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Duck Dive: Washington Football 2023 Preview

Going deep with the Huskies’ scheme, returning personnel, and unknowns

Valero Alamo Bowl - Washington v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Special thanks to BT of the Dawg Pod for joining me on the Quack 12 Podcast to discuss the Huskies’ roster. LISTEN HERE


Washington finished head coach DeBoer’s first season in Seattle with the 8th ranked offense in F+ advanced statistics, a major jump from 2021’s anemic performance. It’s a volume passing offense that had the fourth most pass attempts per game in the FBS last year … among Power-5 teams only Mississippi State’s Air Raid, led by the late Mike Leach, threw the ball more. In 2023 the Huskies return everyone who made that happen – the starting QB and his primary backup, the top four wide receivers, and the entire coaching staff.

Former Indiana transfer #9 QB Penix had his best passer rating since 2019 at 151.3, and for the first time in his career thankfully stayed healthy and played in every game. For the relatively small amount of time he did miss, he was capably relieved by the starter from the previous two seasons, #5 QB Morris. Both return and there’s no reason to expect any change to their arrangement or production.

Redshirt freshman legacy 5-star Sam Huard transferred out, who was the only other quarterback on scholarship. Low 4-star Austin Mack will enroll in the Fall, but for now the third guy in the lineup appears to be unrated Juco #19 QB A. Johnson who was practicing in Spring. There are also three other walk-ons in the room, but they’re pretty young and I didn’t see any of them in the Spring game. It’ll be interesting to see whether Johnson’s playing and practice experience or Mack’s talent and future gets the spot behind Morris after Fall camp, though it’s probably academic since Morris is so adept at avoiding contact himself.

Oregon State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Huskies return a pair of thousand-yard receivers in #11 WR McMillan and #1 WR Odunze, on whom almost all of the offense was focused last year. In 2022 they had two other taller outside receivers I thought were somewhat underutilized; of them #2 WR Polk returns as the third-leading receiver but Taj Davis has transferred to Cal. They also return their primary slot receiver, #0 WR G. Jackson, who’s the fourth leading receiver, though in the structure of this passing tree the slot guy is used more situationally than anything else.

There appear to be two candidates to replace Davis’ production: mid 3-star redshirt freshman #12 WR Boston who got in a few reps last year plus had some fun plays in the Spring game and is the tallest guy in the room at 6’4”, and low 4-star Michigan State transfer #4 WR Bernard who only got seven catches in 12 games for the Spartans last year but BT said has generated some buzz in Spring practices. I’m not sure it matters much – I doubt anyone will displace McMillan or Odunze and the dropoff to third place in Penix’s passing preferences is a steep cliff.

I haven’t seen putative returner and former King County 4-star #15 WR Tinae since I spotted him in street clothes on the sideline in the bowl game; he didn’t show up on film at all last season or the 2023 Spring game and there have been no practice reports about him, nor have typically incurious local media followed up. Another Seattle-area 4-star, Junior Alexander, has transferred out after recording a single catch for nine yards (exceeding his production at ASU where he originally signed, however).

UW took three freshmen receivers in the 2023 cycle, all from California, who’ll arrive in the Fall: low 4-stars Taeshaun Lyons and Rashid Williams plus mid 3-star Keith Reynolds. Given the experience and production ahead of them I expect each to redshirt.

I charted all of the Huskies’ FBS games and the most impressive aspect was the explosive passing offense – excluding garbage time, they averaged slightly over 8.0 adjusted YPA and about 19.5% of attempts gained 15+ yards, which are both great numbers. (I saw the same thing when studying DeBoer’s Fresno State teams the previous two seasons, since Oregon opened with the Bulldogs in 2021 and they played a number of Pac-12 teams I was studying anyway.) However, UW was just an above-average efficiency passing offense in 2022, at about a 52.5% per-play success rate on designed passing plays (246 successes vs 222 failures, given the down & distance).

There are a few things going on here. One factor, not a huge one but enough to move the needle a couple points, is that they were slightly underwater on screen passes at only about 49% per-play efficiency – that happened for a wide variety of reasons about which an entire separate article could be written; suffice it to say they just didn’t execute screens at nearly the same high level that they did downfield passing.

