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‘A great look into the future.’ Washington State’s defense a silver lining in 24-21 Apple Cup loss to Washington

SEATTLE – Washington launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for Michael Penix Jr. this summer, months before the sixth-year senior quarterback had a chance to take the field and display why he should be considered for college football’s most coveted individual award.

Penix has done a fine job of promoting himself, leading the country’s top passing offense while guiding the fourth-ranked Huskies to an 11-0 start entering Saturday’s Apple Cup against Washington State.

The Cougars couldn’t keep the Huskies from extending their win streak to 18 games, but they can take some solace in knowing they held Penix to one of his least-productive outings – and perhaps slowed the momentum of his Heisman campaign – in a 24-21 WSU loss at Husky Stadium.

That seemed to be the consensus after the UW quarterback failed to throw for more than 250 yards for just the second time and completed 54% of his throws – Penix ’s second-lowest completion percentage this season.

“I think design-wise, they do as good of a job as anyone in the country at designing plays and shots to get to their playmakers,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said of UW.

“If you can rattle (No.) 9 (Penix) a little bit, you’ve got a shot. I think we got him off his spot a couple times and then accuracy goes down.”

Penix entered the game with 3,695 passing yards, ranking second only to Oregon’s Bo Nix – another top candidate for the Heisman award. UW’s 358.4 passing yards per game led the nation and the Huskies were averaging 458 yards of total offense, eclipsing 500 yards in four games this season.

“I think for the most part there’s going to be a lot of positives that come out of it,” Dickert said. “Last year we knew it was going to be 15 to 18 times they’re going to go down the field plus-25 yards, and we had to win 75% of those to really stay in the game. I thought we did a really good job, we had some hands on ball, we made some picks, kept it in front of us. Didn’t panic on a 10-yard out route.”

Penix struggled with his accuracy, constantly pressured by WSU’s tandem of fifth-year senior edge rushers Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson. The Cougars recorded two sacks – one on Germie Bernard while the receiver was behind center in a shotgun formation – and Penix was under duress much of the game, causing him to throw the ball away or miss his receivers, often by a handful of feet.

A Manning Award finalist in 2022, Penix came into the game completing nearly 70% of his passes, but he finished just 18 of 33 (54%) against the Cougars while throwing two touchdowns and one interception – his eighth pick of the season.

“I think the biggest thing, that was our game plan, was to make him uncomfortable back there,” Jackson said. “I think throughout the game he felt our presence more and more and more, and those passes were a little off target, off the marks. Obviously, he’s a great player, so it was important that we had to get him rattled.

“Their receivers made some great players but I think our DBs played a heck of a game. I think it was just a great look into the future of what we have on this defense.”

Playing behind one of the nation’s most formidable offensive lines, Penix had been sacked just seven times this season. The Cougars joined Arizona as the only other team with multiple sacks against UW.

Jackson got through the offensive line for a sack on Penix inside the final minute, adding 9 yards to the 42-yard field goal Grady Gross made to win the game.

“To hold a high-powered offense like that to the last play of the game and leave it all to a field goal, I couldn’t be more proud of the guys,” Jackson said.