Kalen DeBoer said it in passing, a throwaway line with prophetic effects.
“I still feel like a huge strength of ours is getting after the quarterback,” UW’s first-year coach mentioned Monday, despite his Huskies producing just seven sacks in their first three games. “We’ll be able to do that as we go through the season, making teams one-dimensional.”
Five days later, the Husky pass rush rewarded that faith.
In a 40-22 win over Stanford in its Pac-12 opener, No. 18 Washington amassed eight pad-popping sacks — its most since a 44-6 win over Stanford in 2016. Though UW was without starting cornerbacks Mishael Powell and Jordan Perryman, an unrelenting pass rush proved inescapable. Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee was a 6-foot-6, 230-pound target — absorbing blows behind a consistently collapsing line.
And, as it so often does, defense gave way to easy offense. With 6:32 left in the second quarter, redshirt freshman Jack McCallister produced a 39-yard punt — the Huskies’ first punt in the first half this season. From his own 45-yard line, McKee took a snap, dropped to pass and was incessantly swarmed — as senior edge Jeremiah Martin pried the football away while flying by. Defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele emerged with the ball from the bottom of a pile.
At which point, the Husky offense didn’t hesitate.
Following a 9-yard completion to tight end Devin Culp, running back Wayne Taulapapa took a handoff and exploded around the left side — outrunning the Stanford secondary for a 34-yard score. It was the Virginia transfer’s longest career run, as the Husky captain produced his first 100-yard performance in 44 career games.
Oh, and Taulapapa also made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff.
A week after Penix maximized a national spotlight in UW’s evisceration of Michigan State, his running game and pass rush cut down the visiting Cardinal. The 5-11, 207-pound Taulapapa barreled forward for 120 rushing yards, 9.2 yards per carry and the aforementioned score.
Oh, and sophomore edge Bralen Trice had two sacks. Martin had the touchdown-supplying sack-fumble. Zion Tupuola-Fetui added a sack-fumble in the fourth quarter, finishing with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
As for sophomore linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala, the 238-pounder from Federal Way forcefully ejected running back Casey Filkins three yards into the backfield, then bombarded McKee for his second sack of the first half.
But Penix did his part as well. With 6:43 left in the third quarter, the strong-armed lefty unleashed a liner that wide receiver Rome Odunze corralled in tight coverage for a 30-yard score. Penix completed 22 of 37 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns, while Odunze caught eight passes for 161 yards (with a long of 61) — the first triple-digit receiving effort of the sophomore’s suddenly surging career.
The list of Husky contributors extends to Tacoma. Wide receiver Giles Jackson and running back Will Nixon each found the end zone. Senior Peyton Henry converted field goals of 47, 35, 32 and 26 yards. McCallister uncorked a 43-yard punt that was downed at the 2-yard line. Linebacker Cam Bright had a half-sack and an interception. Junior husky nickelback Dominique Hampton produced a team-high seven tackles.
The pass rush was the story. The running game was the story. Odunze was the story.
Here’s the real story: the 18th-ranked Huskies are 4-0, months after finishing 4-8.
So, you’ll be forgiven for believing DeBoer can see the future.
You may not have seen anything yet.
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