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University of Washington Huskies Football

Commentary: Michael Penix Jr. may have just had his Heisman moment against Oregon

Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. looks to pass against the Oregon Ducks on Saturday at Husky Stadium in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Rome Odunze felt inclined to briefly interrupt the postgame news conference. It happened as Washington quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., was on the stage fielding questions after the Huskies’ 36-33 win.

Said the receiver to the news corps: “Hey, you’re looking at the Heisman Trophy winner right there.”

Based on his performance against Oregon Saturday, you have to wonder how many people around the country thought the exact same thing.

One day before, Penix was seen as an elite football talent who had overcome a series of injuries at Indiana before shining in his new threads. Now, he may be seen as the best player in college football.

It’s not just the stat-sheet-stuffing ability that has him leading the nation in passing yards per game, either. It’s the unflappable demeanor that consistently turns his biggest moments into his best.

“It’s a blessing to be able to share the field with that guy,” Odunze said. “He’s so talented. He does it week in and week out. He was out there hurting in the last quarter of the game, but he maintained his composure, maintained his stride and continued to make plays and believe in us.”

There was a moment when it looked as though Penix had ceded ground in the Heisman race after No. 8 Oregon’s fourth-quarter goal-line stand. He came off the field fuming, with his team trailing 33-29 after three straight scoreless possessions.

There were some dubious moments beforehand – overthrown and underthrown passes mixed with a third-quarter interception. But when seventh-ranked Washington got the ball back on its 47 with 1:49 left, Penix took the game upon himself.

On the first play of the drive, he connected with Ja’Lynn Polk on a 35-yard dime. On the second play, he tossed an impeccable ball to Oduzne in the end zone.

The touchdown pass was Penix’s fourth of the day, as he finished 22 for 37 with 302 yards. A few minutes later, Oregon kicker Camden Lewis missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt as time expired, cementing that final drive as the QB’s finest.

It certainly wasn’t the first time Penix – who was cramping throughout the fourth quarter – delivered in the most high-leverage of moments. In last year’s three-point win against Oregon, he tied the score with 3 minutes left via a 62-yard touchdown pass to Taj Davis. He also led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive in a comeback win over Oregon State, which included a 92-yard field-goal drive in the game’s final minutes.

The man has an arm that’s shaking up college football and a hand that doesn’t shake. It’s a package that has him halfway to completing the greatest individual season in UW history.

How would you describe your head space in those clutch situations? Penix was asked.

“I’d say I’m cool, calm and collected,” Penix said. “I don’t really get too high or two low in any pressure moments. I love it. I love being in those situations – well, I’m not going to say I love being in those situations. If I didn’t have to and we were just blowing teams out all the time, that would be great as well. But when those situations do come, I’m mentally prepared.”

Penix didn’t stay on the crowd-rushed field for too long after the game, but he did celebrate in the tunnel with friends, family and teammates. One fan approached him for a picture. After he agreed, she told her friend that she thought she was going to cry.

It’s hard to think that even Penix, who is not short on confidence, thought he’d be at this level after injuries limited him to 16 games in his three years at Indiana. But his stardom is real. And spectacular.

Penix’s 399 passing yards per game coming into Saturday were more than 50 more than any other QB. His 11.2 yards per attempt was also tops. You can’t say it’s simply the result of suspect competition, either – not when he led the nation in passing last year and just dominated Oregon.

Of course, the job is a long way from complete for the southpaw. Penix is on record saying he wants to win a national championship, and with the Huskies sitting at 6-0 (3-0 in the Pac-12), they are in position to compete for one.

One player can’t make that happen by himself. But six games in, the Huskies have one player that’s distinguished himself from his peers.