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UW churns out statistical oddities, decimates Cal in Pac-12 opener

Washington’s Jabbar Muhammad celebrates his second quarter interception against Cal Bears, Saturday, at Husky Stadium, in Seattle.  (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times)
Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Washington led 14-0 Saturday before Michael Penix Jr. attempted a pass.

On the Cal Golden Bears’ sixth play from scrimmage, quarterback Ben Finley felt pressure from edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui and unfurled a gift for linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio. UW’s sixth-year senior captain corralled his first career interception and returned it 45 yards for a Husky touchdown.

That’s one way to score.

Six plays later, UW wide receiver Rome Odunze centered under a punt at his own 17-yard line, burst left, deposited defensive back Cam Sidney and exploded along the left sideline for an 83-yard touchdown.

That’s another way to score.

It was UW’s first pick-six since Byron Murphy brought one back against Utah in the 2018 Pac-12 championship game … followed by the Huskies’ first punt return touchdown since Aaron Fuller bombarded BYU in 2019.

In UW’s searchable database — which dates back to 1996 — the Huskies have never scored 14 points before their starting quarterback took the field.

But in Washington’s 59-32 win over Cal, the statistical oddities didn’t end there.

UW’s 45 points in the first half Saturday were both tied for the Huskies’ most points in a half … and tied for Cal’s most points allowed in a half (after also surrendering 45 points in the second half against Alabama in 1973).

This is also the first time UW has produced 40-plus points in four consecutive games (in the same season) since 1944 … when the Huskies opened with two meetings apiece against heavy hitters Whitman and Willamette.

UW’s defense and special teams provided the first 14 points in Saturday’s Pac-12 opener.

But the Husky offense didn’t need help.

Penix — the nation’s leading passer — completed 19 of 25 attempts (76%) for 304 yards with four touchdowns and an interception, distributing outlandish dimes. Backup Dylan Morris relieved the Heisman Trophy contender in the third quarter for a second consecutive game.

Without standout junior wide receiver Jalen McMillan — who missed the game with an injury — Odunze (five catches, 125 yards, 3 total TDs) and Ja’Lynn Polk (eight catches, 127 yards, 2 TDs) each excelled.

Prior to this season, two Huskies exceeded 100 receiving yards in the same game just eight times in school history.

It’s happened in all four games this fall.

But UW’s revitalized running game is also encouraging as the Huskies enter Pac-12 play. They rushed for a productive 132 yards and 4.7 yards per carry Saturday, led by Mississippi State transfer Dillon Johnson — who notched 10 carries for 66 yards and a 3-yard score. Sophomore Sam Adams II tacked on a 9-yard touchdown, while freshman Tybo Rogers logged a 47-yard reception.

Better yet, Ulofoshio’s opening pick was the first of three Husky interceptions, with safety Dominique Hampton and cornerback Jabbar Muhammad pilfering an erratic Finley. The Huskies have seven interceptions through their first four games.

They had seven picks in 13 games last season.

Cal crept closer in garbage time, tacking on two essentially irrelevant touchdowns. Finley completed 17 of 32 passes for 207 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, before exiting with an injury. Standout sophomore running back Jaydn Ott managed just 40 rushing yards and a touchdown on 2.9 yards per carry.

But against an offense that churns out statistical oddities, it was too little and far too late.