The major factor dragging down their per-play passing success rate is incompletions, which constituted about three-quarters of their failed designed passing plays - about 35 more in absolute terms than their otherwise championship-caliber statistical profile would have predicted. From charting, I break incompletions down to 16.5% from receiver error (there was a rash of drops), 27.5% quarterback error (no real pressure, just a poor throw), and the remaining 56% stemming mostly or entirely from poor protection forcing bad passes or throwaways (though to be fair to his blockers I think Penix gets rid of the ball a little more readily than the average QB).

The other statistical discrepancy is that while this was the 2nd most productive offense in total yards per game in raw stats, it was only the 43rd ranked in redzone touchdown rate. Switching to drive-based analysis, the Huskies had a 44.5% full-field touchdown rate (36 TDs on 81 FBS possessions starting on their own 40 or farther, outside garbage time), which in my experience is pretty decent but still leaving a lot of points on the table. Subjectively, I noticed smarter defenses trying to slow UW down as opposed to stop them entirely, and then get them to kick field goals in the redzone, a strategy BT and I discussed extensively on the podcast.

Breaking down my tally sheet further, what becomes obvious is how much of a buzzsaw this passing offense is between the 20s – their play selection on 1st & 10 is identical to any 2nd or 3rd down long- or even medium-yardage situation, which is the same passing tree constructed of runaway routes, as well as putting DBs in conflict over the deep middle as BT described on the podcast. In other words, outside the redzone they play every down except short-yardage as if it’s 3rd & long and just chuck it, so they’re unfazed when they’re actually in 3rd & long.

However, their passing pattern is simply not as effective in the redzone where the defense compresses. Their overall per-play success rate falls a whopping nine percentage points on plays snapped inside the 20-yard line compared to plays snapped between the 20s, including a massive drop of over 13 percentage points with just designed passing plays.

I spent a lot of time on the podcast grilling BT about the tight end room for this reason – the typical way that pass-heavy coaches (with the exception of Air Raid purists, which this offense isn’t) address redzone efficiency is by re-routing to the tight ends, since size mismatches can neutralize the positional advantage that defenses regain inside the 20. For four years UW had a great TE who could do just that, Cade Otton, but he was drafted in the 4th round last April, and in my opinion the Huskies didn’t have anyone in 2022 who could replicate that skillset.

The leading pass-catcher in the unit is former walk-on #37 TE Westover. He’s a couple inches shorter and less athletic, though as BT observed a crisp route-runner and defenses seem to forget about him. I’d describe him more of a possession receiver than anything else and not a dominant touchdown-generator (I also worry about his health on hard blocks, and he’s been out this Spring with an injury).

There are a couple of high 3-star upperclassmen returning, #83 TE Culp and #88 TE Moore. The latter mostly blocked, but Culp has been targeted a lot over the years … just not very productively. BT mentioned an issue with drops which I noticed too, but I mostly think his speed, route running, and ability to defeat a defender just aren’t elite. Low 4-star #87 TE R. Otton (younger brother of Cade) redshirted last year; from what little I’ve seen I think he’s got a much higher ceiling than Culp, but I spent a long time interrogating BT about him because I thought it was so strange he didn’t play a single snap last year despite no word of injury … there’s been nothing in practice reports highlighting him, and he didn’t play in the Spring game until 10 minutes left in the broadcast with the third unit (and that’s with Westover held out).

Another possibility is the transfer #85 TE Cuevas, who came in from FCS Cal Poly. Cuevas was unrated out of high school but generated a lot of receiving yards last year, and 24/7 rated him a .90 value as a transfer. BT and I are both a little skeptical; we had the same thought watching him which is that he looks kind of small – he’s listed as 6’3” 236 lbs, same as Culp, which isn’t great by TE standards and even then I think an exaggeration in his case. I also charted Cal Poly’s final game against Portland State last year (the Vikings play the Ducks in 2023) and I can say there’s a reason that team went 2-9, they only had two guys who could catch a football and Cuevas’ stats are probably goosed a bit.

Washington v Arizona State Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The running backs lose their primary ballcarrier, Wayne Taulapapa, who got 140 carries at a remarkable 6.3 YPC. That’s much better than I was expecting given his previous record at Virginia and for how long he’d been playing ball, and even more impressive was what both BT and I noticed which is how well he blocked in pass protection – he played a lot bigger than his measurements might indicate. A couple younger players who didn’t really see the field transferred out, Jay’veon Sunday and Aaron Dumas who’d previously come in from New Mexico.

