UW Huskies’ DeBoer: How much Penix has improved since 2019

Oct 18, 2023, 12:07 PM

UW Huskies Michael Penix Kalen DeBoer...

UW Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer chats with QB Michael Penix Jr. on Dec. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The UW Huskies came away with one of the biggest wins in the history of the school’s football program last Saturday, beating Oregon 36-33 in a thriller that came down to a missed kick by the Ducks’ kicker.

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The win was huge for Washington as it was the center of the college football world this past weekend. ESPN’s College GameDay was on campus, and the game was the lone top-10 matchup on Saturday’s schedule.

The Huskies prevailed, and a huge reason for that, unsurprisingly, was the play of their star quarterback. Michael Penix Jr. threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner to top receiver Rome Odunze with just 1:38 left.

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The man who brought Penix to Montlake and has completely turned the program around is Kalen DeBoer, who is now 17-2 as UW’s head coach.

On Tuesday, DeBoer joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk and had plenty to say about his quarterback, who is currently the favorite to win the Heisman.

Penix freestyling?

Ahead of Washington’s game-winning drive, cameras caught Penix on the bench and it looked like he was freestyle rapping with a teammate.

Receiver Jalen McMillan, who reinjured his knee during the win, was the teammate sitting next to Penix, and he confirmed on social media that his quarterback was indeed freestyling about UW getting the win.

“He and the guys, his teammates, I mean, they just have such a cool bond and every guy’s got a different way of kind of staying in the moment and trying to stay loose,” DeBoer said. “I haven’t really asked him about that, but last night (us coaches) were talking about it here up in the office area. It’s just really cool to see how he handles the situations and the moments. And in the end, he knows how to keep himself focused. He’s been doing this long enough (so) I never worry about him.”

Penix’s development from 2019 to now

A big reason why Penix is in Seattle is because he played under DeBoer before either were at Washington.

Penix started his collegiate career at Indiana, where DeBoer was the Hoosiers’ offensive coordinator in 2019. Three few years later, the duo reunited at UW.

So how has Penix grown since DeBoer first met him?

“I mean, you have to say that there’s just a crazy level of leadership. Even maturity, right?” he said. “As you just get older, that naturally happens.”

As far as what Penix does on the field, this high level of play has always been there, DeBoer said.

“He was so instinctual at that time already. The ball always ended up in the right spot where it was supposed to be,” he said. ” … The tools were all there. The things you’re seeing right now as far as the throws he can make, that arm talent, yeah, maybe it’s a little bit tighter spiral, maybe it’s a little bit tighter motion, but the arm talent and getting the ball from one hash to the other sideline 35 yards down the field, that was there. I never held back on any scheme that I ever saw a team run because I was worried about Michael not being able to make a throw. That was happening at that point already (in 2019).

“He’s able to articulate, I think, things extremely well. His football IQ, it’s really important to him. He’s retained all this. He’s had multiple ways that it’s been taught, from before I got (to Indiana) with a (different) coordinator, to when I was there, to after I was there, and now with (UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb).”

What would it mean to have a Heisman winner?

The University of Washington has never had a Heisman Trophy winner.

Penix finished eighth in the Heisman race last year, making him the eighth player in program history to finish in the top-10 in voting. All-American defensive lineman Steve Emtman has the highest Heisman finish in UW history at fourth place in 1991.

That all could very well change this year as Penix is the frontrunner for the illustrious award after leading the Huskies to a 6-0 start.

What would it mean to DeBoer and UW to have a Heisman Trophy winner?

“I really always felt if we had the right guy – you’ve got to have the right guy and people, you’ve got to win the football games and have a great team as well. But I think in our system – and when I say system, it’s just I think there’s enough throws that are out there, enough opportunities to where you could have that opportunity here,” DeBoer said. “And then I think the winning piece is really critical and having these big ‘Heisman moments’ that come along with it. But it would mean a lot. It really means a lot. We already have a lot of (recruiting) interest from quarterbacks and skill players, but I think that would take it to another level.”

What does the Huskies’ future after Penix look like?

That interest from high school quarterbacks leads to another interesting discussion as this is Penix’s final year of college football eligibility.

The lefty surprisingly returned to UW after a stellar 2022 campaign, forgoing the 2023 NFL Draft. Now, he’s seen as one of the best quarterbacks and players at any position in next April’s draft.

That of course means UW will have a new starting quarterback next year. So what will life after Penix look like for DeBoer and the Huskies?

“I think you can see with who we have on our team right now,” he said. “Dylan Morris continues to just stay the course and be a right-hand man to Michael and helping him reach these heights and supporting him.”

Morris was UW’s starter as a redshirt freshman in the COVID-shortened 2020 season as well as most of 2021, and he has eligibility remaining for 2024. Morris nearly was called upon to play against Oregon as Penix dealt with severe cramping during the fourth quarter.

“We thought he might have to take some snaps and march out there in the fourth quarter (on) Saturday, and we would have been fine with that,” DeBoer said of Morris. “His growth and his confidence I think just continues to rise. And him sticking around I think says a lot about the belief he has in what we’re doing.”

The Huskies also have an exciting young quarterback on campus in Austin Mack, who actually graduated high school a year early in order to join the program this year.

Mack, the No. 8-rated quarterback and No. 73 overall player in the 2023 recruiting cycle by 247Sports, hails from Folsom High School in California, where legendary UW quarterback Jake Browning played in the early-2010s before becoming a four-year starter for the Huskies.

“Austin Mack leaving high school a year early to come be a part of it and not just learn under Michael, but dive into the system,” DeBoer said. “Some of those things, you can see that happening. And it’s reflective in through what is happening even just here on our roster now.”

Listen to Brock and Salk’s full interview with DeBoer at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

More on the UW Huskies

• AP Midseason Football Report: See how No. 5 UW Huskies factor in
• AP Poll: UW Huskies break into top 5 after huge win over Oregon
• No. 8 Oregon laments 4th-down failures in loss to No. 7 UW Huskies
• Caple: Takeaways from No. 7 UW Huskies’ epic win over rival Oregon

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