First, a caveat: Michael Penix Jr. is awesome.
I cannot emphasize that strongly enough. He has worked himself into being a great college quarterback who also seems like an awesome guy. His teammates appear to sincerely like him, and they clearly trust him to get them the ball if they do their jobs.
That said, I think the Huskies will be fine at QB next year. I actually think they’ll be fine at QB indefinitely as long as Kalen DeBoer is coaching the team.
And I know that Dylan Morris played infuriating football at times last year. I know that Sam Huard looked less than optimal in the Apple Cup leaving a sour taste in all of our mouths.
But if we take a step back, I think there are a pile of reasons to be optimistic about the QB play for this team next year. So I wanted to go on record. What follows is a prediction and a 5 point argument outlining why I’m so optimistic.
If I’m wrong, at least I made sure a bunch of people on the internet have receipts.
The prediction: Washington will get at least 80% of Michael Penix Jr.’s production at QB next year, no matter who the starter ends up being.
1) The Huskies run a QB friendly system. I’m not a film guy, and I try really hard to be honest with myself about the limitations of my own understanding of the game of football. I just think about the plays like the Jalen McMillan touchdown against Cal where Washington had 3 receivers being covered by 2 DBs.
That situation is the culmination of an offensive coach understanding what he can do to make the game easy for his QB. The offensive system at Washington isn’t going away as long as DeBoer is on staff. It’s a meaningful advantage that we can assume the next Husky QB will benefit from in the same way Penix has.
2) Ryan Grubb is, by all appearances, an exceptional offensive coach. If he is on staff again next year (I think he might get offered a Group of 5 job this offseason, but I think he’s a year or two away from a Jonathan Smith/Jimmy Lake transition to a Power 5 opportunity), then he will amplify and extend the benefits inherent in the Huskies offensive system.
DeBoer and Grubb trust each other deeply, and JaMarcus Shephard appears to be integrating himself into that brain trust. Having multiple strong coaching voices aligned and helping the entire offense move in the same direction is a huge deal, and it will pay gigantic dividends for whichever QB takes snaps for the Huskies next fall.
3) Dylan Morris and Sam Huard are both talented throwers of the football. I understand that our eyes told us both quarterbacks are bad last fall. The only leap I’m asking anyone to make is to consider that John Donovan’s offense was so broken that both QBs were put in positions that were detrimental to their development. In the same way that I believe UW currently runs a system that is QB friendly, I believe the John Donovan system was QB unfriendly.
Donovan had Christian Hackenberg under his tutelage at Penn State in 2014 and 15. Hackenberg was a 5 time Big 10 freshman of the week under Bill O’Brien in 2013, and was voted the conference’s Freshman of the Year as a true freshman starting at QB. Hackenberg’s sophomore season, John Donovan was hired as offensive coordinator and Hackenberg’s statistics, performance, and development stalled out and moved backward. That trend, alarming on its own, became even worse Hackenberg’s junior year. Somehow, under the tutelage of John Donovan, a 5* QB who was awarded a conference Freshman of the Year award in a major conference managed to regress in consecutive years.
Now, is it possible that Dylan Morris and Sam Huard are bad QBs? Absolutely. But which is more likely, that both QBs are hopeless at the Pac12 level, or that neither QB ever had a realistic chance at success in John Donovan’s offense?
Between Morris and Huard, I’m fairly optimistic that there is one good Pac12 QB on the roster already. If a transfer comes in and beats them both out, then I trust that whoever played good enough to beat them both is also a good Pac12 QB.
4) The offensive line is, and will continue to be, good-ish. I’d defer to Gabey or Coach B or anyone else who had real experience with O Line on this point, but just looking at sack numbers and the amount of snaps this team has managed to give to the 6th, 7th, and 8th guys in the rotation this year, I think the O Line can continue to pass block at a reasonably high level next year. When we talk about future QB play, that’s another advantage that we can credit to the account of whoever ends up under center.
5) The skill position groups are deep, and they are starting to look good. Even if Odunze goes pro, JaMarcus Shephard is a proven WR coach leading a room with multiple guys who have played well this season. Polk looks pretty good. McMillan just big dawged UO’s best corner into exploring Kaiser approved options for mental health counseling in the Eugene area. The running back room is steadily improving. Ryan Otten is going to be healthy next year. On and on. The weapons will be there for whoever ends up being the point person for this offense next year.
With the rise of the transfer portal, changes in recruiting rules, and coaches chasing jobs on an ever accelerating carousel, there is more chaos and less continuity between seasons in college football than there ever has been before.
Bearing that in mind, it’s entirely possible that all of the positives I outlined above go away this offseason. Grubb could take a job like Colorado State, Shepherd could get an offer to be a coordinator somewhere, a bunch of O Lineman could transfer and graduate, and the skill position groups could all gain weight after tough breakups. But each of the points I outlined above feels relatively stable to me.
Quarterbacks don’t exist or perform in vacuums. They exist in ecosystems. And I understand that we gravitate to evaluations of individuals in talking about sports. It’s the easiest way to assign blame and glory, and it’s a means of talking that makes us feel like we understand the complicated things we’re talking about. But the truth is that offensive football is a set of systems as rich and complex as anything we might see in nature. And the Huskies, for the first time in years, have a healthy forest and healthy trees.