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Mailbag: And I Would Pass 500 Yards Edition

Answering questions on the offense’s long-term future, the defense’s short-term future, and several things in between

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Arizona at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Does Penix have NFL potential or is he a coming back for another year guy? I see mock drafts with him on occasion but any real feedback from NFL? - KPreston

I think there’s a very real chance that Penix is headed to the NFL after this season despite technically having one more year of eligibility. At a fairly well built 6’3 there’s no question that he has the size that NFL teams want at the position. He’s definitely not a dual threat at this point in his career but he still has enough pocket mobility that he isn’t a complete statue. The arm is absolutely NFL ready and to this point there haven’t been any limitations to the offense by virtue of Penix not being able to get a ball somewhere with enough zip to evade defenders.

The big question mark for Penix is going to be about his health. Even if Penix gets through the rest of this season completely healthy I can’t imagine executives feeling good about spending an early pick on Penix as the QB of the future. There’s just too much risk involved especially since two of the injuries were ACL tears. While that limits Penix’s draft ceiling I don’t see why a team wouldn’t be willing to use a 5th or 6th rounder on him as a lottery ticket in case his injury woes were the result of bad luck and a terrible offensive line.

I’m saying all of this without any feedback from NFL evaluators. After the disaster of a season he had at Indiana last year I’m sure he was 100% off all draft boards before opening day this year. He has definitely made progress this year. It doesn’t work like this but if Penix plays all 12 games and you prorate his current stats he would finish with: 4,389 passing yards, 34 TDs, 7 INTs, 69% completion, and 8.9 yards per attempt. Any QB that puts up those numbers that passes minimum height/weight benchmarks should get a look in the NFL.

It’s also difficult for me to imagine Penix coming back for a 2nd season in Seattle if he stays healthy and plays close to the level he has so far through the final 6 weeks. You can’t reasonably expect him to put up even better numbers next year (we’ll talk about that more in the next question). Even if he does, it’s not as if he’s magically going to take 0.2 seconds off of his 40-yard dash time. The only thing left to prove for Penix is his health.

Maybe Penix gets feedback that he’s no better than a 7th round pick and that if he could stay healthy for a 2nd straight year then he could get up into the 3rd or 4th round. That’s about the only circumstance it seemingly makes sense for him to play another year and risk yet another injury to improve his draft stock. If I were him I would move on. But I’m not him and there are enough variables around any player’s personal situation that I don’t know what will happen. Nonetheless, don’t be surprised if that announcement comes after the year.

Stanford v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Mike Vorel wrote today that OC Grubb, Penix and Odunze may be gone next year. Will the D have enough improvement next year with these potential personnel losses that the Dawgs can win with less offensive output? And, does DeBoer know this offense well enough to mentor a new OC? - kdawgSW

We obviously just addressed the Penix part of this above. Odunze will be an interesting case. He was named a midseason 1st team All-American by The Athletic. He’s 9th in the country in receiving yards and tied for 14th in receiving TDs despite having played in only 6 games (although likely some of the players ahead of him have had a bye week and so have played the same number of games). It seems evident that Odunze has the requisite size, speed, and ball skills combination to get to the NFL. I’ve yet to see his name come up on draft board articles but that’s mainly because he’s in just his 3rd year and didn’t have a lot of national buzz in the preseason. I leave it to the draft experts who get to talk to NFL scouts to decide how high he can rise.

Unlike with Penix, I think given Odunze’s age that there is still room for him to improve his draft stock with another fantastic season in 2023. With his measurables/production combination it’s not crazy to say he has 1st round pick potential. I also wouldn’t fault him for making the jump after this year even if as a 3rd/4th rounder. You would think that if Penix decides to stay it would increase the odds of Odunze staying and vice versa. The odds of each having even better stats take a hit without the other’s presence.

You also bring up the other question mark which is OC Ryan Grubb. His name has come up as a lower tier candidate with the openings at Arizona State and Colorado. In an interview earlier this year Grubb stated that he wants to be a head coach one day. I find it hard to believe though that he’s going to be a legitimate candidate for a power conference job at this point though. Which means if he does depart it would likely be for a mid-major head coaching position.

