College football fans were treated to a classic as the Washington Huskies survived a furious late push from the Texas Longhorns to advance to the National Championship game with a 37-31 victory.
After an overtime thriller between Michigan and Alabama in the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl had a lot to live up to.
This game certainly delivered as fans witnessed the biggest win for the Huskies program in 30 years, prevailing as four-point underdogs in a game where they amassed over 500 total yards of offense and never trailed.
Washington is now a 4.5-point underdog to Michigan in the National Championship game, which will take place in Houston on Monday, January 8.
Michael Penix Jr. didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, but there was an argument to be made that he was the most valuable player in college football this past season.
Against Texas on New Year’s Day, he certainly made a compelling case for that statement to be true.
Penix had what was statistically the best performance by a quarterback in a College Football Playoff game since Joe Burrow and LSU torched Oklahoma in the 2019 Peach Bowl, completing nearly 77 percent of his passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns.
He also ran the ball with success on occasion as well, showing a versatility that was previously questioned by NFL scouts and the college football media landscape.
The senior quarterback led by example all game long, connecting on short passes and looping deep shots downfield, including a massive 32-yard connection with Rome Odunze that ultimately led to the game-winning field goal with 2:40 remaining.
And while his coaching staff made a few massive clock management blunders down the stretch, the Huskies were in great position to survive that Texas rally thanks to Penix’s brilliance all game long.
While Washington's defense was not a stellar unit for most of the season, Bralen Trice's two sacks and one forced fumble in the Sugar Bowl helped slow down the Longhorns enough for the Huskies' offense to get the job done.
This was the best season for the Texas football program in over a decade, but the Longhorns still have to feel like they underachieved by not reaching the National Championship game given the level of talent on this roster.
Steve Sarkisian’s team rolled through the Big 12 down the stretch and appeared to be a well-oiled machine heading into this semifinal game, but the Texas defense couldn’t slow down this Washington passing attack at all and the offense got behind the chains on numerous occasions in the early going.
This carried over into the 3rd quarter, where Texas continued to struggle on early downs and put itself into obvious passing situations on 3rd down, which aided Washington’s approach on defense.
And by the time the Longhorns found their rhythm offensively, Washington was already up by 13 points and it was too little, too late.
Even when the Huskies were given a gift in the form of poor clock management by Kalen DeBoer and were playing against a team on the verge of a complete meltdown, the Longhorns still couldn’t get out of their own way.
Quinn Ewers had multiple off-target throws on the game’s final series, including a ball to Adonai Mitchell in the end zone that could have been the game-winning touchdown pass.
The Longhorns will be one of the early favorites to contend for an SEC Championship and a National Title contender in 2024, but it remains to be seen if Texas can finally get over the hump next season.
It will be a battle of undefeated teams in the National Championship game with 14-0 Washington set to play 14-0 Michigan.
Washington is known for its high-octane passing attack, while Michigan grinds teams down with its physicality and run game led by Blake Corum.
Michigan was able to slow down Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe in the Rose Bowl, but the Huskies have more weapons with Rome Odunze, Ja'lynn Polk, Jalen McMillan, and Jack Westover as Penix's primary targets.
Still, Michigan will see Washington's defense as a weakness, and rightly so: the Huskies allowed 24.1 points per game, good for 54th in the nation, while Michigan has the stingiest defense in the nation with just 10.2 points allowed per game.