Washington Football: seven predictions for the 2022 Huskies
Spring ball is over. The dog days of summer are upon us. That means it’s talkin’ season. Time to make predictions that will be laughably wrong and go out on completely unnecessary limbs all in the name of giving Freezing Cold Takes more Twitter fodder.
Here are seven predictions about the 2022 Washington Huskies. Please save them for future enjoyment.
Teams already covered: Oregon, Utah
Two quarterbacks each attempt at least 100 passes
As it went in the Huskies’ spring preview event, Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. handled the first offensive drive of the game. Second-year freshman Sam Huard went next. Fourth-year sophomore Dylan Morris was the third quarterback up. Washington rotated back and forth between the three, but that appeared to be the pecking order entering the event.
Huard seemed to have the best day. Penix would seemingly have the most comfort within this playbook of Kalen DeBoer’s—given that he learned it in 2019 while the two were together at Indiana—but some of the on-field kinks in Penix’s game with the Hoosiers look to have made the westward move with him. Morris, despite being the starter for 11 of the Huskies’ 12 games last season, certainly looked like the No. 3 option. Whichever way DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb lean, however, it feels fair to question whether we’ll see multiple guys man the quarterback spot in-season.
Maybe that’s because Washington wants to use the opening few games as a way to see which guy runs the show best when the bullets are flying for real. But you also have to factor into the equation the fact Penix hasn’t played more than six games in a season yet during his career. The 2019 campaign was cut short by injury after six games. The 2020 campaign was cut short by injury after six games. The 2021 campaign was cut short by injury after five games. In each year, Indiana was a poor-to-mediocre pass-blocking team; Penix was pressured on 33% of his 606 career dropbacks at IU, according to PFF. Perhaps he can stay healthy if he gets more help from his blockers.
Aaron Dumas goes over 800 all-purpose yards
The New Mexico transfer had 658 rushing yards as a freshman last season for the Lobos. When he entered the transfer portal, Washington held appeal for a number of reasons, including the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back was in a backfield timeshare at New Mexico and with all the bodies in UW’s running back room, he might find himself in another by-committee approach next season, but he has the ability to rise to the top. As a threat in both the run and pass game, Dumas proves too valuable to keep off the field too long.
The secondary takes a step back, but the run defense is better…
Last season, the Huskies’ pass defense ranked first nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt, fourth nationally in explosiveness allowed, and 11th nationally in success rate allowed. At the recent NFL Draft, both standout corners—Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon—were off the board after the first 40 selections. That was a lockdown kind of secondary.
The problem: team’s didn’t have to throw at Washington to move the ball.
Despite an elite passing success rate allowed, UW ranked 80th nationally in overall success rate allowed. Opposing teams’ success rate on rushing attempts? Fifty percent. That ranked 121st. And teams game-planned accordingly. Only seven defenses were run on more often than Washington.
Sure, one could say Washington’s secondary looks better on a spreadsheet because the sample size was smaller than with other teams. That’s more than fair. But don’t take away from the talent in that secondary. A lot of it needs replacing. Five guys played at least 200 snaps in coverage. Four of them are gone. Safety Alex Cook is the only returner. He and Asa Turner look to be the safeties. Mishael Powell and UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman appear to be the corners. That looks like a group with a relatively high floor, but we shall see.
It seems like almost a given the pass defense will take some kind of step back from its 2021 output. The front seven looked better in the spring. DeBoer said as such. If they aren’t a turnstile front in 2022, the Huskies will be tested more through the air just for that fact alone.
Keeping Zion Tupuola-Fetui healthy and getting Edefuan Ulofoshio back will be important. But UW has added quite a bit of intriguing defensive talent. UAB transfer Kris Moll might be one of the better gets of any Pac-12 team this offseason. He and Cam Bright make for a promising tandem at linebacker.
