LOS ANGELES – The game turned on a toss.
To that point, No. 15 Washington had followed the formula. Kalen DeBoer’s Huskies scored a touchdown on their opening drive Friday, just as they had in their first four games. After wide receiver Jalen McMillan couldn’t haul in a picturesque pass for a 33-yard score, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. looked left and overcame the error – floating a touchdown to Rome Odunze on fourth-and-6. The sophomore wide receiver nodded his head and raised his hands to the crowd, a blob of purple stuffed beyond the end zone.
The offense started fast, and the defense stiffened – forcing a Dorian Thompson-Robinson incompletion on fourth-and-goal from the Husky 3.
It all felt so familiar.
Then the plot flipped on a fumble.
On UW’s second play after the stop, running back Wayne Taulapapa dropped a routine toss, falling on it in the end zone for a momentum-snuffing safety. UCLA proceeded to score three touchdowns and a field goal on its next four drives, as Thompson-Robinson systematically exposed the Husky secondary.
Penix, meanwhile, was sacked for the first time this season in the second quarter – by former UW outside linebacker Laiatu Latu, no less – before surrendering a pair of forced interceptions.
On Monday, DeBoer said: “Even if it goes against you for a short time and some adversity hits, I feel like Mike (Penix) understands that it’s just temporary. And we preach that to the team. He’ll get us back on track.”
In a decisive 40-32 defeat, the train burst into flames, before returning too late to the track.
Of course, Thompson-Robinson had a whole lot to do with that. UCLA’s redshirt senior quarterback blew through an overmatched UW defense Friday, completing 23 of 32 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder succeeded with style – hurdling Husky safety Kamren Fabiculanan on a first-down run, then juking colliding defenders Bralen Trice and Jaivion Green on a 2-yard touchdown strut.
This was an avalanche of Bruin offense – with wide receiver Jake Bobo totaling six catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Zach Charbonnet amassing 180 total yards and another score.
Without a pair of injured starters in safety Asa Turner and cornerback Mishael Powell, the Husky secondary was outplayed by the Bruins – with corners Jordan Perryman, Julius Irvin, Davon Banks and Jaivion Green, husky nickel Dominique Hampton, plus safeties Fabiculanan and Alex Cook all but powerless to stop it.
Remember not so long ago when UW was considered “DBU”?
On Friday, UW’s defensive backs were dominated.
Of course, the Huskies surrendered 166 rushing yards, five yards per carry and two touchdowns on the ground as well. This was equal opportunity punishment.
As for Penix, the redshirt junior returned to the track in the second half – completing 33 of 48 passes for 345 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He hit McMillan for a spinning 19-yard score, then located tight end Devin Culp for a 4-yard touchdown to narrow the deficit to 40-24 with 12:03 left.
After UW forced its first punt of the night, Penix led a 12-play, 93-yard touchdown drive – culminating with a touchdown to Odunze on fourth-and-9, then a two-point conversion to McMillan. Odunze finished with eight catches for 116 yards and two scores.
It was a furious comeback. But it wasn’t enough. Not on a night when UCLA was stuffed twice on fourth down but scored on six of its other seven drives. Not on a night when the Bruins went 8 for 12 on third down. Not on a night when the Huskies committed nine hope-pummeling penalties for 98 yards. Not on a night when Taulapapa’s safety was suddenly the least of their concerns.
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