The magical start of Kalen Deboer’s tenure at the helm of UW football took a sharp downward turn on Friday. The combination of the team’s first road game of the year and a short week to prepare spelled disaster. The Bruins looked a step ahead in every phase of the game. They surged to a 26-10 halftime lead and hung on to win 40-32, despite a late rally by the Dawgs.
It all started innocently enough. The Dawgs drove down the field thanks to a series of Wayne Taulapapa runs. After a third down pass to Jalen McMillan fell incomplete, Michael Penix made a great throw to Rome Odunze 33-yard touchdown.
The ensuing drive was similarly positive for the Huskies. UCLA drove the length of the field before the pass rush forced Dorian Thompson-Robinson to throw away a fourth down attempt inside the ten.
Things went south quickly from that point. Taulapapa took his eyes off a pitch and had to fall on his fumble in the end zone for a safety. Despite a miraculous kickoff back to the Bruin 7, UCLA quickly drove the length of the field to go up 9-7.
Peyton Henry answered with a 50-yard FG, but that was the last bit of success for the Husky offense in the half. Michael Penix threw two uncharacteristic picks when he tried to force balls into nonexistent windows. The Dawg defense offered virtually no resistance the rest of the half. UCLA breezed their way to two more TDs and a FG. In all, the Bruins tallied a staggering 296 yards en route to a 26-10 halftime lead.
Penalties certainly played a role in the dramatic shift in momentum. But for every questionable flag- such as the Rosengarten holding that negated a first down run- there were two self-inflicted wounds- like Davon Banks’s exceptionally late hit out of bounds.
The offense settled back into a normal pace after the break. The Dawgs sustained two long TD drives early in the second half. One ended with a pass to McMillan and the other to Devin Culp. Even so, the margin for error had vanished with the large deficit, and UCLA continued to carve up a defense that struggled to cover or tackle.
Despite the early mistakes, Penix compiled a superficially impressive stat line as he clawed the team back to the fringes of competitiveness. His fourth TD pass of the day to Odunze cut the lead to a single possession with about four minutes to play. Down 40-32, the Huskies needed a quick stop to get the ball back. They forced UCLA into a pair of third downs, but could not get off the field in either case.
The most troublesome UCLA player through the night was WR Jake Bobo. The Duke transfer was open every time down the field. Bobo scored a pair of TDs and totaled over 140 yards.
Nobody reasonably expected UW to win out for the rest of the season, but this performance was troubling nonetheless. The cracks in the pass defense looked more like gaping wounds when the defensive line didn’t get different pressure on the QB. The baseline strategy of outscoring teams with an aggressive pass attack doesn’t work when Penix is just a little off his game. This team has taken major positive steps since last year. Those steps have made UW an above average Pac-12 team. To become a legitimate top-15 team will take a more effective plan B when the pass rush doesn’t get home and when Penix isn’t playing like a Heisman contender.