2022 Pac-12 Football Preview: DeBoer Keys UW Reset

Washington enters the year with a new head coach and a host of talented transfers

Posted on August 15, 2022

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

This Washington preseason football preview is the 11th of 12 to appear over as many weeks as we count down the days to the start of the 2022 Pac-12 season on September 1st.

Pac-12Each preview consists of nine sections: OverviewBest-Case ScenarioWorst-Case ScenarioWhat Should HappenWhat Must HappenGreatest StrengthBiggest ConcernDeciding Factors, and Schedule Analysis.

Nothing is set in stone, however, as rosters and depth charts continue to evolve over the summer.

Washington Huskies Fast Facts

2021 Record: 4-8, 3-6
Head Coach: Kalen DeBoer (0-0 at UW)
Offensive Coordinator: Ryan Grubb
Defensive Coordinator: William Inge & Chuck Morrell
Home Stadium: Husky Stadium (70,138) Seattle, WA
Last Conference Title: 2018 Pac-12 Champions

After posting its first losing season since 2009, Washington enters the year with a new head coach and transfers ready to shine.

It was only four seasons ago that the Dawgs made the Rose Bowl, but the program has made just one bowl game since and is 15-14 over the stretch.

None of that matters to Kalen DeBoer, though. He brings his shotgun, pass-first offense to Seattle.

The scheme rests on spread principles and utilizes plenty of pre-snap motion, getting the ball to players in space where they can do damage.

UW head coach Kalen DeBoer | Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times

The system helped lead Fresno State to a 10-3 record last season, including a victory over UCLA in Pasadena and a close seven-point loss to Oregon in Eugene.

Tasked with implementing his philosophies on a somewhat depleted roster, DeBoer brought in several key players via the transfer portal and has a strong returning wide receiver corps to work with.

It may not be as smooth of a season as some are expecting, yet Year One of the new era promises to be a building block in the revival of the Husky program.

Best-Case Scenario
A clear winner of the quarterback battle emerges and executes DeBoer’s system to perfection.

Dylan Morris, Sam Huard, and Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. are fighting for the starting role, with Morris and Huard learning the scheme for the first time.

Penix Jr. is more familiar with the concepts, having run the offense in 2019 when DeBoer was the offensive coordinator at Indiana.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. | 247Sports

Still, the winner likely ends up as the player who executes the system with the fewest mistakes.

It’s a tough competition between the three players, although the weak opening schedule provides some runway to learn under live fire.

Assuming the starting QB adapts to the offense quickly, the Dawgs could post as many as eight wins.

Washington lost its leading running back in Sean McGrew and a key backup in Kamari Pleasant, but returns Cameron Davis and Richard Newton, who combined for almost 450 yards rushing and three touchdowns last year.

DeBoer knew he needed more, however, and brought in New Mexico transfer Aaron Dumas.

Washington football pac-12Rated as a four-star transfer by 247Sports, Dumas probably ends up as the starter to provide a deadly running option when the Dawgs decide to keep the ball on the ground.

The combination of a quarterback that understands DeBoer’s offense and a running back group able to make plays leads to victories over Michigan State, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State.

The Huskies finish the year 8-4, with the losses coming on the road to UCLA, Arizona State, California, and Oregon.

Worst-Case Scenario

The slew of transfers out of the program and players moving on to the NFL is too much to overcome in DeBoer’s first season.

Tight end Cade Otton, corner Kyler Gordon, corner Trent McDuffie, and center Luke Wattenberg all were drafted, while linebacker and leading tackler Jackson Sirmon and second-leading wide receiver Terrell Bynum transferred out.

Defensive lineman Sam Taimani and backup corner Jacobe Covington jumped ship, too, transferring to Oregon and USC, respectively.

The loss of production on both sides of the ball isn’t made up for by the incoming transfers and returning players, leading to a disappointing 5-7 campaign.

Making matters worse, DeBoer is forced to go through a quarterback carousel as each of his three potential starters struggles to execute his system.

Zion Tupuola-Fetui | Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The lack of continuity under center damages the chemistry with his receiving corps, holding the group back.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line continues to struggle to slow down the run. The Huskies were 11th in the Pac-12 in run defense last season, allowing 193.6 yards per game and finishing 108th in the FBS.

Tuli Letuligasenoa and Zion Tupuola-Fetui hold their own, but the loss of Sirmon hurts more than expected.

Sophomore linebacker Carson Bruener underperforms as the lead LB, and Edefuan Ulofoshio doesn’t make up for the lost production when he returns from injury in midseason.

The result is a defense that takes a step back from last year, contributing to a second-straight losing season for the first time since 2008-2009.

What Should Happen
The defense should continue to be the hallmark of the program and maintain the image of Washington Football as an elite defensive team.

Letuligasenoa and ZTF should combine with Voi Tunuufi and Faatui Tuitele to form one of the deadlier defensive fronts in the Pac-12.

The unit should slow down opposing running backs with more consistency than last year, while also getting penetration on passing plays.

In the linebacker corps, Bruener should continue to shine and solidify himself as one of the top LB’s in the league.

Washington linebacker Carson Bruener | Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times

Supported by Ulofoshio, Pitt transfer Cam Bright, and UAB transfer Kristopher Moll, the group promises to distinguish itself as one of the deepest and most talented in the Conference.

