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University of Washington Huskies Football

2022 football preview: UW hits the stage with a new lineup led by an exciting new duo – coach Kalen DeBoer and QB Michael Penix Jr.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. played four seasons at Indiana before transferring to Washington.  (Jennifer Buchanan/Seattle Times; Staff photo illustration)
By Dave Boling For The Spokesman-Review

For context, a brief recap of the grim 2021 season: The Washington Huskies opened their football season with their first loss in history to an FCS team (Montana) and wrapped it up with a 40-13 shellacking by their in-state rival Washington State. In between, they won just four games and agreed to shell out $9.9 million to be rid of their head coach, Jimmy Lake (a former player at North Central High and Eastern Washington).

The Huskies had gone 7-6 in 13 games under Lake, in just his second season, before he was suspended for a sideline incident in November and ultimately fired.

As a replacement, UW hired Kalen DeBoer, from Fresno State, who earned acclaim as a head coach in the NAIA ranks, and as an FBS assistant, but has just two seasons’ experience as a head coach in a non-Power 5 program.

So, 2022? Yeah, reasonable doubt. Lots of it.

Left tackle Jaxson Kirkland was the only Husky named to the preseason All-Pac-12 Conference first team. To boost the talent level, DeBoer brought in some key players via the transfer portal, particularly quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana) and running back Wayne Taulapapa (Virginia). Both had been team captains at their former schools. Late in training camp, DeBoer named Penix his starting quarterback.

Side A (offense): DeBoer conducted a three-way quarterback race in camp with Penix competing against last year’s primary starter Dylan Morris, and promising redshirt freshman Sam Huard. Penix is an intriguing pass/run threat who was limited by knee and shoulder injuries. But, when healthy, his potential is witnessed by his 2020 effort on the road against Ohio State when he passed for 491 yards and five touchdowns.

Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan are the leading returning receivers, while Taulapapa appeared to be earning consideration as the lead running back in the preseason.

Side B (defense): The defense finished 23rd in the nation in total yards and 36th in scoring last season, but stopping the run was a chronic weakness. Six starters lost off that unit include cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, drafted in the first two rounds to the NFL. UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman, an FCS all-American, brings immediate help to the secondary.

Returning is edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who was limited by injuries in 2021, but was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2020 with seven sacks.

Extras (special teams): Returning senior Peyton Henry connected on 11 of 14 field goal tries last season, but the Huskies have to replace punter Race Porter (48.5-yard average). Idaho State transfer Kevin Ryan (45.6 average) has been brought in to tend to those duties.

Surprise hit: Massive (6-6, 335) offensive guard Ulumoo Ale was moved in the offseason to the defensive line to help shore up the Huskies rush defense. UW has had success with big men at that position, and Ale could be the next.

Producer: Coach Kalen DeBoer spent the past two seasons at Fresno State.

Album review: The Huskies need to score points and stop the run. DeBoer’s offenses have been high-powered, but the Pac-12 isn’t the Mountain West. A middle of the Pac finish would feel like a step forward, and Penix should bring some excitement to the offense.

Prediction: 6-6