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ASU Football: A look back at Washington’s last loss and the evolution of two programs

An Arizona State team, led by interim coach Shaun Aguano and then backup QB Trenton Bourguet, remain the last team to hand Washington a loss

Syndication: Arizona Republic Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

From their own 44-yard line, Washington’s senior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. uncorked a Hail Mary pass toward the end zone one afternoon in October of 2022. With zeros on the clock and the Huskies with a final shot, Sun Devil defenders batted the ball down to the turf for the improbable 45-38 victory.

This was the last time Washington was handed a defeat, and now over a year later, the Huskies are set to face Michigan in the 2023 College Football National Championship game.

Penix, a 2023 Heisman Trophy finalist, led the Huskies to an undefeated 2023 regular season, which included a 15-7 over the Sun Devils in Seattle, and beat the Big 12 Champions Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl.

The Huskies are on the brink of their third National Championship.

It’s been quite the journey for both schools since Arizona State’s upset win.

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Interim head coach Shawn Aguano raises his first in triumph following a 45-38 victory over the then-ranked No. 21 Washington Huskies in Tempe, Ariz.
Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

How Washington’s last loss came at the hands of the Sun Devils

Arizona State’s third-straight contest against a ranked conference opponent came in early October of 2022 when the Kalen DeBoar-led Huskies came into Tempe looking to clean up their wounds suffered just a week prior in a 40-32 loss to UCLA.

It was DeBoar’s sixth game at the helm for Washington. On the opposite sideline stood Shawn Aguano, who was thrust in as interim head coach after Arizona State and former coach Herm Edwards parted ways.

Junior quarterback Emory Jones began the day under center for the Sun Devils, although his time in the game would be short following a head injury from a late hit by a Husky defender. ASU turned to their backup, homegrown quarterback Trenton Bourguet to keep up with the electrifying Penix midway through the second quarter trailing 10-3.

An 11-yard rushing touchdown from graduate student running back Xazavian Valladay tied the ballgame at 10. Valladay carried the ball 23 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns that afternoon.

The Sun Devil’s second-straight touchdown drive, capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass to Valladay out of the backfield, gave Arizona State their first lead in three weeks.

Washington’s next drive was stopped short after Penix’s pass was popped into the air and into the lap of Sun Devil junior defensive back Jordan Clark, who ran it in for the touchdown.

Arizona State took a 24-17 lead into the break and kept executing on both sides of the ball in the second half.

A busy third quarter saw both teams score two touchdowns, as both offenses made adjustments at the half. Bourguet and Penix found their grooves in the third, leading to a shootout fourth quarter with ASU leading 38-31 after three quarters.

Bourguet would finish the day 15-for-21 for 182 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Penix was 33-for-53 for 311 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

As Washington tied the game early in the fourth, Bourguet drove the Sun Devils down and completed a two-yard back-shoulder pass to sophomore receiver Elijhah Badger to make the score 45-38. Badger caught seven passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns in the game.

With under three minutes in the game, Penix and the Huskies were primed for a comeback drive. A snap over the head of Penix led to a 25-yard loss and made the comeback unlikely. With one final shot the the end zone, Penix’s pass fell to the ground and Arizona State celebrated with a new sense of optimism following a hectic beginning to the season.

Arizona State’s evolution since then

The 2022 season for Arizona State continued to lose games as the program was reeling from the ripple effect of losing a head coach in the beginning of a season.

ASU finished 3-9 in 2022 and looked to focus on a head coaching hire as well as the shift in roster and culture around the program. In November of 2022, Kenny Dillingham, the offensive coordinator at Oregon, was hired as the next head coach.

Dillingham, the youngest college coach in the FBS at 32 years old, got to work immediately, flipping the culture with his charismatic energy. Dillingham and others are in charge of a monumental turnaround of a program trying to keep up in the quickest-changing college athletic era thus far.

Since ASU’s win over Washington, the football program has virtually a new roster, an evolving NIL situation, a new conference and an unnamed athletic director.

In August of 2023, ASU, joined by Arizona, Utah and Colorado, announced its decision to leave the Pac-12 and join the Big 12 in the 2024 school year.

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Hired in November of 2022, Kenny Dillingham took over for his first season as head coach of Arizona State where he went 3-9.
Megan Mendoza/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the 2023 season, Arizona State again finished 3-9, had a depleted lineman situation all year and unstable quarterback play which led to Dillingham’s creativity being on full display as a play caller, especially toward the end. Arizona State met Washington in Seattle in 2023 in a close 15-7 finish in October. The Huskies scored their fewest points all season against the Sun Devils in the win and perhaps worst played game of the season for UW.

For ASU, the slow entry into the national scope of college football, just as Washington accomplished in the past decade, starts with stability in the athletic department and trust between coach and players, just as Chris Petersen built at Washington.

Washington’s evolution since then

The Huskies would go on to win seven straight games following the ASU loss that afternoon in 2022. Not making the Pac-12 Championship that year, the Huskies headed to the 2022 Alamo Bowl to play Texas, whom they would meet a year later in the postseason. Penix and the Huskies finished off the Longhorns in a gritty 27-20 win and finished ranked No. 8 in the country.

As for Penix, his option to play at the next level was open but was drawn back to Washington’s quest for something grander. Despite Penix leading the FBS in passing yards in 2022, being the Washington single-season passing leader and winning AP Comeback Player of the Year after ACL surgery cut his 2021 season short, he was on a mission to take Washington to the College Football Playoffs after seeing the potential the program team had.

In December, he announced his return.

In August of 2023, Washington, along with Oregon, made it official to leave the Pac-12 to join conference relatives USC and UCLA in the Big Ten. The Huskies’ final Pac-12 season was Penix’s and DeBoar’s shot at winning the whole thing. On Monday night in Houston, the pair have the opportunity to capture the moment they worked toward since they both decided to leave Indiana in 2021.

UW has the opportunity to win the Pac-10/12 its first championship since USC’s vacated national championship in 2004, the perfect ending to a perfect season.

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Texas v Washington
Washington senior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. ascended into another level of play in 2023.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Again, Penix led the FBS in passing yards in 2023 and compiled 35 touchdowns on his way to being named a Heisman Award Finalist losing out to former Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels.

The 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship will be played at 5 p.m. MST on Monday from NRG Stadium in Houston between Washington and Michigan. This will be the Pac-12’s final chance at a championship during the current College Football Playoff layout.