A quick perusal of the Mountain West doesn’t show many options there. Four of the five worst teams have a 1st year coach (Nevada, Hawaii, Colorado State, and Fresno State). If Tedford suddenly decided that actually he doesn’t want to coach anymore then I think Grubb would be a major candidate to go back to Fresno but that doesn’t seem likely. Otherwise, would Grubb leave to go to New Mexico if they moved on? Dubious.

Obviously Grubb has roots in the Midwest as well so could he decide that he wants to head back to the MAC? It’s certainly possible. At that point I think it makes more sense for him to wait another year proving it at Washington and hope for something better. Again though I don’t know for sure what his priorities are and just how deep the loyalty runs to DeBoer.

For the sake of the last part of the question let’s assume that Grubb gets the Godfather offer from somewhere and absolutely can’t refuse. Yes, DeBoer knows this offense well enough. It’s DeBoer’s offense. He was an offensive coordinator running his own schemes for a decade between Southern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Fresno State, and Indiana before he became a head coach.

It wouldn’t shock me if Grubb left for DeBoer to promote Jamarcus Shephard to OC/WR coach in order to keep him around while hiring a new QB coach. He could also try again to poach Kirby Moore from Fresno State where he’s the OC/QB coach right now and continue to mentor him. There’s also the chance no matter who he hires that DeBoer decides to call plays when Grubb isn’t there although it seems like that isn’t his preferred coaching philosophy.

Regardless, I think Washington’s offense will continue to be good as long as Kalen DeBoer is the head coach. It’s hard to imagine it getting better if Washington were to lose all 3 (or any) of Penix, Odunze, and Grubb. I also trust in DeBoer’s decision making around that side of the ball and his ability to bring in talent via new coaches, the portal, and recruiting to keep the Huskies running an elite Pac-12 offense. It’s reasonable to think the defense could get better to compensate any downturn though if for no other reason then it can’t really get any worse.

From your expert perspective, do you think we will need a new DC or DB coach before next season? - Not Rhaego

I appreciate that you’re Not Rhaego so that I can answer this question. Also I will dispute the first four words of your question.

I would consider it a major upset if DeBoer chose to make a move along the defensive coaching staff after his first season. It would take Washington finishing the rest of the season 1-4 giving up 42+ points per game or something similarly terrible for that to seem at all realistic. The teams left on Washington’s schedule are currently 21st, 78th, 83rd, 101st, and 124th in points per game. UW should give up fewer points if for no other reason than the set of opposing offenses is going to get easier (and hopefully also because the defense will get healthier).

Now I have to say that I had a fair amount of skepticism about the defensive coaching staff when it was announced. DeBoer stuck exclusively with the guys he has worked with before. None of the staff are completely unqualified for their positions. But it seems hard to believe there wasn’t someone out there who was a better choice than exactly who was on his Fresno State staff. Especially considering the strength of that team was also the offense. Not to mention that co-defensive coordinator titles aren’t the most conventional alignment.

If a move is made I believe it would mainly happen because the personal dynamics behind the scenes aren’t clicking. As bad as this year has been on that side of the ball I don’t see how you can bring someone over and then fire them when UW has never had a game where even 2/3rds of the total snaps in the secondary came from the envisioned starting 5 guys. The closest they came was in the opener against Kent State and since then the Arizona game was the highest percentage we’ve seen at just 57.3%. If Hampton plays the rest of the year and Powell comes back after the bye and the results are just as bad then it takes out one of the reasonable explanations.

Giving everyone another year in the system and trying to add a few high impact pieces in the transfer portal seem like a much more likely first step in trying to fix the defense than moving straight to firing a coach you just hired yet have worked with 3+ years. Unless there’s something we don’t know happening with the coaching staff behind the scenes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Arizona at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

About our running game... Is it possible that we’re keeping that part of the playbook close to our chest until the inclement weather comes? It seems like our running game is just fine, except for in short yardage situations, whether it be goal line or 3rd/4th and short. - HRSportsfan

In a There’s no way the coaching staff had what they thought were better plays when UW was trying for an early lead at the goal line against Michigan State and said to themselves “Let’s not run that play, I might need it against Oregon in November.” Grubb and DeBoer are trying to put points on the board and they’re not saving a portion of the playbook for the absolute perfect moment. At least not when things aren’t going well in that area. If Washington were converting on 90% of these situations then maybe they’d feel they could afford to hold back with a few key plays.

