HOUSTON (AP) — Michael Penix Jr. couldn’t complete the final chapter in his storybook season Monday night.
The quarterback with two surgically repaired knees threw for 255 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, taking a pounding as No. 2 Washington fell to top-ranked Michigan 34-13 in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Penix returned for a sixth season to try and help the Huskies to a title, but the Heisman Trophy runner-up’s performance wasn’t enough to overcome a terrible start by his team’s defense.
“Everybody knows my story,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had ups and downs. But I’m thankful for it all. I’m super blessed.”
Washington (14-1) was obliterated by Michigan (15-0) for 174 yards rushing and 229 total yards in the first quarter as the Huskies fell behind 14-3.
They tightened things up after that, and Penix got Washington within a touchdown on a 3-yard TD pass late in the second quarter.
But Penix’s elite precision eluded him throughout. Renowned for his deep ball accuracy, he missed narrowly on several downfield passes.
“I just feel like it came down to executing,” he said. “I missed a couple of throws. Just a couple of reads on routes and stuff like that. Just small details within our system that we do great all the time.”
Penix took a beating in his college finale, too. After the game, he limped in the tunnel back toward Washington’s locker room, a towel covering his face and his right arm protecting his apparently tender side.
An interception on the first play of the second half cost Washington momentum, and he couldn’t get his team in the end zone after halftime, snapping Washington’s 21-game winning streak.
After suffering injury after injury during his four years at Indiana, Penix played two seasons at Washington without any major injuries to lead the nation in yards passing this season and finish second in Heisman Trophy voting to LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels. He tore his ACL in 2018 and 2020 and had shoulder injuries in both 2019 and 2021.
Washington coach Kalen DeBoer — formerly Penix’s offensive coordinator at Indiana — reflected on the QB’s decision to join him in Seattle.
“It was a time where we all know his story,” DeBoer said. “It was kind of at that point where it was kind of do or die. And I knew in my mind what he was made of. I knew what he was capable of, and now it’s just a matter of bringing it all together. And I can’t tell you how much it means that he had that trust in me.”
Sad and downtrodden for most of his postgame news conference, Penix did crack a smile when asked about his health after that game.
“Better than I was three years ago,” he said.
He then added that he was checked out by the team’s doctors and that he’s OK.
“I knew that no matter what, I was going to make sure I finished for the guys. And just give it my all,” he said. “I’m not healthy, but … I’m good. It’s nothing major. I know that for sure.”
Penix will move on to the NFL and the Huskies will leave the Pac-12 for the new Big Ten this summer. Washington is one of 10 schools departing the conference, and though it isn’t going away, the Pac-12’s days as a football power are almost certainly over.
“Our history in Pac-12 … comes to an end, but all our alumni who have been a part of so many big games and giving us a tradition, I’m going to make sure we always remember those,” DeBoer said. “It’s sad to see the Pac-12 have this time right now that we’re coming to an end with. But I just am glad that we represented West Coast football, Pac-12, the way we did this year.”
The Huskies were down by 14 with about four minutes left when they went for it on fourth-and-13 from the Michigan 30. Penix overthrew his target and was intercepted by Mike Sainristil, and he returned it 81 yards. The Wolverines scored two plays later to make it 34-13 and end any possibility of a late rally.
Penix threw for 319 yards in the conference championship game to lead Washington to a 34-31 win over Oregon before his 430 yards passing and two touchdowns lifted the team to a 37-31 win over Texas to advance to the national title game.
But on college football’s biggest stage, he simply came up short.
Despite Monday’s disappointing finish, DeBoer believes Penix cemented his status as one of the greats in school history.
“I hope Husky Nation just always holds him in the highest regard,” DeBoer said. “I think they will. I expect nothing less than that because I think they understand also what he’s given all of us.”
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football