In a time when the state ferry system is listing so severely that dirty cups slide off galley tables directly down into Puget Sound, when Seattle children grow up thinking plywood windows are a feature and not a bug, and when a 12-ounce coffee and a gallon of gas cost and taste about the same, life can seem a tad aggravating. So let us pause these irritating contemplations. Instead, we shall take a moment to admire perfection.
The University of Washington football team played 12 regular-season games and won them all.
What else in the local zeitgeist can claim perfection? OK, orcas. But in the category of bipedal, upright mammalian, nothing comes to mind.
What the Huskies have done is Marvel Comics movie-grade preposterous.
They’ve won their past six games by a touchdown or less, including the Apple Cup at Husky Stadium Saturday over Washington State, 24-21, on a walk-off field goal by a walk-on kicker. So dazzled was Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer that in the post-game locker room, he awarded kicker Grady Gross a scholarship on the spot. Given the professional rewards that now attend college football, a scholarship isn’t what it used to be. It’s sort of like winning a rotary-dial phone. But it’s a great souvenir he can show the grandkids.
The closeness of UW’s games is record-setting for an undefeated team, which typically in college football buries eight to 10 opponents a season, thanks to a bankruptcy of rule-making in the NCAA game that fails to induce competitive balance.
The Huskies, ranked third in the Associated Press poll released Sunday, have won eight in a row by 10 points or fewer, the longest streak in the AP poll era that dates to 1936.
Welcome, America, to University of Wallenda football.
The climax moment Saturday came late in the fourth quarter (and really, when else? This team is all about hours of foreplay). Tied at 21 but facing a fourth-and-1 crisis at their own 29-yard line with 1:11 remaining, the Huskies didn’t want to punt the ball back to the Cougars for a shot at the upset win. But they didn’t trust their straight-ahead rush game, nor the dwindling passing accuracy of star QB Michael Penix.
So DeBoer dialed up a play practiced all week but kept in a box marked, “Open Only if Needed to Cross a High Wire Moments Ahead of a Typhoon.”
Penix faked a handoff to RB Dillon Johnson. Sweeping in from Penix’s right on a reverse was Rome Odunze, who is in the conversation this season for the college nation’s best receiver, and likely is the best in UW history. Five yards behind the line of scrimmage, Odunze accepted the ball in a teensy flip-toss from Penix, whose body screened WSU defenders straining for a view of the unfolding mystery.
Suckered by the fake to Johnson, the Cougars had no one to defend Odunze’s direction.
Explained Penix afterward, “There was just a lot of (unpopulated) grass out there.”
Odunze picked up the needed yard plus 22 more, to the WSU 48-yard line. That was the critical play to set up Gross’s game-winner at :00, although WSU fans will forever insist that a subsequent moment, a 15-yard penalty on WSU for roughing the passer, was more significant — and unjustified. The Cougars were indeed correct, but when up against a team that buys its fairy dust (look it up on the rare-earth periodic table) by the boxcar, it is best to not give random misfortune a chance to disrupt.
Washington’s 19th consecutive triumph made for the only unbeaten conference season in the Pac-12 era (the Huskies were 11-0 in 1991 when it was the Pac-10). After DeBoer’s surprising rookie-season record of 11-2 in 2022, the 2023 outcome can’t be regarded as a shock. But going back one more year to the 4-8 mark under the fired coach Jimmy Lake, including the first loss to Montana in a century, the word shock is warranted. Some of the mystery would be solved if we were to learn the amount of NIL money sent in the direction of Penix and others. But since big-time college sport is as transparent and awkward as burlap underwear, the purple public is more than blissful in its ignorance about how this magic came about.
Agent K (Tommie Lee Jones) probably didn’t know he was talking about college football’s recent descent into financial madness when he put it so deftly in the Men in Black trilogy: “There’s always an Arquillian battle cruiser, or a Corillian death ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they do not know about it!”
While ignorance is durable, perfection is almost always fleeting. There is always one more game. And the bookies tell us that the Huskies are nine-point underdogs in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night in Las Vegas against 11-1 Oregon. The Ducks’ lone blemish is the 36-33 loss in a high-intensity slugfest at Husky Stadium Oct. 14. Since then, they have won out in a form much more ferocious than the Huskies. On Friday, they dispatched at home rival Oregon State 31-7, the team that nearly spoiled UW’s season before succumbing, 22-20.
The comparative-scores trope has often proven unreliable as a predictor. Yet fairy dust and a mastery of the high wire are hardly staples of success in college football, either. It is indisputable, however, that perfection is rarely seen, much less sustained. Appreciate the week, sports fans, and hope that DeBoer gets the chance to go naked on the tightrope one more time.