Coming out of a dismal 2021, finding optimism might seem like a chore for the Washington Huskies.
Jimmy Lake's hire to replace Chris Petersen after the 2019 season initially seemed like a home run to some — present company included. But Washington's inability to play for the 2020 Pac-12 championship due to COVID-19 and last season's plummet to 4-8 brought the Lake era to an unceremonious end.
With a coaching-staff shakeup, the Huskies recalibrate for 2022 under Kalen DeBoer.
1. A new offensive perspective
The primary facet holding Washington back — even in the latter Petersen years when the Huskies were still in the hunt for and winning the Pac-12 — was a stagnant offense.
Coordinator Jonathan Smith left to become the head coach at his alma mater, Oregon State, and transformed the Beavers into one of the most exciting offensive teams in the conference. Washington, meanwhile, slogged through inconsistent play both in part due to Jake Browning's lingering shoulder issues, and later, uninspired play-calling.
DeBoer helped transform Fresno State's once-stagnant offense into one of the nation's most efficient as Jeff Tedford's offensive coordinator, culminating in a 2018 Mountain West Conference championship with former Pac-12 quarterback Marcus McMaryion.
DeBoer similarly bolstered Indiana's offense in 2019 before returning as head coach at Fresno State, where — reuniting with Ryan Grubb — the Bulldogs were electrifying. Fresno State returned to the Top 25 after impressive showings against both Washington rival Oregon and likely 2022 South division contender UCLA and won 10 games last season with an offense that put up 33.4 points per game.
Grubb joins DeBoer at Washington — and so does another face familiar to the new head coach.
2. Potential in Penix
DeBoer's teams at Fresno State thrived with transfer quarterbacks who made the most of their fresh starts. Both McMaryion from Oregon State and a former Huskies quarterback, Jake Haener, were rejuvenated as Bulldogs. The same could prove true for Michael Penix Jr. at Washington.
Penix shared quarterback duties at Indiana with Peyton Ramsey in DeBoer's season with the Hoosiers and both put up solid numbers. Penix completed almost 70 percent of his pass attempts in the seven games he played and added 119 rushing yards. He followed that up with a fine start to the 2020 campaign, but injuries soon derailed him, just like they did last season.
A reunion with DeBoer gives Penix the restart he needs, and provides Washington with a proven playmaker at a position that's been a glaring question mark for a few seasons running.
3. No shortage of defensive talent
Even when things weren't going well for Washington, the talent on defense remained productive. New coordinator Chuck Morrell, a longtime NAIA head coach who joined DeBoer's Fresno State staff, inherits a side with plenty of potential playmakers.
Tuli Letuligasenoa and Bralen Trice can get into opposing backfields, Asa Turner has plenty of experience in the secondary, and a linebacker corps that relied on underclassmen last season will come into 2022 seasoned.
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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing.