The Washington Huskies are off to a hot start to the 2022 season and the Kalen DeBoer Era with a dominant 45-20 victory over the Kent State Golden Flashes. After a long 2021 season marred by offensive malaise and defensive ineptitude, the Huskies come roaring back to life with a revamped offense and defense.
After last year’s season opening clunker, the Huskies made it a priority to start fast and finish strong in all three phases. Winning the opening coin toss, the Huskies deferred to the second half and went on defense to start the game. That defensive stint was short-lived with a tone setting interception on the first play from scrimmaged, snagged by Safety Asa Turner (did anyone else notice he was rocking the “Asa” on the back of the jersey?).
Wayne Taulapapa took his queue on offense after the opening interception with four straight physical runs on the opening offensive possession, topped off with a 28-yard rushing touchdown to seize an early lead for the Dawgs. After struggling to open many rushing lanes for the running backs last year, the offensive line looked solid in both the run and pass game all night (albeit against an overmatched opponent).
With a fast start to the game, our Huskies never looked back. Michael Penix Jr., in his first start at QB on Montlake, compiled an excellent 345 yards and 4 TDs on 26/39 through the air. The former Indiana QB looked comfortable all game long with a mix of rhythm passes and mid-to-deep throws that were far more accurate than billed. He also looked back up to 100% after back-to-back injury-shortened seasons, and his legs proved to be an important factor in a number of 3rd down situations. While he was never touted as a dual-threat QB, its good to see that the mobility that served him well in Indiana’s breakout 2020 campaign is back.
In tandem with Penix’s stellar performance, the receiving corps looked miles ahead of the 2021 season debut. Coach Jamarcus Shephard has clearly gotten his WRs dialed in this offseason with numerous receiving threats open on most passing plays. Jalen McMillan paced the WR group with 5 receptions for 87 yards and 2 TDs, but running mate Rome Odunze was right behind him with 7 receptions for 84 yards and 1 TD. Surprise starter Taj Davis lived up to the coaching staff’s hype as a big play WR with the highest per reception yardage (3 catches, 72 yards, 1 TD for 24 yds/catch). Between the starting trio of McMillan, Odunze, and Davis, as well as the next guys up (being Polk and Jackson), UW should be able to run 5 deep all season long.
The defense also took a big step forward after last year’s frustrating performances. Holding Kent State’s vaunted hurry-up spread option offense to under 400 yards is a step in the right direction, but it was the turnovers that really show signs of a Death Row defense renaissance. Turner followed up his opening play INT with another pick in the second half, and Makell Esteen tacked on another late in the game. The lack of sacks and a few big plays were an issue at times, but given the run-heavy nature of the Golden Flash offense, and the aggressive nature of this new defense’s coverage schemes, it was to be expected. As long as our momentum-changing defensive plays outnumber the big offensive plays that we give up, this defense will continue to trend back towards the defensive heyday under Pete Kwiatkoski.
Overall, the new staff did a good job of reminding the Husky faithful that we have the foundation of an excellent team and have talent at every position. Numerous transfer players contributed to the strong performance tonight, and a number depth players got a chance to get some experience as well. The early cohesion of this team and the refreshingly clean performance by the team as a whole is an early indication that our Dawgs will live up to their billing, if not exceed it. While there are things to work on (special teams coverage and ball security being the two biggest areas for improvement), the Huskies will look to stay focused and build on their momentum next week against the Portland State Vikings before our marquee non-conference match up the following week against Michigan State.