Washington “underperformed” in CFP championship game loss

HOUSTON — Even after No. 2 Washington fell short in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship game, losing 34-13 to Michigan, Huskies coach Cullen DeBoer walked away confident his team was good enough to win the title.

“I know what the score looks like, but I feel like that fine line was there again tonight and we weren’t that far off,” DeBoer said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we have a good enough football team to go out there and win a national championship and we just had to make plays here and there, get over the hump and it could have been a different result.”

With Washington trailing 17-3 early in the second quarter, there was a sense at NRG Stadium that Michigan was about to lose. The Wolverines’ running game looked unstoppable while their defense prevented quarterback Michael Penix Jr. from finding any rhythm.

But the Huskies stemmed the tide. They cut the deficit to a touchdown at halftime and were poised to get the touchdown to start the second half. As one-sided as the game had been up to that point — with Michigan averaging 12.3 yards per punt — Washington had reason to be optimistic.

It was not an unusual position for Huskies to be in. They rarely trailed all season, but their last 10 wins of the season – from October 1 onwards – have almost all come in the second half. It had instilled belief that they could come up with a big play when it mattered most.

However, this time it did not happen.

“They’re a good team. We just didn’t execute when we needed to,” Pennix said. “It’s just about execution. I don’t feel they did anything – I feel we beat ourselves.

“And there were times when we definitely had opportunities to make big plays, make the game a lot different.”

Penix, who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting this season and has been a revelation in his two seasons since transferring from Indiana, took the blame on himself. He threw an interception on UW’s first play of the second half that led to a Michigan field goal, and — except for one field goal — was held the rest of the way.

Four times in the second half, UW trailed the ball by one score, and none of those drives resulted in points. “I think even just a two-score game, that’s happened a few times over the last two seasons,” DeBoer said. “I keep telling them the game will come back to them and putting another score on the board is always going to put pressure on the team because they know what we’re capable of.

“We just couldn’t get him to play here, and when we did, a penalty, maybe a punt return, holding, things like that. We just couldn’t get over the hump. We couldn’t finish drives the way we’re used to.”

Much of that is thanks to Michigan, which finished the season with the nation’s best scoring defense (10.4 points per game). The Wolverines put constant pressure on Penix, and when they did, he was just 5-of-16 for 67 yards with a pair of interceptions.

Penix finished the game 27-of-51 for 255 yards, which was his third-fewest passing yards in a game this season. However, it was also the second most passes the Wolverines allowed this season, behind the 271 they allowed to Ohio State.

The Huskies were in near-desperation mode when Penix threw his second interception — down 14 on fourth-and-13 with 4:29 left — and were completely dunked after Mike Sainristil returned it 81 yards to the Washington 8, allowing Blake Corum to score two plays later.

Washington (14-1), playing in its final game as a Pac-12 school before leaving for the Big Ten next season, was trying to win its first national championship since 1991, when it shared the title with Miami. The Huskies’ national-best 21-game winning streak also ended.

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