorns to run a total of 5 plays during the entire third quarter. The Pac-12 champions executed the game plan that the Big-12 champions were supposed to impose on them.
The Longhorns were down 34-21 early in the fourth quarter after a critical stop by their defense, which led to a successful field goal attempt by the Huskies. Ewers and the offense led a promising drive downfield until Texas halfback Jaydon Blue fumbled and it was recovered by Washington linebacker Ralen Goforth. At that point, it looked like the game was all but over. If Texas got any points on that drive, let alone a touchdown, the outcome of the game might have been different.
Texas's defense once again forced Penix Jr. and the Huskies offense to punt, which led to Ewers having led a 10-play, 72-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown reception to wideout Adonai Mitchell to make the score 34-28 late in the final quarter. Washington chewed 4:43 minutes off the clock in their next possession and capped the drive off with a field goal to lead 37-28. At this point, it's a two possession lead and the Longhorns national championship hopes were slowly dimming.
Ewers and the offense used up 1:31 minutes off the clock, as they desperately drove downfield as they tried to cut into the nine-point deficit. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian quickly settled for a field goal on fourth down in the redzone to make the score 37-31. The Big-12 champions attempted an onside kick but to no avail, it was recovered by Washington. The Huskies surely can just kneel out and get ready for Michigan next week in Houston, right? Wrong.
Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer ( '22-'23 National Coach of the Year) decided to run actual plays in the waning seconds of the game, which led to halfback Dillion Johnson getting injured and being carted off the field. As a result, an injury timeout had to be used which favored Texas, as they had no timeouts remaining and needed a touchdown to win the game.
Texas faced a 3rd and 10 on their own 31 yard-line with a little over 30 seconds remaining on their final possession. Ewers found pass catcher Jordan Whittington for a spectacular 41-yard gain that saw Whittington leap and turn his entire body to snag the ball. Ewers then connected with Blue for a 16-yard gain, as they worked the sidelines to preserve every second they could. All but fifteen seconds remained for the Longhorns. The next four play calls by Sarkisian would up being questionable to say the least.
The first of the final four plays was a pass out in the flat to Blue, which negated a yard for Texas and was very risky. If Blue was tackled in bounds, the game clock runs out as the Longhorns are out of timeouts. The next play resulted in an incompletion thrown by Ewers that went over the head of Mitchell in the endzone. On 3rd and 11 with five seconds left, the former Ohio State quarterback was heavily pressured and was forced to throw the ball away. Fortunately for Texas, one second remained on the clock for it to save it's best season since 2009, when it won the Big-12 championship (vs. Nebraska) and played for the national championship (vs. Alabama).
Ewers dropped back and threw a somewhat out of reach pass for Mitchell in the side of the endzone that was solidly defended by Washington defensive back Elijah Jackson. The throw could have been much better, but Texas was lucky enough to even have a chance to win the game.
Washington controlled the majority of the game, as Texas's secondary had no answer for Penix Jr. and the Huskies passing attack. If DeBoer hadn't called those head-scratching plays on the Huskies' final possession and just ran out the clock, his starting running back wouldn't be questionable for next week's championship game against the Wolverines and the Huskies wouldn't have been put in position to have potentially one of the wildest meltdowns in the history of college football.
The Huskies are no strangers to tight games down the stretch, as the majority of their 2023 season was brimmed with close games, especially during the back half in both matchups against Oregon, Washington St, and Arizona State to name a few, respectively. Penix Jr. and company are arguably the most clutch group in the country, and they once again proved that in victory over the No. 3 team in the nation.
Texas is still back despite the loss
As for the Longhorns, they are definitely "back" after a near fifteen-year period of underwhelming seasons (by Texas standards) under the leadership of former coaches such as Charlie Strong and Tom Herman, respectively. Sarkisian is surely the right man to be leading Texas moving forward as they join the SEC in 2024. Ewers had a solid outing, as he went 24/43 for 318 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, respectively. Texas is surely set at the quarterback position for at least the next three seasons, as Ewers likely returns for one more season and freshman quarterback Arch Manning will carry the reigns right after.
Sure, it's not the outcome Longhorns fans wanted, but the future is bright in Austin and expect Texas to be perennial contenders in the upcoming 12-team College Football Playoff for the foreseeable future.