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University of Washington Huskies Football

UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. named second Heisman Trophy finalist in Husky history

Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. (9) celebrates a play as the No. 8 Oregon Ducks take on the No. 7 Washington Huskies in a Pac-12 football game on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, at Husky Stadium in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

As Michael Penix Jr. clutched the Pac-12 championship MVP trophy and stood on a hastily assembled stage, the purple-clad parishioners in Allegiant Stadium broke into a booming chorus.

M-V-P

M-V-P

M-V-P

It’s an award the sixth-year quarterback clearly earned, completing 27 of 39 passes (69.2%) for 319 yards with a game-sealing touchdown and an interception in No. 2 Washington’s 34-31 win over No. 8 Oregon on Friday night. In the aftermath, Penix — donning a purple Pac-12 champions T-shirt and hat — prepared for an interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe, when the chant suddenly changed.

HEIS-MAN

HEIS-MAN

HEIS-MAN

Moments later, Husky linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio emphatically added: “Give Mike Penix his frickin’ Heisman, man. What more do you need to see?”

Perhaps the nation has seen enough.

On Monday, Penix was named one of four finalists for the Heisman Trophy — “which is annually awarded to the outstanding college football player in the United States whose performance epitomizes great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.”

UW’s only other Heisman finalist was defensive lineman Steve Emtman, who finished fourth in 1991. (Penix, by the way, received the eighth-most votes but fell short of the ceremony last season.)

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, Penix will share a stage in New York City with two other quarterbacks, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Oregon’s Bo Nix, as well as Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. Together, that trio has rained touchdowns, while excelling in different ways.

Penix: 13 games, 65.9% completions, 4,218 passing yards, 33 pass TD, 9 INT, 3 rush TD

Daniels: 12 games, 72.2% completions, 3,812 passing yards, 40 pass TD, 4 INT, 1,134 rush yards, 8.4 yards per carry, 10 rush TD

Nix: 13 games, 77.2% completions, 4,145 passing yards, 40 pass TD, 3 INT, 228 rush yards, 4.3 YPC, 6 rush TD

Harrison: 12 games, 67 catches, 1,211 receiving yards, 18.1 yards per reception, 14 receiving TD, 1 rush TD

And though Penix’s output trails his counterparts in numerous categories, he leads where it matters most.

“First of all, he’s 13-0. He’s won every game,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said Sunday, when asked why his quarterback deserves the award. “The greatest moments is when the greatest players have to rise and step up, right? He did it again the other night.

“Let’s go back to the Oregon game the first time. He wins the game with a throw. He finds ways to lead us against Washington State in the Apple Cup. There are those big moments where you win those games — you go 13-0 — because you have the trigger man. You have the guy that doesn’t just put up all these crazy stats, but a guy that leads your football team.

“At halftime he gathers the team around after I get done with my talk and just takes it to another level. What he does at the end of the third quarter, at the break, when you’re exhausted from giving everything you have, you [Penix] get the team around you and pour your heart and soul into challenging these guys. ‘Hey, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for.’ It means so much more when it comes from a player. When it comes from your quarterback who you have all the trust in the world in … man, it just doesn’t get any better than that. So the statistics are one thing. The wins are another.”

Speaking of which, Penix has two head-to-head wins over Nix this fall, and three in the last two seasons. And while Daniels has been statistically dominant, he’s also lost three games for the No. 13 Tigers.

As for Harrison, UW wide receiver Rome Odunze — who has posted 81 catches, 1,428 receiving yards, 13 receiving touchdowns, plus a rushing and return TD — actually touts superior stats.

While Nix, Daniels and Harrison watch, Penix will lead No. 2 Washington (13-0) against No. 3 Texas (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, with a national championship berth awarded to the winner.

Saturday’s results will likely weigh the importance of tangibles against intangibles, statistics against collective success.

Plus, Penix — a Tampa product and Indiana transfer — has ample evidence in another area:

Perseverance.

“He’s just been elite,” DeBoer said. “There’s a rain game in there. There’s a wind game. There’s guys missing games that are a big part of the supporting cast around him. But he’s been a constant. He’s been a great leader for us. He puts up the stats. He has the game-winning drives. He’ll lead you down the field when it matters most. He’ll win in the fourth quarter, like this last weekend [against Oregon] when you had a three-point lead and you get a chance to ramp it up to 10. He’ll get the job done when it matters most.

“So our team has nothing but great confidence in him. He’s just become a vocal leader, whether it be at halftime or in the fourth quarter when you need it most. I mean, he’s just played with a lot of courage. And a lot of it is tied to everything he’s been through. It means a lot to him.”

Penix — a 6-foot-3, 213-pound senior — has been through four season-ending injuries at Indiana, an avalanche of adversity. He reconnected with former Hoosier offensive coordinator DeBoer at UW, resurrected his career and earned Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2022. He also overcame inclement weather, 12 different defenses (counting Oregon twice) and an enduring flu this fall.

Penix, of course, has not been perfect.

But he persistently perseveres.

“Fighter. Absolute fighter,” UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said of his quarterback on Friday night. “He had a warrior spirit on the phone [after throwing a third-quarter interception]. Just talking to him, I could tell he wasn’t flinching at all. We talked before the game, and I reminded him of the pick he threw at Oregon [before bouncing back and winning in 2022]. I said, ‘Do you remember what you said on the phone?’ He said, ‘Yeah, not much.’

“He didn’t [say much this time either]. He was like, ‘Yeah, Rome kind of slipped and the guy made a play on it,’ and that was it. He moved on quickly. That’s what it was going to take today. You never know when you’re going to have to have that mentality to move on, get through the moment, next play. He had that every drive. He just had a ton of confidence. He was breathing it in on the sideline. So I’m super proud of him. I thought he fought really hard.”

Penix has fought from the beginning, through injuries and losses and setbacks and the searing spotlight associated with a Heisman campaign.

On Saturday, that spotlight will center on New York City.

But Penix has greater goals.

“It’s just a blessing to be able to be in that talk,” Penix said Friday night. “For me, the main thing was to win. To be able to do that today on a stage like this, it’s incredible. I’m going to always savor this moment. I’m just super excited. Right now I’m just really living in this moment. Whatever happens come next weekend is going to happen. It’s already written. Obviously I couldn’t do it without the guys around me.”

Added DeBoer: “It’s all about this team. The Heisman would be an awesome honor that many years down the road he can continue to look back on. But right now, I can tell you first and foremost what he’s about is our team winning this next football game in hopes of going on to a national championship.”