Jan 6, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) talks to the media during media day before the College Football Playoff national championship game against the Michigan Wolverines at George R Brown Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Penix Jr., No. 2 Washington not interested in another runner-up finish

Michigan Against Everybody is the rallying cry for the No. 1-ranked Wolverines in the College Football Playoff National Championship game Monday night.

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., the runner-up in 2023 Heisman Trophy voting to LSU’s Jayden Daniels, wouldn’t mind borrowing the mantra as the Huskies take in Houston from the vantage point of the underdog.

“I can persevere and push through any hardship that comes my way,” Penix Jr. said Saturday at CFP media day in Houston of his path to the championship game as a transfer from Indiana who rebounded from four season-ending injuries. “I just continue to lean on my faith and trust that God has a plan for me. And that’s what it was all about, just trusting in God. That’s what led me to being here today, just that trust and just understanding that it’s a bigger plan for me that I might not know or that I might not see right now.”

“I wouldn’t change anything I’ve been through for anything. I feel like it’s shaped me into the player and the person that I am today. I’m super blessed.”

A southpaw passer with 4,648 yards, 35 touchdown passes this season, Penix has only 17 interceptions in 1,058 pass attempts the past two seasons in a reunion in Seattle with former Indiana offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer.

“He’s never going to have any regrets,” DeBoer said Saturday, previously confirming the runner-up finish in the Heisman voting might’ve been part of Penix’s motivation on New Year’s Day in the semifinal victory over Texas.

“And so no regrets when it comes to leadership and wishing he would have said something and not said it,” the Washington head coach continued. “No regrets when it comes to putting in an extra hour of routes in in the summer knowing that it’s going to pay off at some point in a year in a big throw, in a big moment. I think him having perspective on all of this and not having regrets with how he handles people, the different moments that come about. I know that’s a bigger picture thing when I say no regrets, but it hits all the areas.”

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy knows Penix from his time in the Big Ten — most memorably a three-TD pass game and win over the Wolverines in 2020 — and said his Heisman vote would’ve gone to the Huskies’ QB uncontested.

“He had my Heisman vote. Not going to lie,” said McCarthy, who isn’t a Heisman voter. “Michael Penix, everything he’s been through, all the adversity, all the injuries, just continuing to stick to the process and keep pressing on, that’s something that (Michigan strength and conditioning) coach Herb (Ben Herbert) always talks about: a future favors those who press on.

“He’s the epitome of that. The player he is, the touch he puts on the ball, the accuracy, the ball placement, just a tremendous quarterback and I have so much respect for him.”

To be the last QB standing on Monday night, Penix is banking on his top-ranked offensive line to hold Michigan’s stout pass rush at bay. But it’s the Wolverines’ secondary that had Penix and his receivers talking this week.

“That whole defense — they’re good. They do a lot of good things on that side of the ball. I feel like they’re very well-coached and they have a lot of good players. And we do, too, obviously,” Penix said, adding he’s ready to ride with his side in the strength-vs-strength match.

“For me, I’m always going to believe in my guys and believe that my guys are going to be able to get the job done, no matter who we’re facing. I’m super excited for it. I know the guys are super excited for it. Come Monday, I guess we’ll see who had the better side.”

Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze suggested “transfer the Heisman Trophy” to Penix earlier in the week at the Sugar Bowl. Instead, he envisions Penix delivering another statement — and holding a trophy — when the dust settles in Houston.

“Unfortunately, I feel like the media and everybody on the outside hasn’t paid close enough attention,” Odunze said. “He’s special and he’s fought through adversity, and here he is shining on the biggest stage.”

–Field Level Media

Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9), center, and his teammates watch as confetti begins to fall after winning the Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semi-finals at the Ceasars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jan. 1, 2024. The Huskies won the game over the Texas Longhorns 37-31.

No. 2 Washington hungry, expected to be in Houston

For the 28th and final time as head coach and quarterback, Kalen DeBoer and Michael Penix Jr. take the field on Monday exactly where they expected to be — with a chance to walk away national champions.

The combination of DeBoer and Penix Jr. was introduced to a wider audience on New Year’s Day with a Sugar Bowl shootout win over Texas that pushed their record in two seasons together to 25-2. They’re 9-0 against ranked teams.

“This guy was on another mission to make sure this happened,” DeBoer said of Washington reaching the championship game.

A sixth-year quarterback, Penix Jr. has 4,648 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2023. He was 29 of 38 for 430 yards and two touchdowns in the takedown of Texas.

‘The job’s not finished. It’s definitely going to take more,” said Penix Jr., the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

Penix Jr. isn’t a new name for Michigan, and the Wolverines know the coach, too. DeBoer passed through Indiana as offensive coordinator in 2019. His current QB, the Indiana transfer Penix Jr., beat the Wolverines in Bloomington, Ind., in 2020, before one of his four season-ending injuries (torn ACL). He was 30 of 50 for 342 yards with three TD passes against Michigan.

“He’s a super great player,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Wednesday. “My impression of him at Indiana was the same. Big time arm talent. Tremendous presence. Sees the field really well. He’s so polished. Just an elite player.”

DeBoer doesn’t mind his offensive line being overlooked in the national narrative ahead of the game despite being recognized as the best in the country with the Joe Moore Award. Texas defensive lineman T’Vondre Sweat called UW’s line “nothing special.”

DeBoer continues to credit his front five with great execution of the team’s game plan. While Penix Jr. was pressured 20 times by Texas in the Sugar Bowl, he wasn’t sacked.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Michigan’s front seven set the tone for the Rose Bowl, causing quarterback Jalen Milroe to hesitate against some looks and speed up reads and throws on others.

Wolverines sophomore defensive tackle Mason Graham, defensive MVP of the win in Pasadena, stressed Michigan wants to avoid letting Penix have time to make plays in our outside of the pocket.

“Obviously Penix is a great player. I feel like they have a great offensive scheme, just a great group of guys on the offensive side of the ball that can really make plays happen, and he’s one of the ones — he is the one — that makes their offense go. It all starts with him,” Graham said.

–Field Level Media