UW perfectly willing to max out all assets

  On the night of Oct. 28, Washington’s unblemished season hung in the balance at, of all places, Stanford. Quarterback Ashton Daniels spearheaded a Cardinal offense good for 495 yards, and now, on fourth-and-two at the Stanford 28, the hosts hatched a trick play with 3:20 left, trailing 35-33.

  Receiver Tiger Bachmeier took a pitch and cast it toward wideout Jayson Raines at the Stanford 35. A first down there, and it wouldn’t have taken a fanciful imagination to envision the Cardinal marching downfield, devouring the clock and scoring the winning points on a touchdown or field goal.

  Raines dropped the ball.

  It’s extraordinarily difficult to go undefeated in a college football season. Somebody’s going to get you, and often it’s in the unlikeliest of spots, maybe on a day when the other coach, coming off a bye, devises a troublesome wrinkle or your kids are daydreaming about NIL money or girlfriends or about the Top 10 team they’re going to be meeting next week.

  Yet here are the Huskies, 14-0, having played much of the season on the knife’s edge, dancing with disaster so many times, needing only to conquer Michigan Monday night to win a national championship.

  Washington’s passing attack under Michael Penix Jr., is the most irrepressible I’ve ever seen at the college level (and that goes back to the days of raccoon tails fluttering from the antennas of homecoming convertibles).

  Moreover, the Huskies have perfectly exemplified the wisdom of an old coaching maxim, that you have to keep from losing a game before you can win it. The other side always flinches first against Washington, as with Raines’ fatal dropped pass, or a dumb coaching decision from the other side or some other glitch in execution.

  I’m convinced that when you bundle it all up — the magnificence of Penix and his receivers, Kalen DeBoer’s even-handed coaching, Washington’s proclivity simply to outlast the other side in not beating itself, and the psychological nudge afforded the Huskies by skeptical oddsmakers and analysts –Washington has been kissed by the gods, who have decided, “Yeah, we’re sorry for that 0-12 season back in 2008, and no doubt, you paid way too big a price for those NCAA violations in the early ‘90s.”

  The week before that Stanford game, the Huskies were locked up in a surprising pitcher’s duel against Arizona State, a team at the back end of a six-game losing streak. After a bye, the Sun Devils tormented Penix with all sorts of defensive looks, holding him to 6.5 yards per attempt and the Huskies without an offensive touchdown.

  Ahead 7-6 with nine minutes left, ASU’s Trenton Bourguet lofted a pass from the UW 19 to the goal line for Troy Omeire. Trying to keep up, a UW defender grabbed Omeire’s jersey in desperation, visibly pulling it 12-18 inches from his torso. Here’s how the Fox voices reacted at the TV replay:

  “Look at the grab!”

  “Oh, wow.”

  “That’s two grabs, the chest and the shoulder pads.”

  An official threw a flag. And a moment later, picked it up. Three plays later, Bourguet threw the killing pick-six in a 15-7 Washington victory.

  The UW is a stunning 94th in the country in total defense, but it’s obvious the Huskies are a lot better than that lately. They’ve had a knack for coaxing brain-freeze moments out of opposition play-callers, causing them to blink first.

  At Oregon State in mid-November, the Beavers were stalking the Huskies, closing to within 22-20 midway through the fourth quarter. They took over at their own 5 with almost eight minutes left, and began assembling a drive that was setting up perfectly for an OSU win, a long, clock-gobbling thing that seemed capable of leaving Washington with no time left.

  Five minutes into the drive, OSU still hadn’t reached midfield. On a first-down play, the Huskies tripped up Damien Martinez for a yard loss, and then the Beavers went rogue. D.J. Uiagalelei threw deep down the sideline on a play that had no chance, and on fourth down, misfired badly over the middle. Bottom line: At the moment of truth, no 250-pound quarterback probing the defense on the ground, but a 57-percent passer trying to win the game on a night when he was 15 for 31.

  And a few nights ago, here was Texas in the red zone, with a miraculous chance to win at the wire, calling a swing pass that could very well have ended its chances if completed, beginning a four-play series seemingly founded on wishin’ and hopin’.

  On this Penix-propelled thrill ride, the Huskies have been fine-tuned motivationally with a seemingly endless series of slights, from ESPN analyst Booger McFarland to their regular station as betting underdogs. They were 9.5-point ‘dogs to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game before punishing the Ducks on the ground, they were four-point ‘dogs to Texas, and now they find Michigan a 4-4.5-point favorite.

  Remember, odds aren’t a prediction, they’re a reflection of how the public perceives the game. I’m guessing the Huskies are benefitting from the long-held perception that the West Coast plays a softer, less formidable brand of football – while any discerning observer could tell you Washington has played a better schedule than Michigan. Look at the tweets, many from respected national media members, expressing amazement at Penix against Texas, and you can sense there’s been an underappreciation of him – and by extension, Washington.

  If a team’s going to go unbeaten, it takes a village of elements to make it happen, some of them off-the-charts improbable. However you break down the Huskies’ spotless season, it’s a train I wouldn’t be getting in front of right now.