Jalen McMillan rose to the challenge.
Tired cliches notwithstanding, that’s literally what he did.
Last Wednesday, UW associate head coach and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard was asked about his undeniably talented sophomore wide receiver — whose breakout 2022 season had been dotted with a few unfortunate drops.
“There’s no question about it: J-Mac is a high-level player, and he expects to make those plays,” Shephard said, three days before UW’s stunning 37-34 upset of then-No. 6Oregon. “I think when those opportunities come up, he’ll make them. Certainly we’ll do some things differently in the offseason to try and help him. We’re doing all the little things now to help him. But it’s very uncharacteristic of him, really, to be honest about it.”
The real McMillan showed up Saturday.
With 4:02 left in the second quarter, in a 10-10 tie, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. took a shotgun snap, faked a handoff and unleashed a laser high over McMillan’s helmet. Oregon defensive back Christian Gonzalez, who was positioned behind McMillan, appeared to come down with an interception.
But in a moment of “competitive stamina” — Ryan Grubb’s words — McMillan ripped the ball away for a 34-yard gain.
“McMillan comes away with it!” bellowed disbelieving Fox announcer Jason Benetti. “Oh my goodness, he wrestled it away from Gonzalez!”
That catch led to a Peyton Henry field goal, the eventual difference in a three-point win. The 6-foot-1, 186-pound McMillan — who has recorded 57 catches, 792 receiving yards, 13.9 yards per catch and six touchdowns in 10 games — led the Huskies with eight grabs for 122 yards.
None more instantly iconic than his midair wrestling match.
“I know in some of the plays he hadn’t made and the drops he had, he was the first one to say, ‘I’ve got to make those catches, coach. You’ve got to be able to count on me in those moments,’” said Grubb, UW’s first-year offensive coordinator. “Honestly, I never thought about averting the football away from him, because I’ve seen him make those kind of catches from spring ball till now. So we’ve got a ton of trust, and obviously so does Mike (Penix).
“He tried to frame him with the ball and let J-Mac make a play, and honestly the kid (Gonzalez) made a tremendous play. The ball was a little bit high. He came up over the top of J-Mac. We showed that play quite a few times in the offensive meeting yesterday and just talked about the competitive stamina it takes when you’re in the middle of that, and how J-Mac never quit on the ball. Some guys would feel somebody come over the top and initially make the catch and just kind of crumble under the weight of the defender. J-Mac literally fought until the last second and took the ball away. It was a phenomenal play, and I thought that was something that really sparked us.”
A controversial injury stoppage
With 14 seconds left and zero timeouts Saturday, Bo Nix rolled left and found Oregon wide receiver Kris Hutson — who was tackled in bounds after gaining 12 yards and a first down. Because the completion moved the chains, the clocked momentarily stopped with six seconds left — but should have restarted once the ball was set.
Hutson stood up.
Then, after tight end Terrance Ferguson appeared to say something to him, he sat back down.
The clock stayed stopped while trainers charged the field to assess Hutson’s injury, allowing the Ducks time to get set and organize a play. After his right knee was stretched out, Hutson walked off on his own power. He was shown receiving a bottle of water — rather than additional medical attention — after reaching the sideline.
Given the extra time it afforded Oregon, plus Hutson’s near-immediate recovery, UW fans immediately questioned the legitimacy of the injury.
And it appears they were not alone.
“Yeah. No comment,” UW co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell said of the injury stoppage. “I don’t think I can say anything on that. I’ll give you my true feelings on it someday.”
Added coach Kalen DeBoer, when asked if he saw Hutson sit on the turf near the home sideline: “That’s what we see, too. It’s just one of those things. What can you do? The officials have to acknowledge (the injury). I don’t want to be insensitive. If there’s an injury, that’s part of the game. Those things happen. I know those things are always looked at from a league level, and it’s a part of college football that we get into in our discussions in the offseason.
“But the officials have to acknowledge and honor that it’s an injury. As a coach, I guess that’s the way I have to (approach it), too. Just the timing of it is hard because you know the clock would have started. It is what it is. You know, fortunately we were on the right end of it. We’re talking here today with a victory. So I hope he’s OK.”
When asked if he submitted the play to the Pac-12 office, DeBoer said: “I think they’re certainly well aware. From an official standpoint and everything, those things certainly happen in reviewing each and every game.”
An onside kick tip off
Oregon notably recovered a surprise onside kick during its win over UCLA on Oct. 22
When the Ducks tried it again Saturday, the Huskies were not surprised. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Lonyatta Alexander Jr. recovered the kick and UW quickly converted the possession into a Henry field goal to take a 13-10 lead.
“They came out with some jersey numbers in different spots for that kickoff,” DeBoer noted, before adding, “There were some indicators that something fishy was up and we needed to be ready.”
- UW took home a slew of weekly awards Monday — as DeBoer was named Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week for the second time this season, Penix was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, senior center Corey Luciano took home Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week honors and senior kicker Henry repeated as Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week.
- Starting cornerback Jordan Perryman — who left Saturday’s game in the first quarter and did not return — is day to day, per DeBoer. Redshirt freshman corner Vom Banks — who didn’t make the trip to Eugene — is out for the season with an injury. “I don’t anticipate (Perryman) practicing early in the week but as the week goes on my hope is he would be out there playing on Saturday,” DeBoer said.
- The Apple Cup on Nov. 26 has been placed on a six-day hold to determine the kickoff time and channel. It will either be played at 12:30 pm and be broadcast on ABC or ESPN, 1 pm on the Pac-12 Network or 7:30 pm on ESPN. The decision will be announced Sunday.