SEATTLE — Before Michael Penix Jr. ever took a snap, moved away from a pass rusher or connected with one of his wide receivers, his teammates had already put No. 8 Washington ahead by two touchdowns.
That’s a scary thought when you’re dealing with arguably the strongest offense in the country.
Rome Odunze had a punt return of 83 yards and a reception of 35 yards in the first half, Edefuan Ulofoshio returned an interception 45 yards for a score on the game’s first possession, and Washington scored 45 points to one in the first half 59-32 win over California on Saturday night.
“It’s good to help him. That’s what we’ve talked about all year, just creating plays for our offense and giving them the ball back as much as possible,” Ulofoshio said.
Washington led 14-0 before Penix ever saw the field. And when he did, Penix threw three touchdowns in the first half, setting the Huskies a school record for points in a half.
Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) made everything look surprisingly easy, leading by as many as 40 points against an opponent that has been a problem in recent years.
“It was fun. It was exciting to see the other two sides of the ball score early,” Penix said. “Definitely a fast start, and what we talk about a lot is a fast start in all phases.”
Penix played into the third quarter and finished 19 of 25 for 304 yards. He found Ja’Lynn Polk for touchdowns of 8 and 24 yards, with Polk pushing the ball against his helmet the first time he went to the turf.
Odunze followed his first-half TD catch with a 13-yard scoring reception in the third quarter on a screen pass.
Polk finished the game with eight catches for 127 yards and Odunze had five receptions for 125 yards. Washington has had at least two pass catchers receive a top 100 receiving yards in all four games this season.
“It’s just about the execution we did out there and all the work we put in on offense as a whole,” Odunze said. “It’s not just the wide receiver group. That’s the whole crime. In order for us to be able to do that, the entire offense has to be able to operate at a high level.”
The 101st meeting between the Golden Bears and Huskies was the conference opener for both and the last time the two original members of what is now the Pac-12 met as members of the same conference.
Washington and California were founding members of the Pacific Coast Conference, which began in 1916. And more than 100 years later, the Huskies and Golden Bears met for the last time before Washington left for the Big Ten and Cal became a member of the ACC.
It was an unforgettable trip for the visitors.
“I can’t say one unit played well enough. And that’s coaches and players and ultimately me,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said.
California quarterback Ben Finley was 17 of 32 for 207 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted three times in the first half. The problems for Cal (2-2, 0-1) began immediately when Ulofoshio intercepted a poor throw from Finley on the sixth play. It was the first interception of Ulofoshio’s career.
Cal was forced to punt on its next possession, and Odunze found space for the first punt return touchdown of his career.
Cal running back Jadyn Ott returned after sitting out last week against Idaho but was never able to start against Washington’s defense. Ott was held to 40 yards on 14 carries.
Finley was injured on a third-quarter interception return that was called back for a penalty, and only then did Cal switch to Sam Jackson V at quarterback. Jackson had started two of the first three games.
“Basically both guys have two games under their belt and it’s uncertain. “We need to find more consistent play at that position, and that’s the one that gets the most attention for obvious reasons,” Wilcox said.
Jeremiah Hunter and Taj Davis both had touchdown receptions for the Bears. Davis played in Washington last season.
FUN WITH NUMBERS
Washington’s 45 points in the first half tied a school record that had previously been set four times. It also tied the California record for most points allowed in a half. For the first time since 1944, Washington also scored 40 or more points in a fourth straight game in the same regular season.
THE TAKING AWAY
California: The Bears need to sort out their QB situation. Finley was shaky before getting hurt, and Jackson looked good, but against Washington’s backup.
Washington: The Huskies enjoyed another big day offensively despite wide receiver Jalen McMillan being unable to play after suffering a lower leg injury last week at Michigan State. McMillan sat on the Huskies’ sideline during the second half against the Spartans, but wasn’t in full uniform against Cal.