The unit returns the second leading back, #22 RB C. Davis, a low 4-star from the 2019 cycle. For a long time I’ve thought Davis was the best talent they had in terms of combining power and speed, but he’s struggled to break out of a crowded room and his career has been snakebit with fumbles and other unfortunate plays. Several other less-used backups also return, the most significant probably being redshirt senior #6 RB Newton – he’d been their bruiser back since 2019, though he’s battled injuries and missed Spring practices so I didn’t get to see him, and with the staff turnover I think he may have fallen out of favor.

The two portal additions are #7 RB D. Johnson from Miss St and #21 RB Ngata from ASU. I’d describe Johnson as the 1B of a two-back system in Starkville, he looked fine in the couple of games I saw him in (various transfer projects have had me watching a lot of 2021-22 SEC film) though the Air Raid doesn’t use backs in pass-pro so I don’t know anything about him in that respect. I think Ngata is pretty talented but has had the misfortune of being behind some really great backs at ASU the last three years without an opportunity to shine. Sadly both were hurt this Spring so I didn’t get to see how they stack up to Davis, who BT has picked as his bet for the primary back.

I’m most interested to see how they replace Taulapapa’s blocking ability since that’s how this offense butters its bread, as they were ranked 118th in raw stats in rushing attempts per game. Furthermore, the Huskies really only ran the ball in short-yardage situations – 67% of playcalls were rushes with 3 yards or fewer to go, but only 30% with 4 yards or more to go – and on such plays the ballcarrier is kind of interchangeable (there’s a reason advanced stats like ALY don’t start crediting the back until they get to the second level). I think that this team not being inclined to pound it between the tackles contributed to the redzone issue, since that’s one of the primary ways offenses open up defenses to score down low, and in fact their per-play rushing efficiency dropped more than seven percentage points inside the 20 compared to between the 20s. But I think that’s a matter for playcalling and the offensive line, not really something the backs can solve.

The offensive line returns both of last year’s starting tackles, #55 LT Fautanu and #73 RT Rosengarten. It was the first year getting any reps outside of garbage time for the latter, but the former had played three games in 2021 replacing injured starters. Both of them graded out in the mid teens in terms of blocking error rates on my tally sheet which is about Pac-12 average and a bit worse than their 4-star pedigrees would have predicted, and I continue to think the short-setting method that OL coach Huff teaches is an aberration in the coaching world for a reason.

I don’t think any of these issues are too significant, however. The offense doesn’t mind being in 3rd & long and the ball is generally out of the QB’s hand quickly enough in the structure of the passing game, with options to roll away from edge pressure towards runaway routes, such that the rate of breakdowns from the outside doesn’t keep the Huskies from marching the field. It’s not accurate to say that they keep the pocket perfectly clean, but given everything else in the offense — especially Penix’s unflappability – Fautanu and Rosengarten keep it clean enough that it doesn’t affect the bottom line.

The line loses all three starters in the middle: center Corey Luciano, and guards Henry Bainivalu and Jaxson Kirkland. Owen Prentice, a low 4-star from the 2021 cycle, has retired from football; Myles Murao, a mid 4-star dedicated center from 2020, hit the portal after the Spring game; and Victor Curne, the starting right tackle from 2020 and 2021 (but benched in 2022), has also transferred out. UW took no portal additions but five true freshmen, ranging from a couple of low 4-stars, a couple of mid 3-stars, and a low 3-star. I expect each to redshirt.

Based on the Spring game, previous years’ film, and talking to BT, I believe the replacement starters will be #77 OL Buelow at LG, #78 OL Mele at C, and #71 OL Kalepo at RG. Buelow and Kalepo as starting guards going into the 2023 season was predictable for a long time, and in fact a lineup of Fautanu-Buelow-Murao-Kalepo-Rosengarten was simple to predict three years ago when UW’s o-line recruiting had peaked – which I know to be the case because that’s the offseason I predicted exactly that on the podcast. I think it’s unfortunate that Huff has been fooling around starting 3-star journeymen and converted d-linemen for the last three seasons, including 2021’s complete catastrophe, instead of developing the bluechips he recruited into what could have been a juggernaut with three seasons of meaningful playing experience together.

