The offensively challenged Huskies opened the 2021 season by scoring a lone touchdown in a loss to FCS Montana, an ominous sign of things to come. In continually struggling to put points on the board, they couldn't beat anyone convincingly, and the losses piled up. UW fired run-first offensive coordinator John Donovan after eight games, with head coach Jimmy Lake let go a week later.
Enter Kalen DeBoer to clean up this mess.
Few teams were more confounding than the 2021 Huskies, who were ranked 20th nationally to begin the season with a veteran roster and proceeded to do a 4–8 faceplant.
DeBoer comes to Seattle after his offense averaged 464.8 yards and 33.4 points per game at Fresno State, putting to shame UW's tepid numbers of 323.4 and 21.5. He has promised to put a high-octane offense on display, primarily by passing the football, and to reload rather than do a complete rebuild.
Previewing Washington's Offense for 2022
One of the first things DeBoer did was to hand-pick a quarterback to go with what he inherited. He added Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. to go with two-year UW starter Dylan Morris and one-time five-star recruit Sam Huard. Penix and Huard are lefthanders. All three have started at the college level. Penix, 12–5 as the Hoosiers' starter, might have the edge in comprehending the new spread offense because he ran it for DeBoer, who was offensive coordinator at the Big Ten school in 2019.
The strength of this team could be a receiver corps that returns three talented players in Rome Odunze (41 receptions), Jalen McMillan (39) and one-time Texas Tech transfer Ja'Lynn Polk. Joining them will be Taj Davis (26 receptions, 12.7 ypr), Giles Jackson, who came from Michigan last year, and Arizona State transfer Lonyatta Alexander Jr. For tight ends, the new staff described part-time starters Devin Culp and Jack Westover as "wildly athletic."
DeBoer's staff had heard how the Huskies' offensive line greatly under-performed, but he was pleasantly surprised to find a surplus of young, capable linemen. This group is headed up by two-time All-Pac-12 offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland, back for a sixth season to improve his NFL draft stock. Victor Curne and Henry Bainivalu are two-year starters, with Curne moving from tackle to guard. The new staff is enthused about redshirt freshmen Roger Rosengarten, Geirean Hatchett and Myles Murao, each of whom could be a potential starter right away.
Running back should have been well-stocked with seven scholarship players, including four from Texas, yet only two — New Mexico transfer Aaron Dumas and holdover Jay'Veon Sunday — were available during one stretch of spring practice. DeBoer brought Dumas in after watching him run for 143 yards against Fresno State. The Huskies still haven't unveiled Texas running back Emeka Megwa, who picked the UW over Alabama, passed up his high school senior year and arrived with an injury.
Previewing Washington's Defense for 2022
Playmakers abound for the UW stop unit, but the trick is to get them all healthy again. That means returning edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui to 2020 form, when he was one of the nation's most disruptive forces (7.0 sacks, three forced fumbles) and a second-team All-American. He got a late start to the 2021 season and then dealt with an Achilles injury and a concussion. A healthy ZTF makes the defense fearsome.
For two seasons, the undersized defensive line has been a problem and was largely responsible for the 193.6 rushing yards allowed per game in 2021. DeBoer and his staff got creative here by moving the space-eating Ulumoo Ale, a 6'6", 344-pounder, to the defense from offensive guard, where he appeared in all 12 games, with six starts, in 2021. He's five inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than returning starter Tuli Letuligasenoa.
Another big-play defender, linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio, remains out. He missed half of last season with an arm injury and tore up a knee in winter conditioning and is not expected back until midseason. DeBoer still has highly capable linebackers in Pittsburgh transfer Cam Bright, a 20-game ACC starter, and Carson Bruener, who replaced Ulofoshio last season and was a sensation.
The secondary needs a lot of work. Both starting cornerbacks left for the NFL Draft, and seven different players started at safety. Safety Alex Cook is back for a third season as a starter and will be the leader of this group, while Asa Turner returns for a fourth season as a part-time starter. DeBoer brought in All-Big Sky pick Jordan Perryman from UC Davis to help shore up the corner spots.
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2022
Previewing Washington's Specialists for 2022
The Huskies are set at placekicker with senior Peyton Henry, who's made 52-of-66 field-goal attempts over four seasons, and at punter with Idaho State transfer Kevin Ryan, who was fifth in FCS with a 45.6-yard average.
DeBoer will find out soon enough just how far his rebuilding project has to go when Michigan State, a Big Ten heavyweight, visits Seattle in his third game. He has 41 players who've been starters at the UW or elsewhere. He needs to crank up the offense, which is his specialty. The Huskies should be good enough to double their win total and become bowl eligible again.