CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple’s UW Huskies Notebook: QB Morris’ status, staff departure, more

Dec 14, 2023, 6:54 PM

UW Huskies Michael Penix Jr. Dylan Morris...

UW Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. and his backup Dylan Morris on Nov. 4, 2023. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — UW Huskies quarterback Dylan Morris didn’t necessarily want to enter the transfer portal. Not yet, anyway.

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That’s what Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said Thursday, three days after the Huskies’ fifth-year junior decided to begin pursuing transfer options — even as he remains on the roster, in good standing, still preparing to back up UW Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. against Texas on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl.

Typically, a player who intends to transfer is quickly removed from UW’s online roster and is no longer part of the program — you’re either in or you’re out, so to speak. But Morris’ situation is a little more nuanced.

UW’s starting quarterback in 2020-21, Morris has spent the last two seasons as Penix’s backup, earning rave reviews from coaches and teammates for his focus and work ethic despite limited playing time. Seeing this season through — and being available for the CFP — is important to him, Grubb said.

But as the Huskies search the portal themselves for next year’s likely starter — Mississippi State’s Will Rogers is scheduled to visit this weekend — Morris has to make a decision about how he wants to spend his final season of college eligibility.

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Stay and compete against a hand-picked successor to Penix? Or find somewhere he can finish his career as the starter?

Morris’ portal entry suggests he will pursue the latter; he reportedly visited Marshall this week. But Grubb is confident it won’t distract him from whatever role the Huskies need him to fill against Texas.

“I think a lot of people (in coaching) don’t want to do those things because they wouldn’t trust a guy in the locker room to be saying the right things, doing the right things, and really wouldn’t be trusting them to prepare for a game,” Grubb said. “I have absolute trust, the team has absolute trust in D-Mo, that that’s all he’s going to do — prepare.

“Everybody here supports D-Mo. He’s ready to make the next step in his journey, but not until after the season. He was really, really clear about that.”

But with so many other quarterbacks already searching for — and finding — new homes for 2024, Grubb felt Morris probably needed to put his name in the portal and begin the process before it was too late.

“I didn’t want D-Mo’s being a good guy to hold him back from getting an opportunity somewhere,” Grubb said. “He came in, talked, did everything the right way, and we were super excited about that.”

Grubb said “never say never” when asked if Morris might still return to Washington in 2024.

“It wouldn’t be that he couldn’t get the job, but it’s like, you have another year, and if it doesn’t go like you want, and you’re sitting here — I get it,” Grubb said. “The quarterback world is complicated sometimes, and even for really good, team guys like Dylan, he just wants to make sure he’s got a spot where he can be the guy and have a chance to play his last year of eligibility.”

• Interestingly, Texas’ backup quarterback, Maalik Murphy, also has entered the transfer portal — but made the difficult decision to leave the program as his teammates prepare to face the Huskies.

Per ESPN, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian made the same offer to Murphy that Washington extended to Morris — to stay with the team while plotting his next move — but Murphy said he declined, “given the time it will take for visits and to assure he finds the right spot for his future.”

• At the mention of a certain third-year sophomore edge rusher, co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell cracked: “The legend of Durfee.”

Zach Durfee, the University of Sioux Falls transfer whom the NCAA denied immediate eligibility this season, is finally able to play for the Huskies after the current academic quarter ends on Friday.

I’ve been wondering: is he in position to contribute against the Longhorns?

“I think he is,” Morrell said. “Obviously, we’ve been feeding him reps, been working through the cascade of appeal processes and always hoping that we’d give him an opportunity. Maybe it was going to happen halfway through the season. So he’s repped throughout the year — not at an extreme rate, but he’s also not a freshman. I think he’s shown us what he can do during fall camp and sporadically throughout the season. I think there’s certainly some times where he can be an asset for us.”

• I had planned to ask edges coach Eric Schmidt about Durfee during Thursday’s media availability … but news broke during UW’s practice that Schmidt is set to become defensive coordinator under new coach Sean Lewis at San Diego State, and he respectfully declined to speak with reporters afterward.

It’s a nice promotion for Schmidt, who I’m told will continue to coach the Huskies through the CFP. He did spend six seasons as the defensive coordinator at FCS North Dakota from 2014-19 before joining DeBoer at Fresno State. Schmidt has coached every position in the front seven throughout his career, and will reportedly coach linebackers at SDSU in addition to his DC duties.

Assuming the move becomes official, Schmidt will be the first assistant to leave DeBoer’s Washington staff since receivers coach Junior Adams left for Oregon after initially agreeing to stay in December 2021.

Schmidt wouldn’t be the only coach in the Sugar Bowl already committed to a new job. Jeff Choate, a former UW assistant, is in his third season as the Longhorns’ co-DC and linebackers coach, and accepted the head coaching job at Nevada last week.

• While stars like receiver Rome Odunze, edge rusher Bralen Trice and left tackle Troy Fautanu certainly will forego their final year of college eligibility to pursue the NFL Draft, the Huskies have a handful of other underclassmen who have more difficult decisions to make.

That list includes receivers Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk, right tackle Roger Rosengarten, running back Dillon Johnson and cornerback Jabbar Muhammad.

McMillan acknowledged Wednesday that if he hadn’t missed so much time due to injury this season, it wouldn’t even be a question — he’d be off to the NFL. But because a knee injury limited him to 34 catches for 468 yards, it’s possible McMillan could benefit by returning to Washington for his senior season.

“I think it’s a good situation if I stay or if I leave,” he said.

Everything is on the table, he said. His decision will depend at least partially upon how the Huskies — and McMillan — fare in the CFP. Once healthy, he led the team with nine catches for 131 yards in UW’s 34-31 win over Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.

If he does choose to play another season for the Huskies, McMillan said, it would be “to continue the culture in the receiver room and play with Denzel (Boston) and Germie (Bernard) and the rest of them one more time.”

“I haven’t even thought about any of that yet,” he said. “I’m just really focused on the next game, and trying to put my foot right there.”

Johnson, who rushed for 1,113 yards and 14 touchdowns after transferring from Mississippi State, also didn’t reveal much about his plans.

“I’ve really been talking to Coach Grubb and Coach (Lee) Marks, just discussing coming back or going to the NFL,” he said. “Whatever is best for me, that’s the decision I’m going to make.”

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

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