Now Murao has transferred out, evidently tired of waiting this long for playing time, and career backup C/RT Mele (who couldn’t beat out Curne or Luke Wattenberg on that disastrous line) will be snapping the ball. I think Kalepo will be fine at RG, he got a significant amount of playing time in 2022 as the starting LG in the first three games due to Kirkland’s absence and then in the second halves prior to garbage time of weeks 7, 8, 10 and the bowl game, and he graded out okay. But Buelow might be in a rough spot, he started at LG for the first five games in 2021 then was pulled for ineffectiveness in the middle of the 2nd quarter in week 5 at OSU for no injury-related issue I could see, and hasn’t played since in that year or at all last year.

The danger for Huff’s line is that, from watching DeBoer’s offenses over the last three seasons, by far the most effective defensive approach is pressure right up the middle, collapsing the center or a guard right into the QB’s lap and panicking him off the snap. The typical solution to that problem are routes or checks that don’t really exist in this offense, or having an elite scrambler which, for every other virtue Penix possesses, isn’t really in this QB’s wheelhouse.

There are five other scholarship returners, enough to form a neat lineup of the second unit in the Spring game – from left to right it was #75 LT Wyrsch, #64 LG Memmelaar, #72 C Brailsford, #56 RG G. Hatchett, and #65 RT Peacock. However as BT and I discussed on the podcast, the guards Hatchett and Memmelaar are both more talented on paper and more developed than the other three, and I think they’re the sixth and seventh men, respectively. My guess is that if one of the starting tackles is unavailable, they’ll probably slide the 6’6” Kalepo over to tackle and put the 4-star Hatchett in at RG, rather than directly sub in either of the low 3-stars Peacock or Wyrsch. I think something similar would happen if the center is unavailable, since BT believes there’s some high school snapping experience for one of the guards, but if not and they have to go with Brailsford it may get dicey since he’s a redshirt freshman.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 04 Oregon State at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


UW finished with the 70th ranked defense in F+, the lowest point yet in a four-year slide from the peak of the Chris Petersen era, reflecting a dramatic falloff in recruiting and some poor position coaching under the previous staff on that side of the ball. DeBoer’s staff has corrected the worst errors of his predecessor — namely by actually recruiting defensive backs and not employing the worst linebackers coach in the league – so I think they’ll stem the damage, but I don’t see enough aggressive roster management moves for a quick turnaround on defense this year.

There are a couple of modifications to the defensive system – they’ve mostly done away with the sky-high safeties and are in a dime package less often, and the nickel defender has a new label and somewhat different keys – but for the most part DC Inge has retained the 2-4-5 structure of the last decade. Their substitution rules are rigid, most notably when the offense is in 12-personnel or heavier they switch to a 3-4 bear front, and overall it’s a fairly static defense with very little stemming or variety in defensive formations.

This structure has never been particularly strong at stopping inside rushing, and that continued again last year, grading out at a poor 41% defensive success rate against the run (118 successes vs 168 failures) and dropping to just 26% against rushes in short-yardage situations. That contributed to the Huskies ranking 117th in opponent 3rd down conversions in raw stats.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Michigan State at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first line of rush defense, the defensive tackle unit, doesn’t have any major personnel changes. A couple of 3-stars from the 2021 cycle, Siaosi Finau and Kuao Peihopa, have transferred out after not really seeing the field the past two seasons (Finau played with the threes in the Spring game before hitting the portal). There’s one freshman addition, mid 3-star #90 DL E. Davis who early enrolled, but he was injured and I didn’t see him practicing in Spring.

The d-line returns one of my favorite interior linemen in the league, #91 DL Letuligasenoa, who’s graded out very well on my tally sheet ever since his redshirt freshman year in 2019. The other two upperclassmen returners have much poorer grades despite also being mid 4-stars, #55 DL Bandes and #99 DL Tuitele – they were used in the rotation about as often, but they have only a fraction of Letuligasenoa’s production.

On the podcast, BT and I discussed the fatigue issues created in run defense by not being able to rotate reliable bodies beyond Letuligasenoa, using the UCLA game as an example:

I think it’s imperative that the Huskies get more playable tackles so that they can operate a real rotation here, and so I was confused that they haven’t taken anyone in the transfer portal and just a single freshman addition. BT said UW is going to rely on their development of returning players instead. It’s something of a challenge to pick out the Huskies’ option for their fourth man in the rotation at tackle, though, due to Spring practice limitations.