In the secondary, safeties Asa Turner and Alex Cook form the heart and soul of the defensive backs.

FCS transfer corner Jordan Perryman contributes from Week One, while Mishael Powell and Dominique Hampton thrive under larger roles.

At the end of the day, the strength on defense leads the program to a bowl game and sets the groundwork for DeBoer to build on moving forward.

What Must Happen
The implementation of the offensive scheme is vital.

Without an effective quarterback running the system, the Dawgs might be dead in the water. Morris made too many mistakes last season, throwing 12 interceptions and landing Washington tied for 117th in turnover margin.

Those turnovers can’t happen in DeBoer’s offense.

Penix, on the other hand, wasn’t any better, throwing seven interceptions in just five games as Indiana finished the year as the third-worst team in the country in turnover margin.

Whoever ends up as the starter must take care of the ball and get it in the hands of UW’s playmakers.

The run game should be more potent under DeBoer’s command, with the pre-snap motion opening more lanes than Jimmy Lake’s scheme provided.

Offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland | GoHuskies.com

Up front, the offensive line has to, at least, remain on par with last season. Wattenberg departed for the NFL, but Jaxson Kirkland returns to lead the unit.

The group is headlined by returning starters Kirkland, Henry Bainivalu and Victor Curne, who helped engineer a front that was tied for 44th in the nation in sacks allowed per game and 46th in tackles for loss per night.

Troy Fautanu and Julius Buelow have some starting experience too, while Corey Luciano and Matteo Mele figure to be part of the rotation.

The depth up front could go far in helping to successfully transition to DeBoer’s offense.

At the same time, UW can’t go through another season struggling to stop the run.

New co-defensive coordinators Chuck Morrell and William Inge must utilize the talent at their disposal to produce a stout run defense.

Greatest Strength
Without a doubt, Washington’s wide receivers are the strength of the team.

The group is young, but has deadly threats in Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze, Giles Jackson, Taj Davis, and Ja’Lynn Polk.

Husky WR Jalen McMillan | 2247Sports

Mix in an option at tight end in Devin Culp, and the Huskies have enough pass-catchers to score plenty of points.

Lake seemingly didn’t utilize his receivers enough last year, but under DeBoer’s command the WRs should thrive.

Biggest Concern
The Dawgs’ inability to slow down the run last year is arguably the greatest cause for concern entering the new season.

Opponents ran wild on the UW defense, averaging 4.75 yards per carry. The poor run defense was juxtaposed with the elite passing defense that finished the year No. 1 in the nation in passing yards allowed per game.

UW run defense | Inside the Pylon

But the departures of Gordon and McDuffie to the NFL promise to sting in the secondary, and DeBoer must be worried about his team’s ability to replace their production.

The combined concerns in the run and pass defense are slightly negated by the talent returning in the linebacker group and along the D-Line, yet there’s some serious questions on defense that must be answered.

Deciding Factors
The Huskies landed the No. 25 transfer class, per 247Sports.

The new faces arguably have the potential to make or break Washington’s season. Penix Jr. could end up as the starting quarterback, while Bright likely forces his way into a starting role at linebacker.

Husky running back Aaron Dumas | 247Sports

Dumas appears primed to wind up as the starting running back, and Arizona State wide receiver transfer Lonyatta Alexander Jr. could crack the rotation.

If the key new faces exceed expectations, UW could be better than some expect. But if the new players falter, the Huskies could find themselves watching bowl season from home.

Yet, the production of the transfers might not matter if Washington’s D-Line remains unable to slow down the run.

Schedule Analysis
2022 Washington Huskies Schedule

 • Sept. 3 vs Kent State
Sept. 1o vs Portland State
Sept. 17 vs Michigan State
Sept. 24 vs Stanford
Oct. 1 at UCLA
Oct. 8 at Arizona State
Oct. 15 vs Arizona
Oct. 22 at Cal
Nov. 4 vs Oregon State
Nov. 12 at Oregon
Nov. 19 vs Colorado
Nov. 26 at Washington State

Despite the shocking loss to Montana last year, the season likely begins with a 2-0 start over Kent State and Portland State.

Week Three features a game that promises to be a bellwether for the remainder of the year. The Dawgs are capable of beating Michigan State, and a victory would arguably signal a strong finish to the year.

In Week Four, Washington hosts Stanford in a winnable matchup. A 4-0 start is possible, but a 3-1 mark is a more likely outcome.

The Huskies then travel to UCLA and Arizona State, both figure to end in defeat. The Bruins are strong and UW hasn’t won in Tempe since 2001.

Washington has struggled against ASU in recent years. | The Seattle Times

Arizona then comes to Seattle in what figures to end in a victory. A tough stretch of the year follows with games against California, Oregon State, and Oregon. A 1-2 mark over the three games might be in the cards.

A winnable game against Colorado in Seattle leads to the Apple Cup in Pullman. The Cougars are a wildcard entering the year, and it’s anyone’s guess who walks away with the win.

With a slate like that in front of it, Washington appears to have a floor of five victories and a potential ceiling of seven wins.

The game against the Spartans promises to define the year, but a 6-6 record with a bowl game appears to be a fair projection.

—More from Dane Miller—