The Huskies Fell Short In The National Championship Game

Being a sports fan is a form of mental illness.

At some point, my friends decided that lemons were good luck. I haven’t pinpointed the specific Husky game when this first came up – because I wasn’t there – but we were in need of a rally, there were some lemons sitting around, and so everyone picked up a lemon and held onto it for the rest of the game. The Huskies completed their comeback, and then every game after that, someone needed to remember to bring the lemons. I was introduced to this practice during the Pac-12 Championship Game, and we’ve had our rally lemons ever since. They were working fine until last night, but also my friends and I weren’t watching the College Football Playoff National Championship Game together as a collective, so maybe that’s the reason why they lost their football potency?

Or, you know, the mental illness thing.

It’s interesting where your brain goes while you’re in the middle of watching a game, versus where it is the next day, or weeks from now, or years from now. Last night, for instance, I would’ve come on here and been ranting and raving about the discrepencies in the flags that the refs were throwing (or not throwing). The weak-as-shit holding call against the Huskies that cost us a deep pass play; the multiple missed holding calls against Michigan’s O-Line that might’ve turned the tide of this game. The fact that we were told this was an ACC crew that was going to call a tight game when it came to defensive pass interference and the like, followed by them allowing the Wolverines to be handsy as hell all game long.

But, it’s really hard for me to want to pin it all on the refs, because there were so many areas where the Huskies fell short in this game. With just a night’s sleep, some perspective seeps into my brain. Instead of being a bitter lunatic during the game, or a depressed sad sack after the game, I’ve come to accept this team’s faults as just the reality of that particular game.

So many differing emotions in such a short time, how can this not be mental illness?

It’s easy to say, “Well, if this and that and the other had gone a certain way, maybe the game would’ve turned out different.” But, if you need everything to be Just So in order to win a game, then you probably weren’t the better team anyway. That isn’t to say – if we played this game 100 times – that the Huskies would lose all 100. But, you know, that didn’t feel like a 50/50 affair that just got away from us.

Not that we were entirely outclassed. It’s patently absurd to suggest that Washington didn’t deserve to be one of the final four teams, and I’m not going to take that kind of criticism from someone who’s probably only seen all of two Husky games this year (the Sugar Bowl and the CFP National Championship). But, I think it’s fair to say that Michigan wasn’t a great matchup for us, and it was going to take damn near a perfect game for us to actually beat them.

The first quarter of that game was a nightmare I can’t forget soon enough. They got the ball first, and they rammed it down our throats to the tune of a 14-3 lead. If that had just been the entire game, then it would’ve been miserable, but maybe easier to accept. But, true to form, the Huskies adjusted. We found a way to slow down their attack over the next two quarters, limiting them to a field goal in the second and another field goal in the third. We were able to get a touchdown drive going before half to make it a one-score game, with the ball first coming out of the break. The game was RIGHT THERE for us in that second half.

Unfortunately, Michael Penix followed up his very-best career game (in the Sugar Bowl) with probably his very-worst career game, and that’s something we could never overcome. The Huskies were never going to win this game scoring less than 20 points. The fact that we were held to only three points in the entire second half sealed our doom. A lack of offense – and obviously offensive mistakes – turned this game into a 34-13 blowout in the end.

This was our defense, warts and all. The 229 first quarter rushing yards, obviously, were an anomaly. Even with how poor we’ve looked in stopping the run, it’s never been THAT bad. I don’t want to toot our horn too much, but we did at least stem that tide a little bit, holding them to only 74 rushing yards the final three quarters. That’s not amazing by any means (considering they had two more rushing TDs in the fourth quarter to put it away), but it speaks to the resiliency of this team. The defense was often maligned, but it also often kept us in games, and it certainly gave us a chance to win this one.

This game was ripe for the picking in the third quarter. But, like I said, Penix had his worst game in a Husky uniform. I don’t know WHAT that first interception was, but it sure as shit killed any momentum we might’ve had. Under normal circumstances, that’s a drive where we score a quick TD, tie the game, and start taking things over from there.

No one’s saying that Michigan’s quarterback was anything special in that game. He completed 10/18 for 140. Of course, with how well they were running the ball, he didn’t NEED to do anything. But, had we tied the game in the second half, maybe things turn. Maybe they feel the need to throw the ball more. Maybe he’s forced into a mistake or two (there were definitely opportunities for picks with some of his errant passes). And maybe – JUST MAYBE – this game looks a lot like every other Husky game we’ve played this season.

The Husky offense just wasn’t up to snuff. In the battle of Elite Offense vs. Elite Defense, Elite Defense prevailed (predictably) yet again. I get that Penix was dealing with injuries. Dillon Johnson was too. He miraculously fought back to play this week, only to have his other ankle rolled up on in the first carry of the game. And, one of those hits Penix took appears to have aggravated a prior rib injury that he’d been dealing with for most of the season, limiting his abilities and forcing him into too many quick throws.

I didn’t think the offensive scheme was SO bad last night. We appeared to be going with lots of quick passes near the line of scrimmage to spread them out. My guess is that we were looking to draw them in, only to beat them over the top later. Unfortunately, later never really came. Odunze had a long reception of 44 yards, but everyone else was limited to 15 yards or less. Either Odunze or Penix fucked up a 4th down pass near midfield that would’ve been a touchdown. There was another deep shot to Culp that Penix flat-out missed, in his desire to get the ball out quickly with a free blitzer running towards him. There were other shots to Odunze that Penix either didn’t see or didn’t like. It’s not like we didn’t have opportunities; we just didn’t capitalize. There were also a couple of killer drops (one by Will Nixon in particular that would’ve been an easy third down conversion) that we weren’t used to seeing from this team. If Dillon Johnson had been healthier, maybe Nixon wouldn’t have been in there for that drop, and again things might’ve been different.

But, taken as a whole: our injuries, our missed connections, our atrocious first quarter defense, all added up to an unwinnable game.

Both teams exchanged three punts each in the second half, when it was 20-13. That was the time. That was the game right there. It was unrealistic to expect the Huskies to keep them scoreless the rest of the way, without at least putting some offensive pressure on them. They drove down for a 27-13 lead with about 7 minutes left in the game, and we were in scramble mode. An emergency throw led to Penix’s second pick of the game (this one returned inside the 10 yard line), and they were two rushes away from finishing us.

I feel so bad for the Huskies. That was, by far, the best Husky team I’ve ever seen. And this was the funnest season I’ve ever followed. It’s just a shame things didn’t turn out differently.

I’ll always look back fondly when I think about this team, though. This was a helluva run! And it was a helluva finish to the Pac-12 experience as we know it. Not the outcome we wanted, obviously. But, it puts Washington back on the map, just as we enter Big Ten play next year. I, for one, can’t wait to see what the future holds for this program!

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