SEATTLE — For all the attention quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has deservedly received this season, it was the oft-maligned defense for No. 5 Washington that showed up for the final 30 minutes on Saturday and left the Huskies sitting at 10-0 for only the second time in school history.
Penix threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and Washington pitched a shut out in the second half to rally for a 35-28 win over No. 13 Utah.
The Huskies (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12, No. 5 CFP) extended the second-longest active win streak in the nation to 17 games and stayed in the middle of the College Football Playoff conversation. The only other time Washington reached the 10-0 mark came in 1991, when the Huskies claimed a share of the national title with Miami.
“It’s all the work we’ve put in. We’re right where we saw ourselves at. We just have to continue to keep working,” Penix said. “We’ve got two more in the regular season to try and finish off with two more wins, go 12-0, and it’s right there in front of us.”
Penix wasn’t at his best on a blustery day on the shore of Lake Washington. But he made enough big plays in the pass game and allowed Washington’s defense to make key adjustments at halftime after being unable to slow down the Utes in the first half.
Washington watched Utah score touchdowns on four straight possessions at one point of the first half. In the second half, Utah had six possessions and crossed midfield only once.
“We know we we didn’t come out and play our best brand of football in the first half. But that’s how it should be every game. We should come out and play like we did in the second half every game,” Washington cornerback Jabbar Muhammad said.
Penix hit Rome Odunze on both of his touchdown throws, and ran for a 2-yard TD in the first quarter. Penix was 24 of 42 passing for 332 yards. Odunze had three catches for 111 yards and Dillon Johnson rushed for 104 yards a week after running for 256 yards against Southern California.
“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be the most physical team was going to win this game and we were the most physical team,” Johnson said.
Washington took a 33-28 lead on Penix’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Odunze in the third quarter and appeared on the verge of extending the lead only to see linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala return an interception 76 yards before dropping the ball at the 1-yard line on his way into the end zone. Washington ended up getting a safety on the next play and had a 35-28 lead after three quarters.
“It’s a great lesson to learn from,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said. “Fortunately, we win the football game so we can learn from that.”
Washington had a chance to extend the lead to 10, but Grady Gross’ 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Utah’s Connor O’Toole with 1:38 left. Utah was unable to do anything with the block and on fourth-and-10, Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes was intercepted on a desperation throw near midfield.
“We couldn’t get that spark going,” Barnes said.
Barnes was the better quarterback in the first half, hitting 13 of 17 passes for 238 yards and touchdown passes of 6 yards to Miki Suguturaga and 53 yards to Sinoe Vaki on a screen pass. Barnes also hit DeVaughn Vele on a 68-yard strike late in the first half to set up Ja’Quinden Jackson’s second touchdown run that gave Utah (7-3, 4-3, No. 18 CFP) a 28-24 lead at halftime.
But Utah’s offense disappeared in the second half as Washington was able to get more pressure on Barnes. Barnes finished 17 of 30 for 267 yards and the Utes had just 76 yards and four first downs in the second half.
“We just couldn’t get in sync in that second half,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We just couldn’t get in a rhythm; it was completely different than the first half.”
Tuputala had what appeared to be a second Pick 6 in the past four games for Washington.
Except he came up 1-yard short.
Tuputala was on the verge of giving Washington a two-score lead after intercepting Barnes. But Tuputala dropped the ball at the 1 as he was going into the end zone and while he celebrated with teammates, Utah offensive lineman Michael Mokofisi jumped on the loose ball giving the Utes possession.
Washington quickly regained momentum as Utah running back Ja’Quinden Jackson was tackled in the end zone on the next play for a safety.
Utah: Barnes’ career high in yards passing was 235 and came in the Utes’ win at Southern California last month. He topped that mark in the first half, but couldn’t keep it going in the second half. Utah had 306 total yards in the first half, a mark it failed to reach against Florida, UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon.
Washington: The Huskies were 9-0 in 2016 when USC visited and beat Washington 26-14. The Huskies still managed to get to the College Football Playoff that season. This home game while 9-0 went much better for Washington.
Utah: At No. 21 Arizona on Saturday.
Washington: Travels to No. 12 Oregon State on Saturday.