I mentioned this in my “Three Things We Learned” piece but Washington has run the ball in 36 of 38 situations on 3rd or 4th and 2 or less. If there’s anything that is being saved for a rainy day it’s our short passing game. So far this team has almost exclusively run it in these situations. The runs themselves have been diverse but it has always been a run. If I were an opposing defensive coordinator I would certainly be telling my team to expect the ball to stay on the ground and therefore play extremely aggressive without concern of play action. That will pay dividends...but only if you eventually break tendency.

Still, at some point this year Washington is going to try play action on 4th and 1 and have the pass fall incomplete. When that day comes some fans are going to scream “why wouldn’t you just run the ball?!?” I want those fans to remember how you feel about the short yardage running game right now when we get there.

What does it say when a team has a strong tendency to win at home and lose on the road regardless of opposition quality? Does this mean they’re a bit fragile? - Ruffner

I think it says that winning on the road in college football is hard for the vast majority of teams. At this point we know now that UCLA is a legitimately good team. Yes, the score was closer than the game felt but losing by 8 points on the road against that team was a respectable effort for all but the elite.

Really what we’re talking about here is the loss at Arizona State. That’s not enough of a data point for me to declare that this team can’t win on the road and that it says something about the psyche of the squad as a whole.

It should be noted that this is a year where UW’s playing many of their top opponents on the road. If you put them in order from 1 to 12 based on current FPI, here is how the schedule would break down:

Home- 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12

Road- 1, 2, 5, 7, 9

The 5-0 home start has come against the teams ranked 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12 on the list. The 0-2 road start has come against the #2 and 7 ones. Cal represents the easiest of the road games after losing to Colorado this week so a loss in that one as well and it becomes more realistic to talk about the home/road split as a trend rather than just strength of schedule and the typical issues of crowd/environment.

By halftime, our Husky party flipped to a full on Mariners party- thus, I missed the second half. What I noticed in the first half was Perryman coming off the edge and being quite effective at disrupting the offensive flow. I have been hoping our defensive coaching staff would make some kind of adjustment. Was this an adjustment or am I reading too much into it? - Otis

I noticed it twice on first downs where Perryman came on a run blitz from his corner spot and was able to make a tackle for a short gain. I don’t recall seeing much of it as the game went on and there are several possible reasons. One, is that Arizona stopped running the ball as much after falling behind by two scores so they weren’t seeing the clear run looks that would necessitate that aggression. Two, is that Perryman clearly got further banged up a few different times and had to limp off for a few plays which probably made him less effective in that role.

The coaches have mentioned that not having Mishael Powell has limited some of what they want to do on defense and I believe that’s primarily about how he can help in the running game. In the game in which Powell got hurt I noticed he was extremely active both in run support and against screen passes and those are his strengths as a corner rather than keeping up on go routes down the field. It sounds like Powell probably won’t be back until after the bye but if we do get him back this season then you may see more of it from him.

On Arizona’s failed 4th down option pitch the play was blown dead because the officials thought it was a forward pass. After review they said it was backwards but “by rule” couldn’t be advanced. The announcers said it was because the defense stopped playing (Trice definitely, not that he could have prevented the first down). But since it was 4th down only the fumbler can advance the ball also, correct? de Laura pitched it so we would be considered the fumbler? - jm

You make this really easy by essentially answering your own question. Yes, it was initially blown dead because it was viewed as a forward pass and thus incomplete. Then upon review they realized it was a backwards pitch. Because it hit the ground before contacting anyone else though it is officially viewed as a fumble by the quarterback. There are only some circumstances in which a player other than the fumbler themselves can advance the ball and none of them applied. Therefore the play was considered dead as soon as the Arizona running back picked it up and since it was 4th down it was Husky ball right there.

Funny if you’re a UW fan and less funny if you’re an Arizona fan is that the review actually gained the Huskies a few yards. Because the ball went backwards and was downed behind the line of scrimmage on 4th down it gave Washington slightly better field position than if they hadn’t reviewed it.