Michigan 34, Washington 13
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has some in the media hyping him as a first-round pick, although many NFL team evaluators are projecting him to Day 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft. The tape from the National Championship will validate the evaluation of team executives over the media. Penix missed a number of big-play opportunities with inaccurate throws, and he left a lot of big plays on the field.
On the opening drive, Penix helped move the ball down the field, but he threw some passes behind receivers, including on third-and-goal when he had Rome Odunze open in the end zone. The ball, however, sailed out of the back of the end zone. Early in the second quarter, Penix forced a few passes into coverage and was fortunate they weren’t picked off. He had a huge play available on a fourth-down pass when Odunze was wide open down the field for a potential touchdown but Penix’s pass was inaccurate and fell incomplete. It should have gone for a 47-yard touchdown to get the Huskies back in the game, but Penix badly missed on the throw. Late in the first half, Penix threw some quick passes to move the chains, but later on that drive, he didn’t work through his progressions and threw too early for an incompletion rather than finding Odunze, who was wide open underneath, for a likely touchdown. Penix came back though to throw a dart on fourth-and-goal for a touchdown that got Washington back in the game at halftime.
On the first play of the third quarter, Penix threw a terrible pass while pressured, and the ball floated to a Michigan defensive back for an interception. On his next drive, Penix moved Washington into field goal range, but he missed a wide-open tight end down the seam for a would-be touchdown when he did not work to that read while feeling some pressure in the pocket. Later, Ja’Lynn Polk was open in zone coverage for a gain of about 20 yards, but Penix missed him badly, throwing over his head.
In the fourth quarter, Penix lofted in a 32-yard completion to Odunze on a corner post, but a penalty took the possession away. The Huskies came back though to get a long completion thanks to the Wolverines busting the coverage, and that gifted Penix and Odunze a 44-yard completion. To end the drive, Washington had to go for it on a fourth-and-long and Penix threw into a crowd of defenders for an interception that clinched the win for Michigan. On the play, Odunze was wide open to the left side of the field, but Penix threw a pass into a crowd of four Wolverines defenders, and the ball was easily intercepted. Versus Michigan, Penix completed 27-of-51 passes for 255 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Penix is a complicated evaluation for the next level. On the positive side, he has a quality arm, and when he is on, he can light up a defense. Penix can dangerously push the ball downfield, and he is very skilled at hitting back-shoulder passes along the sideline. When Penix is playing well, he is lethal along the deep sideline and can loft in some beauties. He puts air underneath his passes and will drop in very catchable balls.
Penix also shows the ability to function in the quick-passing game in the short part of the field, firing some quick bullets into smaller windows to move the ball. Penix is a patient passer who will allow routes to develop, and he doesn’t panic when he has to hold the ball. Penix also has some functional mobility to dodge the rush and pick up some yards on the ground. He has quality size and a sturdy build for the next level.
Penix comes with good intangibles as well. There is no doubt that he is a tough leader who will play hurt and gives his team everything he has. Penix faced adversity over his collegiate career and fought hard to put Washington into the college football playoff this season.
On the negative side, Penix showed ball-placement flaws over the back half of the season, and those visible repeatedly versus Michigan. At times, Penix showed he has some issues passing in the face of the rush, and when it disrupts his rhythm, that can cause him to have some passes off the mark. The Wolverines did a nice job of forcing Penix to deal with some messy pockets, which left him struggling with his accuracy. Penix definitely needs to improve his mechanics. His footwork needs a lot of development for the pro game, as it consistently leads to him having passes spray off the mark. Penix needs to improve his feet and accuracy significantly to be an effective starter in the NFL. That was given more proof in the National Championship.
Another big area in which Penix needs to improve is his field vision. Sources previously told WalterFootball.com that one of things that concerns them is Penix is either wasn’t reading coverage, or he was just throwing into it anyway because he predetermined where he was passing the ball. That will be a big problem in the NFL because it will result in interceptions versus pro defenses. Throughout the game against Michigan, Penix threw into coverage and did not work through progressions to see wide open receivers. Penix also had issues in 2023 when teams dropped large numbers in coverage and only rushed him with three or four. Taking away easy throws caused problems for Penix. For the next level, Penix is going to have do significant work in developing his field vision, working through his progressions, and making the right decision on where to pass the ball. Washington’s college offense is very basic compared to what Penix will be running as a pro.
For the NFL, Penix looks like more of a backup to start out his career. He has a quality skill set, so he has the potential to grow into being a starter. Multiple team sources have projected Penix to be a second-day or mid-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Some sources previously said they had Penix graded on the bubble between being a backup or a player with starting potential, and that is a projection for Day 2 of an NFL draft.
Odunze caught five passes for 87 yards, and Polk had four catches for 37 yards. Odunze is a big outside receiver who is very dangerous on back-shoulder and jump balls. He may not create a lot of separation from NFL cornerbacks, but Odunze is able to use his size and leaping ability to make plays. Polk, meanwhile, has some quickness as a route-runner and quality size. He could be a sleeper steal as a second-day pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Michigan defensive tackle Kris Jenkins looks like a potential first-round pick for the 2024 NFL Draft, and he produced a good performance to help his first-round hopes in the National Championship game. In the second quarter, Jenkins came close to a sack, power punching at the right guard and then using a spin move to close on Penix and force him out of the pocket. Late in the first half, Jenkins took on the Michigan right tackle and got down the line of scrimmage to the flat to make a tackle on Penix for a short gain on third-and-goal.
Jenkins is a load at the point of attack, showing the power to stuff runs. He is superb at holding his gap and preventing offensive linemen from getting a push. In the pass rush, Jenkins has upside due to his speed and athleticism. He might be more like his uncle Cullen Jenkins rather than his father, Kris Jenkins. The younger Kris Jenkins is an ascending prospect who could be a good starting defensive tackle in the NFL with three-down potential.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy made some nice plays against the Huskies, but the Wolverines also did not ask him to do too much. Entering the fourth quarter, he had only 16 pass attempts, which was due to Michigan’s game plan being focused on attacking Washington with the rushing offense. On the first drive, McCarthy showed a quick release while htting a first-down conversion with a pass to his tight end. Later on the same drive, however, McCarthy took a coverage sack when he had time to get the ball out. On his next possession, McCarthy threw a perfect strike on a play-action corner post to hit Roman Wilson on the run for a gain of 37. In the third quarter, McCarthy used his feet to run up the middle for a 22-yard gain that converted a third-and-long. McCarthy completed 10-of-18 passes against Washington for 140 yards.
Overall, McCarthy had a mixed game. He threw some good passes, but also had some inaccurate ones. Team sources said they feel McCarthy has a strong arm and throws well outside the numbers. However, they noted that his vision and instincts are issues. McCarthy has a habit of being late throwing down the middle of the field, which leads to some misses. He can also be reckless with the ball, and that was illustrated in the opening of this contest. To go along with quality arm strength, McCarthy is a good athlete and has running ability. Given the number of teams that need a starting quarterback in the NFL, McCarthy looks like a future first-rounder in the 2024 NFL Draft.