The guy I saw the most of the remaining scholarship players was converted offensive lineman #68 DL Ale, though I thought his hand placement and footwork technique needed a lot of refinement and he needed to get his weight down from about 335 lbs. So I was eager to see how much progress he’d made through Spring practices, but apparently he’s been absent and didn’t play in the Spring game, and neither BT nor I can find any follow-up in local media about it. He was able to tell me that apparently the staff is excited about a couple of low 3-star twins from the 2022 cycle, #95 DL A. Parker and #94 DL J. Parker, who are the only other tackles on scholarship. The former didn’t see the field last year, the latter played in eight games and recorded two tackles. They were with the twos in the Spring game and not getting much traction against the backup o-line.

There’s one more officially listed lineman who’s hard to classify, #52 DL Tunuufi. That’s because of his measurements: 6’1”, 249 lbs. BT and I discussed the way that he’d been used in last year’s defense as an interior lineman on 3rd & longs – he doesn’t have the bulk to plug gaps against the run, so they used him instead as an inside rusher only on obvious passing downs. That usage as a situational inside player continued in the Spring game. BT thinks because of Tunuufi’s weight that he may play off the edge in 2023, and indeed BT predicted he’ll be pretty high in the rotation there. I’m pretty skeptical of that, I think he doesn’t have the necessary height or arm length for that position.

The edges played a four-man rotation last year. Two of them have departed: Jeremiah Martin, the former 4-star who’d previously transferred in from Texas A&M and graded out very well, and Sav’ell Smalls, the former 5-star who didn’t (there was some debate on the podcast about whether he attended Seattle’s Garfield or Kennedy Catholic, turns out it was both).

The other two return: #8 DE Trice, who graded out almost identically to Martin on my tally sheet, and #4 DE Tupuola-Fetui, who played pretty well but not at the astonishing clip of his 2020 season (which looks to me more like the product of the unique circumstances of that year). The returners are some of the best pass rushers in the league, but it’s difficult to figure out how they’re going to replace the production from the departures or give them the ability to rotate freely without fearing a steep dropoff.

There are two other scholarship returners, #45 DE Heims and #41 DE Holtzclaw. Because of his size and a little flash I saw from him as a backup in 2021, I had guessed that Heims would break into the rotation in 2022, but I was wrong about that – he only got a few garbage time reps, and was playing behind a couple of walk-ons in the Spring game, #46 DE Asoau-Afoa and #14 DE Hopkins. Holtzclaw was a mid 3-star from 2022 who redshirted last year and I haven’t seen yet because he was injured and held out of the Spring game, but BT says he was practicing throughout the rest of Spring.

They’ve taken two freshmen, high 3-star #47 DE James who was playing with the threes in Spring, and mid 3-star Anthony Lane who arrives in the Fall. The only portal addition is a Division-II transfer, #15 DE Durfee, who’s officially listed as an edge player, but in the Spring game I only saw him playing next to Tunuufi in the previously described passing-down interior lineman role – I don’t believe I ever saw him actually playing off the edge. I pressed BT about this because it seemed to break a pattern I noticed that UW replaced departed production with exactly as much incoming production via the portal, in every other position except this one. So I asked if the staff expects Durfee to be their “new Martin”, and BT demurred other than to say that as a former Sioux Falls player (where DeBoer coached for the first 10 years of this century) UW may have some insider knowledge the scouts don’t.

Counting all those names, it looks like the Huskies have seven bodies from which to find two playable edges in the rotation to supplement Trice and Tupuola-Fetui. That ratio isn’t a tough ask so I think they’ll be okay from a depth standpoint. But considering that three are freshmen with no playing time, two are walk-ons, one is a barely used returner who was behind those walk-ons, and the last is a Div-II transfer who I’m not even sure is in fact an edge, I’m not sanguine they’ll be anywhere near as productive as what they’re losing. The Hobson’s choice of keeping the starters on the field every rep and suffering fatigue, or dealing with what will surely be a dropoff if they rotate, means it’ll probably be a net step back for this unit.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 04 Oregon State at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The linebackers lose one of their two starters, Cam Bright, and one of the two primary backups, Kristopher Moll. They’re also losing former 4-star Daniel Heimuli who didn’t play much and transferred to Arizona, and former Juco Demario King who left for Old Dominion. A couple walk-ons have departed as well who recorded a handful of stats but I think just on special teams.

