CU Buffs opponent preview: Washington gets fresh start

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Jul. 9—One of the biggest stories of the 2021 season in the Pac-12 was the unexpected slide of the Washington Huskies.

Seemingly on the right track with second-year head coach Jimmy Lake, the Huskies' season began with a stunning home defeat to Montana, followed by a blowout loss at Michigan.

By mid-November, Lake was gone and the Huskies' string of 11 consecutive winning seasons came to a crashing halt.

This summer, will preview each of Colorado's opponents for the 2022 season and in this installment, we look at Washington.

Following the out-of-nowhere slide, Washington needed a fresh start and got one when it hired head coach Kalen DeBoer, who led Fresno State to a 9-3 record in the regular season in 2021.

A veteran offensive coordinator, DeBoer is expected to re-energize a Husky attack that managed just 21.5 points per game last year — the program's worst average since 2008.

Two-year starting quarterback Dylan Morris is back, but he threw 12 interceptions, the most in the Pac-12. Overall, the Huskies threw 16 interceptions

Former Indiana starter Michael Penix Jr., was brought in to compete for the job. The best season of his career came in 2019, when DeBoer was his position coach and offensive coordinator.

Around the quarterback, there is a load of talent at receiver and some intriguing possibilities at running back, where a pair of transfers — Aaron Dumas (New Mexico) and Wayne Taulapapa (Virginia) — have been added. The offensive line was a disappointment last year, but returns a lot of experience, including left tackle Jaxson Kirkland.

DeBoer's offenses have averaged at least 31.8 points the last four years. In addition to coaching Penix during his breakout season, he helped Jake Haener (a former Husky) have a sensational season at Fresno State last year.

Defense has been Washington's strength for years. The Huskies were elite on defense from 2015-19, with Lake as coordinator in four of those years.

In the last two years, the Huskies have been good, but not great defensively. They finished fourth in the Pac-12 last year in allowing 22.7 points per game, but gave up 30-plus three times. They had allowed 30-plus just seven times in the previous five seasons combined.

Washington's pass defense was excellent in 2021. The Huskies ranked first nationally in passing yards (142.9) and passing touchdowns (six) allowed, but both starting corners were among the first 39 players selected in the NFL Draft this spring, so they've got big holes to fill.

The issue defensively last year was stopping the run. Washington was 11th in the Pac-12, giving up 194.0 yards per game on the ground. Injuries hampered the front seven and only two full-time starters are back this year, but there is plenty of talent.

Given the transition to DeBoer and the amount of starters to be replaced on defense, the Huskies won't go into the season as a favorite to win the Pac-12, but have the tools to get back on the winning track.

Washington Huskies

Head coach: Kalen DeBoer, 1st season (79-9 career)

2021 season: 4-8, 3-6 Pac-12

Series with CU: Huskies lead 12-7-1

The Game

Who: Colorado Buffaloes at Washington Huskies

When: Saturday, Nov. 19, time TBA

Where: Husky Stadium in Seattle

5 Guys to Watch

* LT Jaxson Kirkland: Sixth-year senior has been first-team All-Pac-12 the past two seasons. Overall, he's a four-year starter, beginning his career at right guard. He has been in the starting lineup for 39 of the Huskies' 43 games since the start of 2018.

* DL Tuli Letuligasenoa: The Huskies' best defensive lineman, he earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention last year. Starting 11 games, he had 36 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

* WR Rome Odunze: Washington's leading receiver last year, he caught 41 passes for 415 yards and four touchdowns. Had one of his better games against CU, with nine catches for 68 yards and a TD.

* QB Michael Penix Jr.: Transfer from Indiana went 12-5 as a starter with the Hoosiers. A two-year team captain, he threw for 4,197 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and rushed for six TDs during his career. Started the first five games last year before a season-ending injury.

* LB Zion Tupuola-Fetui: Racked up seven sacks and 13 tackles during the four-game 2020 season, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors, but missed most of last season with injuries.

Good to know

* DeBoer went 67-3 as head coach at the University of Sioux Falls from 2005-09, including 56-1 in his last four seasons. DeBoer led Sioux Falls to three NAIA national titles, in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

* After Sioux Falls, DeBoer worked as the offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois (2010-13), Eastern Michigan (2014-16), Fresno State (2017-18) and Indiana (2019) before being hired as head coach at Fresno State in 2020. He was 12-6 in his two seasons at Fresno State.

* Ryan Grubb takes over as the Huskies' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He spent the past five years at Fresno State, including the last three as offensive coordinator. He has coached quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and linemen during his career.

* William Inge and Chuck Morrell will be co-coordinators on defense. Inge was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Fresno State the past two seasons and was an assistant at Indiana from 2013-19. His career also includes one season (2005) as the defensive line coach at Colorado. Morrell coached the safeties at Fresno State the past two seasons. Prior to that, he was the head coach at Montana Tech for nine years, going 52-44.

* Offensive line coach Scott Huff is the only assistant who was on staff last year. This will be his sixth season coaching the Huskies' offensive line.

* Former CU tight end Paul Creighton (2003-06) is on the Washington staff as a quality control coach for special teams. He was the tight ends coach at Fresno State the past two years.

* Washington won the Pac-12 North in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with a 3-1 record, but was unable to play in the conference title game or a bowl game because of COVID-19 issues. That ended a streak of 10 consecutive bowl appearances.

* The Huskies won the Pac-12 championship in 2016 and in 2018. From 2016-2020, they finished no worse than tied for second in the North division every year.

* Peyton Henry enters his fifth season as the Huskies' kicker. He was 11-for-14 on field goals last year (11-for-11 inside 40 yards) and made all 26 extra point attempts. In his career, he is 52-for-66 on field goals (78.8%) and 131-of-133 on extra points (98.5%).

* After losing nine consecutive games to Washington from 1999-2018, the Buffs have won the last two matchups, both in Boulder. The Buffs have lost their last four to the Huskies in Seattle since a 45-28 win on Sept. 30, 1989.

Portal movement

Dating back to October, the Huskies have lost 14 players in the transfer, but only a few that had significant impact on the team last year. Linebacker Jackson Sirmon was the team's leading tackler and is now at Cal, while starting defensive lineman Sam Taimani is now at Oregon and linebacker Cooper McDonald is at San Diego State. Offensively, the key loss was receiver Terrell Bynum, who is now at USC. Washington added nine transfers, led by Penix, who is expected to start at quarterback. Running backs Aaron Dumas (658 yards, 2 TD last year at New Mexico) and Wayne Taulapapa (1,192 yards, 19 TD in three years at Virginia) should be key members of the backfield rotation. Linebackers Cam Bright (Pittsburgh) and Kristopher Moll (UAB) were both starters at their previous schools. Moll was two-time first-team All-Conference USA. Cornerback Jordan Perryman was first-team All-Big Sky at UC Davis last year and punter Kevin Ryan (Idaho State) was fifth in the FCS in punting average last year (45.6).