… and that leads to a more efficient overall defense
Hard to be as bad as UW was last season again. Co-defensive coordinators William Ing and Chuck Morrell should bring a little more nastiness to the table. Washington was able to generate some pressure from base four-man looks during its spring exhibition. I’m anxious to see who mans that “Husky” spot—UW’s hybrid nickel ‘backer.
“Early on, I felt like our run defense was maybe a little bit not where I wanted it, but the last two or three weeks I really think we’ve gotten a lot better,” DeBoer told reporters after the spring. “I like where we’re at there. Our pass-rush has been super consistent all spring long. It’s been hard to handle the edges. You saw that again today. … Those are some of the areas we’ve really shored up.”
Kalen DeBoer proves himself to be a top-six coach in the league immediately
This is just a gut feel kind of thing. It’s not just that DeBoer gives off “will sit and talk with you for an hour” Cool Football Guy vibes. It’s not even that when he drops a zinger, it’s done in such a way where you have to stop and immediately question, “Was that inside zone comment… was that what I think it was…? Surely he knows what he’s doing… right?” And it’s not even that DeBoer seems perfectly content wading into the background to work while Lincoln Riley and Dan Lanning take on the cameras at the front of the carousel.
No, the thing that makes you confidently say, “Oh, this dude has it,” is when a reporter asks the 47-year-old where Washington Husky fans should place expectations for their favorite program as it enters into a new era of football under its new coach. “I don’t know anything other than trying to compete for a championship,” DeBoer said.
Doesn’t happen right away, and UW has a ways to go. But DeBoer knows football and he knows winning football. This NAIA guy has a career 79-9 record as a head coach. He’s been named a Coach of the Year three times apiece by two different awarding bodies. He won three NAIA national championships in 2006, 2008, and 2009. In 2005, his first year at Sioux Falls, he won 11 games and went to the NAIA semifinals. Over the next four years, the only loss Sioux Falls suffered in 57 games was in the 2007 NAIA national championship.
His first year as a Division I head coach featured a pandemic that destroyed his preseason and shortened the regular season to just six games. Fresno won three of them. Then the Bulldogs went 9-3 last season with a top-30 offense by SP+ and a quarterback who threw for 4,096 yards and 33 touchdowns. He’s found success everywhere he’s been. There’s no reason to think UW will be any different at this point.
Washington wins a game it shouldn’t
If it has the coaching component down, then it would stand to reason DeBoer can out-scheme someone and catch a team looking over Washington. It feels like a 3-2 start to the season is well within reach.
Washington’s recruiting rebounds, but not in time for this cycle
There were six blue-chip prospects from the state of Washington for the 2022 cycle. Five of them left the state. Two of them went to Oregon, including the only 5-star. In total, Washington only kept three of the state’s top 25 prospects in the 247 Composite. Washington State signed five.
In the 2023 class, the state’s only 5-star is taking an official to Oregon in June and being courted by the Georgias and LSUs of the world. The 15th-ranked running back in the class, from Lake Stevens, has Oregon and Arizona in his final four and no Washington. Gabarri Johnson, a 4-star quarterback from Tacoma and the only blue-chip quarterback in the state for the cycle, committed to Missouri and former UW assistant Bush Hamdan.
UW isn’t going to completely lock down the state’s borders, as more talent from the area has shown a willingness to leave. If you’re good enough to be recruited by Georgia and Alabama, sometimes it’s just hard to say no. But long-term success for this new coaching staff will have to include a markedly better success rate recruiting the state’s best talent than what their predecessors had. In that regard, UW might be better positioned for the 2024 and 2025 classes to start rebounding. DeBoer and his staff weren’t recruiting the state while they were at Fresno. They are now. They were really behind with the 2022 class and that showed in the 247 class rankings. But they also started out a little behind their peers for the 2023 cycle when it comes to building relationships. Don’t overreact to the 2023 class—which will have a lot to do with what the on-field product looks like in the fall—because the 2024 group is going to be the one that answers some questions.