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Sports >  UW football

Commentary: UW Huskies will soon answer their most important offseason question – who starts at quarterback

UPDATED: Sun., April 17, 2022

Washington backup quarterback Sam Huard, left, takes a snap during warmups as starting quarterback Dylan Morris (9) looks on before an NCAA college football game against Washington State, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Seattle.   (Associated Press)
Washington backup quarterback Sam Huard, left, takes a snap during warmups as starting quarterback Dylan Morris (9) looks on before an NCAA college football game against Washington State, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

Yes, it’s the middle of April. The revitalized Mariners won their home-opening series over the Astros. The Kraken just brought up the No. 2 overall pick in Matty Beniers, who scored in his second NHL game. The Storm are less than a month from their regular-season debut, the Sounders are six games into their MLS season, and organized team activities are on the horizon for the Seahawks.

So naturally, it’s time to talk about Huskies football – more specifically, who will win the starting quarterback job. Washington football coach Kalen DeBoer is a few months away from what might be the most important decision of his career. Hiring coordinators and other assistants is one thing, but it doesn’t compare to the task of putting the most fitting signal -caller in place.

This isn’t going to be easy. And the right choice vs. the wrong one may be the difference in Washington returning to prominence after last year’s depressing 4-8 finish. But who’s it going to be?

The most hyped man, of course, is five-star recruit Sam Huard. The southpaw dominated foes while at Kennedy Catholic in Burien, finishing his career with over 13,000 passing yards and 153 touchdown passes. Calls for his insertion into the starting lineup last season seemed ubiquitous, as frustrated Husky fans felt the phenom could provide the necessary jolt to Washington’s lackluster offense. And after former UW coach Jimmy Lake was fired midseason, interim coach Bob Gregory answered those calls – starting Huard in the Apple Cup at Husky Stadium. But was that the right call?

Huard didn’t light up the Cougars the way he did his high-school opponents. He finished that game 17 of 31 passing for 190 yards along with four interceptions. The game ended in a 40-13 victory for Washington State, with Cougs QB Jayden de Laura planting the school flag on the Huskies home field after the victory. Has Huard made enough progress since then to win the starting job?

After all, the man he replaced in that final game last year – Dylan Morris – is returning. And he has three more years of eligibility. No, Morris hasn’t been a world-beater in his time at Washington. He wasn’t in the conversation for All-Pac-12 honors last year. But he was effective at times. I still contend that had coaches not removed Morris during certain possessions against Arizona State and Colorado – both of which resulted in narrow Husky losses – UW could have made a bowl game last season. And though Dylan was certainly not immune to turnovers – he had 12 interceptions in 11 games last season – it’s unlikely he would have thrown four picks against Washington State.

He isn’t as glamorous a prospect as Huard. Fans don’t salivate at the thought of him starting. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t give the Huskies the best chance at success.

Then, of course, there is Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. It’s no accident that he found his way to Washington. DeBoer worked with Penix when DeBoer was offensive coordinator with the Hoosiers.

Penix’s stats aren’t gaudy. He has never played more than six games in a season. But in limited time, he has been impressive – most notably in his second year at Indiana when he completed 110 of 160 passes and tossed 10 touchdowns against four interceptions. Put Penix up against a proven QB and he’s almost certainly destined for a backup role. Put him up against Huard and Morris – who are no doubt talented but have gaps in their résumés – and he has a chance to win the job.

Like it or not, quarterbacks are everything in the modern game. It’s almost impossible to compete for a conference title or prestigious bowl bid without a star behind center. I’m not sure if the Huskies have a star. But they likely have a QB who can allow them to contend against some of the more heralded Pac-12 programs.

We don’t know a whole lot about DeBoer yet. Yes, he was successful at Fresno State. Yes, he can be engaging at news conferences. But none of that separates him from any other coach who has gotten his long-awaited shot at a Power Five school.

The Huskies are five months away from starting their season. And no doubt there are position battles in every corner of the field. But the quarterback is who’s likely to make or break this program next season. It might make or break DeBoer’s future on Montlake as well.

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