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University of Washington Huskies Football

UW Huskies turn a page — thanks to a prolific passing attack — in 45-20 win over Kent State

Mike Vorel Seattle Times

It took six seconds to pop the anxiety bubble hovering like purple smoke over Husky Stadium.

If you were worried that the Jimmy Lake era hadn’t actually ended, that this was the same old Washington, that Kent State would provide season debut déjà vu, that the Golden Flashes might actually be Montana in deflating disguise, that a new coaching staff and culture and strength and conditioning program would amount to little more than a marketing campaign …

Allow Asa Turner to allay your concerns.

On UW’s first play from scrimmage on Saturday night, Turner — a fourth-year junior safety — disrupted a crossing route to intercept Kent State quarterback Collin Schlee. He transformed right then into a 6-foot-3, 201-pound fist-pumping tornado, stopping only to flip the football to a referee.

Turner added a second interception in the third quarter, and redshirt freshman safety Makell Esteen tacked on a third in garbage time.

Last fall, it took two-plus games for the Huskies to force a turnover.

But this UW team is different in more ways than one.

The Husky offense didn’t hesitate to prove that in a convincing season-opening 45-20 win over Kent State on Saturday. Virginia transfer Wayne Taulapapa proved it on the Huskies’ fourth offensive play, galloping through an oversized gap for an untouched 28-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1. UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. raised both arms to the sky as Taulapapa crossed the 23-yard line, already assured of the inevitable result.

Penix proved it again and again, completing 26 of 39 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns (as well as 27 rushing yards) in a consistently dominant UW debut. The Indiana transfer and lively lefty completed passes to nine different UW receivers, with Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan leading the way.

A third-year sophomore from Las Vegas, Odunze lit up Husky Stadium — recording seven catches for 84 yards and a 4-yard score. McMillan added five catches for 87 yards and two scores, and sophomore Taj Davis tacked on a 32-yard touchdown.

Following Odunze’s end zone trip, he actually shook hands with the referee.

For a prolific UW passing attack, it was that kind of night.

Still, this was a positive — yet imperfect — debut for Kalen DeBoer. The Huskies managed just a single Bralen Trice sack, as Schlee repeatedly wiggled out of pressure. The junior quarterback completed 12 of 24 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown, two interceptions and 47 rushing yards, and running back Marquez Cooper added a 1-yard score. UW’s cornerbacks had an uneven night, as Mishael Powell was beaten for a 47-yard touchdown and Jordan Perryman left with an injury. (He was replaced by safety Julius Irvin, which speaks to the lack of experience in UW’s cornerbacks room.)

With Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon residing on NFL rosters, UW is different — but not better — in one way at least.

The Husky special teams were also a struggle, surrendering kickoff returns of 52 and 28 yards … as well as a Giles Jackson kick return fumble.

It was not perfect.

But it was positive.

And considering the incomparable stink of a 4-8 season, this certainly smelled like something new.