Nothing felt right about the 8-4 Texas Longhorns being favored by 3 points over the 10-2 Washington Huskies. At best, you could call this a de facto home game for the Austin-based school – a mere 75 minutes away from the San Antonio-based bowl – but I would argue there was a significant talent discrepancy which was only overwhelmed by the gargantuan Want To discrepancy.
I couldn’t possibly keep track of all the perfectly healthy Texas players who opted to NOT play in this game, because they’re certain to be drafted into the NFL next year and would rather save their bodies than play in this meaningless game. We’re talking about really impactful players! I want to say not one but two of their best running backs sat out, and I think the broadcast mentioned a good pass rushing linebacker to boot? That would prove pivotal in this particular game; who knows, it might’ve actually meant the difference between the loss they ended up suffering, and a win they can only dream about.
I can count on zero hands the number of Huskies who opted out of this game, because that number is zero. I wouldn’t have faulted someone like Michael Penix from sitting this one out, but that was before he announced he was coming back for the 2023 season. The Dawgs were indeed as close to full strength as we’ve ever been, less a Cameron Davis injury late in bowl week practice that was only major enough to sit him in this game, but isn’t supposed to cost him next year. Losing our second-best running back isn’t really all that impactful in the grand scheme of things.
I believe a lot of money came in late on the Huskies, as the moneyline payout went down ever-so-slightly. A lot of east coast fucks probably took a bath on this one; that’s what you get for ignoring the Pac-12 this year!
Probably best not to throw stones, for those of us who hammered the over REALLY got snookered!
My big question heading into this one was: how good is Texas’ defense? That was probably my biggest concern. I figured they’d be good-enough moving the ball, and the Huskies are going to be in any game so long as Michael Penix is behind the center. But, if their defense gave us fits, how would we respond? I don’t know if the Huskies had played a truly great defense this year. Probably Oregon State was the best, and you saw how we barely eked out that one.
It never occurred to me that the Husky defense might step up in a big way! Granted, their top receiver Xavier Worthy was KILLING them with drops – including what would’ve been a breakaway touchdown in the second half – but I saw some improved coverage, I saw a drastic decrease in yards after contact/yards after reception with stout tackling, and I saw a good amount of quarterback pressure to keep him off-the-mark on just enough throws to limit them to 6/15 on third downs (2/3 on fourth downs).
That added up to a ragged-as-hell first half. The Huskies finished the game 11/20 on third downs (2/3 on fourth downs), but a lot of that came in the second half. We were limited to a 13-3 lead at the break, with a number of poor throws, costly drops, and baffling referee decisions sprinkled in. There was one long third down would-be conversion we should’ve had – where their guy CLEAR AS FUCKING DAY grabbed our receiver’s jersey in a blatant pass interference move to prevent a huge gain, only to get a no-call from these blind as bats fucking refs. And the Rome Odunze butter fingers moment in the endzone sure looked like it might loom large just before the break, costing us 4 points in the process.
What really saved us and kept us afloat was the production of running back Wayne Taulapapa, who had the only touchdown of the first half on a 42-yard scamper down the left sideline. He ended the game with 108 yards on only 14 carries, and was really gashing them throughout. Richard Newton took on backup duties and had a workmanlike 44 yards on 11 carries.
Both teams came out to play some offense in the second half. The Longhorns marched right down the field to make it 13-10, but the Huskies finally woke up as well. Things were looking dicey as it appeared we might go 3 & Out and shift momentum completely, but we converted a 4th & 1 on our own 34 yard line with a Penix sneak (where it looked like we might just take the delay of game penalty and punt, after not getting them to jump offsides). That propelled us to convert that drive into a nifty touchdown pass to Taj Davis, and we were off to the races from there.
After forcing them to punt, we marched right down the field again to make it 27-10, thanks to an incredible shoe-string catch by Jalen McMillan. Those two touchdown drives were 13 plays and 14 plays, respectively. 75 yards and 90 yards, respectively. 5:47 and 6:57, respectively. Just taking the absolute wind out of their sails. Sure, the Longhorns followed up that second touchdown with one of their own – to make it 27-17 – but by then we were in the meaty part of the fourth quarter, and content to sit on the ball and convert third downs, move the chains, and drain clock. Our subsequent drive ended on downs, but it was still another 13 plays and 5:29 off the clock. Texas got the ball back with just over 4 minutes remaining and needed over half of that just to go 55 yards on 10 plays to convert a field goal to make it 27-20. With 1:40 remaining, we bled their final two time outs, and ran it down to 25 seconds, where they took over on their own 16 yard line, unable to do anything.
That’s precision. That’s execution. That’s a methodical, veteran victory over a marquee football team in the NCAA landscape, against our former head coach (Sark) and our former defensive coordinator (Pete Kwiatkowski). When you think of Kalen DeBoer, you think of awesome passing attack and high-flying offense. But, what you also get is a complete head coach who pushes the right buttons, is aggressive when this team needs him to be, and is smart and conservative when it means our victory is all but certain.
That last drive is a perfect example. How many coaches out there would’ve thrown on one of those downs – especially after we were stuffed on the first play – in order to salt the game away and make a name for himself? Or, take the drive(s) before that. How many up-tempo offenses would’ve caved? Would have given the ball back to Texas with too much time left on the clock? The drive where we gave it up on downs was quietly one of the most critical of the entire game! We took five and a half minutes from them! That’s what great teams do: amass a double-digit lead, then you fucking sit on them and bleed them dry! Don’t give them any opportunity to weasel their way back in the game. FINISH THEM.
We’ve seen the Huskies win a lot of different ways this year, en route to an 11-2 finish. We’ve seen huge blowouts, we’ve seen back-and-forth scoring festivals, we’ve seen tough and gritty low-scoring nailbiters. I think that’s what impresses me most about this team: its adaptability. If we just got a LITTLE bit more out of our defense, we could really do something with this squad.
Without taking anything away – because an 11-win season in the Pac-12 is always impressive – I will say there’s a lot of unknown, but also a lot to look forward to. We beat the Oregon schools, which was impressive, but we lost to UCLA (I refuse to even bring up the other shit school we lost to) and we didn’t even play the Utes or Trojans (our Pac-12 Championship Game representatives). It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t slide into a New Year’s Six bowl, because I’d REALLY like to see what this team could do against the best of the best. I would not put the Texas Longhorns in that tier, for many reasons.
Next year, we don’t have that luxury. Next year, we do play the Utes and Trojans (USC on the road). We avoid Colorado (in full-on rebuild mode with Deion Sanders at the helm) and UCLA (unclear if their quarterback is returning, or if they’ll be worth a damn at all). When you factor in a non-conference road game against Michigan State, there will be every opportunity to prove ourselves.
What we haven’t seen in a while is a Husky team with sky-high expectations. We’ll be major players in the non-conference rankings! We might be as high as the Top 10, we might be snubbed with a slot in the teens, but we’ll be in there somewhere. I think 2017 was the last time we headed into the season in the Top 10; we made it as high as #5 (with our 6-0 start) before losing to the fucking team that shall not be fucking named.
While we all loved those Coach Pete teams – we got to play in our first-ever playoff game, which I attended in Atlanta against Alabama! – there were faults with that offense in big games. So far, I’ve seen none of those issues under Kalen DeBoer and Michael Penix’s leadership. This offense is ready to play with everyone, and I can’t wait to see what we look like next year. Full season AND full offseason under our belts? Watch out, college football!