Summer 2024

QB Michael Penix Jr. leads Washington to CFP title game: 'I gotta thank God for everything'

Star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and his 14-0 Washington Huskies are officially national-championship bound.

They survived a frantic comeback attempt from Texas in the final quarter of the Sugar Bowl to emerge victorious, 37-31, in the College Football Playoff semifinal and punch their ticket to Houston, where they will meet No. 1 Michigan in the national championship game on Monday.

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Thanks in large part to Penix’s 29 completions on 38 attempts for 430 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, Washington controlled the game and held a comfortable 34-21 advantage midway through the fourth quarter. Yet after a furious rally and a few fortuitous bounces, the Longhorns found themselves on Washington’s 13 yard-line with one second to play. Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers lofted a pass to the end zone that was batted out of bounds, and the game was over.

In the jubilant aftermath, Penix — who was named the Sugar Bowl’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player —  made sure to thank God for his journey.

“First of all, I’m gonna say that I’m not no quitter,” the sixth-year senior said in an on-field interview with ESPN. “I don’t want to say that I was gonna quit. It did get hard for me at times [in my career], you know, but I had to lean on the ones that I love the most. But it means a lot to be here. I’m super blessed, and I gotta thank the Man Above. I gotta thank God for everything that He’s put me through to get to this point. It’s been a blessing and I’ve been enjoying the journey.”

Second-year Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer said during the Sugar Bowl’s trophy presentation that Penix has been on a mission since last season’s Alamo Bowl win (also against Texas) to take the Huskies to even greater heights this year. He’s already accomplished that and more, but Penix knows the job is far from over.

“Nah, we got one more to go! We got one more to go,” he said after being asked about his Sugar Bowl performance during the trophy presentation. “… I said before the season started our goal is to win a national championship, and now we got the opportunity and we got the shot to do it.”

Penix’s college football journey will end on college football’s biggest stage, playing to win Washington’s first national title since 1991. But, far too often in a collegiate career that began with the Indiana Hoosiers, his dream ending seemed miles away.

Four times in four seasons at Indiana, Penix’s season ended with an injury. In 2018, it was an ACL and he was granted a medical redshirt. Then in 2019, a shoulder injury sidelined him. On Nov. 30, 2020, Penix tore his ACL again, and another shoulder injury ended his 2021 season.

“There were times when I’d wake up the day of the game, and I’d wait until my roommate leaves, and I’d just lie on the floor and I’d just cry to God, just praying that He’d protect me that day,” he told Pac-12 Network before the 2023-24 season. “I knew where my head was at that time.”

Seemingly stuck in a never-ending pattern of injuries and rehab, Penix knew he needed a change of scenery. He found what he was looking for with the Huskies, who had just hired DeBoer, Penix’s offensive coordinator in 2019 at Indiana.

Penix transferred to Washington in 2022, played in all 13 games, won 11 of them, and finished second in the nation in passing yards (4,641) and fourth in completions (362). This season was even better. He finished first in the nation with 4,648 passing yards, connecting on 66.7% of his passes for 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also added three touchdowns on the ground.

Penix’s performance earned him a trip to New York last month as a finalist for the 2023 Heisman Trophy. He finished second, behind Jayden Daniels of LSU.

Throughout Penix’s roller-coaster collegiate career, God has been his Rock and Refuge.

“First of all, I would like to thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to play this sport that I have been in love with all my life,” he said in an Instagram video announcing his return in 2023. “I would like to thank all of Husky Nation and the University of Washington for believing in me and supporting me and my teammates in this wonderful journey.”

 

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After defeating Oregon in October, Penix said, “I’ve just got to give credit to the Man Upstairs and thank God for everything He put me through and allowing me to get to the spot I am today. … I’m just so proud of this team and I just thank God for everything that He allowed me to have.”

As his team kept winning and his following kept growing, Penix kept praising God. After Washington’s second win against Oregon this season, a 34-31 decision in the Pac-12 title game that all but guaranteed the Huskies’ inclusion in the College Football Playoff, he pointed to God during the trophy presentation.

“It’s all glory to God,” he said. “I know that resonates with everybody in here. We’re just super blessed and super excited for this opportunity.”

One more giant stands in the way of a national championship for Penix and his Huskies: the 14-0 Michigan Wolverines, who are favored by 4.5 points in the title game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.

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