The other starter was #11 LB Tuputala, who returns and based on the Spring game and BT’s comments he’ll probably retain the starting job. They also return the other primary backup, #42 LB Bruener, who on my tally sheet has been substantially better than Bright or Tuputala for the last two seasons, but he was stuck with the twos in the Spring game yet again. Another guy I’d characterize as a backup is #10 LB Fowler, a walk-on they’ve trusted in cleanup for several years now (and probably should have been given a scholarship).

Former walk-on #5 LB Ulofoshio returns, who was the only competent linebacker in the 2019 season and had a strong 2020 showing in that shortened year as well, but who’s missed substantial time in both of the last two seasons with injuries to different parts of his body. He was playing with the ones in the Spring game, but it’s hard to tell from that if he’s really back to 100% health. If he is, which I’m certainly rooting for as an amazing story, then I think BT is right that he’ll have a starting job.

There are three additions: a couple of mid 3-star freshmen, #17 LB Bryant and #33 LB Whitney who I expect to redshirt, and USC transfer #10 LB Goforth. I’ve been watching his film with the Trojans since 2019 and I would be surprised if he beats out Fowler for a job.

There’s enough depth here to not be in deep trouble, and if Ulofoshio really is what his early film indicated he can be, then they should be fine here. But I was somewhat surprised that the staff didn’t make some more aggressive roster management moves; for a unit that was the fulcrum of a bad defense last year, this wasn’t much of an overhaul. The glaring problems in the secondary got a lot of attention and the staff to its credit made strides addressing them with some real bluechip recruitment, but the linebacker unit didn’t get the same treatment. Going forward this position really needs a big talent infusion – as it currently stands it’s four mid 3-stars, two guys who were walk-ons, and a USC washout.

There were three players who rotated at the nickel “Husky” position, who’s a hybrid LB/S in the history of this defense (the name comes from well before it arrived in Seattle), though given the players are all converted DBs the 2022 version of it played like fairly conventional nickelbacks. The first two were basically 1A/1B, #7 DB Hampton and #13 DB Fabiculanen, and the third came in for just a few backup reps, #19 DB McCutcheon.

All three of those guys return, however I noticed some position swaps in the Spring game that BT confirmed on the podcast. Hampton is switching over to play deep safety, while #3 DB Powell is coming in from the cornerbacks room to replace him at Husky. Powell was one of the less talented secondary players DeBoer’s staff was forced into starting at corner due to the spectacular failure of the previous staff to recruit any bluechips; he graded out very poorly and then unfortunately got hurt and missed several games. It’s difficult to assess how he’ll do in the position swap. Fabiculanen also really struggled in coverage, though he was a pretty good tackler.

Hampton’s chief liability was also tight coverage of inside receivers and tight ends, though as the new deep safety replacing the departed Alex Cook (the team’s leading tackler), that’s less of an issue. The safeties also lose Julius Irvin to medical retirement and Cameron Williams to transfer; they didn’t play much last year.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Washington v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The safeties return the other starter, #20 DB Turner, who I’ve been watching for a long time. I’ve thought he struggles closing to make the tackle and I wondered if the staff would bring in anyone through the portal to make a run at his job, but they haven’t. Behind Hampton and Turner in the Spring game were #12 DB Dunn and #24 DB Esteen, who each played a little last year and BT thinks will be the primary backups. There isn’t any other clear choice, the only other returner on scholarship is #28 DB Nunley, who had a season-ending injury last Fall camp and wasn’t healthy enough for Spring practices yet. The early enrolling freshman, #26 DB Gordon, was a mid 3-star and I didn’t see in the Spring game, I expect him to redshirt. The Fall arrival is a low 4-star, Vincent Holmes; a couple of years ago I’d say such a recruit was a guaranteed redshirt for UW, but given how starved the secondary is for bluechips at this point he might make some noise in camp.

The cornerback room was a nightmare for UW last season, they’d gone from a couple of 1st rounders in 2021 to some walk-ons in 2022, and then as BT reminded me on the podcast they all spent some time injured. On my tally sheet, they allowed over 7.9 YPA adjusted and over 18.3% of passes to gain 15+ yards. In raw stats, this defense ranked 95th in FBS in 20+ yard passes allowed per game, and 113th in 30+.

Powell swapped to another unit and the other starter Jordan Perryman has left the team, while redshirt freshman Zakhari Spears transferred out. I’m not sure of the status of the primary backup who got a lot of play last year, walk-on #6 CB Banks – I didn’t see him in the Spring game, I didn’t see him mentioned in practice reports, and local media hasn’t written anything about him that I can find.

There are three returners I saw in the Spring game: 2020 mid 3-star #25 CB E. Jackson was with the ones and played some backup last year, 2022 low 3-star #22 CB Green was with the twos and got some garbage time and special teams play last year (enough to burn his redshirt but I wouldn’t call him a backup), and walk-on redshirt freshman #27 CB Berman who hasn’t played before.

The staff clearly took the challenge of rebuilding the cornerback room seriously, because they’ve taken six additions here. Two are through the portal: #1 CB Muhammed from Oklahoma St who was with the ones in Spring, and Darren Barkins from Oregon who joined after Spring. Another is a Juco, #9 CB Dixon, who was with the twos. The Huskies recruited three freshmen, one of whom enrolled early and played with the twos in the Spring game, low 4-star #2 CB Presley. The other two arrive in the Fall, mid 3-star Leroy Bryant and low 4-star Curley Reed.

It’s pretty clear the staff will go with Muhammed, he’s an accomplished starter with two years of eligibility left. My guess is that they’ll pick Jackson for the other starter simply because he was with the ones in Spring, although BT disagrees and thinks Dixon will get it. I can see his point – last year Jackson was a third-year player and more highly rated than any of the three underperforming and frequently injured CBs who were ahead of him, and yet couldn’t beat any of them out for a job. Barkins was a mid 3-star and buried on the depth chart at Oregon, I suspect he’ll be in a battle with Presley for a backup job in Fall.

Given how poor the room was last year, the mere addition of any competent Power-5 player like Muhammed automatically constitutes a step forward, and getting serious about recruiting is a good sign for the future. But for the upcoming season I’m not wild about their options for the second spot or any of the depth pieces, and those are necessary with the quarterbacks in this league.

Accountability Corner

In last year’s preview, I think I accurately described DeBoer’s offensive structure, particularly the passing preferences and the strong potential for improvement. Gabey and I got the QB order right, including that the only thing that was really holding Penix back was the injury history, though we thought Huard would eventually surpass Morris and that never happened (though on the podcast that year, we did talk about that possibility too). I spent some time breaking down why the 2021 rush offense was abysmal and concluded that I didn’t think the returning backs were to blame and they’d have a bounceback performance without a lousy OC, and I think that analysis holds up. I didn’t explicitly predict that Taulapapa would get the starting job (he hadn’t shown up from Virginia yet) but I had a vote of confidence in DeBoer in selecting the correct pecking order given his past history and I think that was well placed. I was skeptical of the returning TEs without Cade Otton and that was borne out. I thought the wide receiver room was far and away the best returning part of the team, particularly the two starters McMillan and Odunze, and that certainly proved true. I got three of the offensive line starters correct – Kirkland, Luciano, and Bainivalu – but I misplaced where Huff would be progressive and where he’d be conservative. I thought he’d be stick with Curne at RT who’d started (not very well) the previous two years, instead he benched him and went with Rosengarten. And I thought the progressive move he’d make would be Kalepo at guard, instead he moved Kirkland in (conservatively) and had Fautanu at tackle. I still think the prediction that stalling on Murao and Buelow would cost him has proved accurate, however.

I described the defense as a scheme switch from a two-gapping 2-4 to a one-gapping 4-2 because that’s how Fresno St ran it and the Spring game was such a mess that I disregarded what looked like a bunch of assignment errors, but I realize now that they were just keeping the 2-4 all along. I should have trusted my eyes and for the staff to just have the players stick with the scheme they knew. I got everything about the defensive tackles correct with the exception of Peihopa, I thought he’d start and instead he never really played and then left, contributing to UW’s rotational problems at the position. I already mentioned my whiff on Heims at edge, otherwise the position went just as predicted. I correctly called that the linebackers would get a big shakeup, and got three of the four guys who’d land on top correct (Bright, Bruener, and Tuputala; I missed on King, instead the Fall transfer Moll took his spot). The starters at the three DB spots were correct and I got the backup Husky right too, but I didn’t foresee Irvin’s medical issue, and I thought Williams wouldn’t be a total bust, so they just played Cook and Turner practically every rep contrary to my prediction. The cornerback description was completely spot-on, and predicted the massive defensive downturn of the entire squad. It’s worth re-reading in its entirety.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Oregon at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images