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Replaying Kalen DeBoer's Breakthrough First UW Football Season

Husky Maven on FanNation logo Husky Maven on FanNation 11/28/2022 Dan Raley

Ten victories far exceeds the expectations for most UW fans and even most media members.

Skeptical University of Washington football fans, remembering Jimmy Lake's final Husky team coming apart at the seams in 2021, felt six or seven victories might be a reasonable expectation for the current Husky outfit led by a new coach.

Media members, after catching glimpses of the new quarterback and demanding practices held throughout the spring and the fall, bumped it up to eight or nine wins possible, especially with a made-to-order conference schedule that didn't include notable obstacles USC or Utah.

First-year coach Kalen DeBoer, however, was pretty clear regarding his initial vision for a UW team coming off a 4-8 season, the program's worst in 13 seasons — he memorably stressed that he only plays for championships.

That was a heady proclamation for the new guy in town, especially considering the conference pecking order he had walked into, which had been to be subservient to Oregon year in and year out. 

Analysts suggested this newly installed leader might be able to make headway and establish the Husky football program and capture the rapt attention of the local masses if he did the impossible right off the bat — beat Michigan State or Oregon, or, dare to dream, both of them.

That's exactly what happened for this heavily disciplined and highly creative 30th Husky football coach in his first trip around the block in Montlake, who has been hailed as an instant success and become one of the school's very best coaching additions. 

Down went the Spartans and the Ducks, and up went the reputation of this promising hire for all things UW football, which earned DeBoer a contract extension before he'd even completed the regular-season schedule with Saturday night's 51-33 victory over Washington State in Pullman.

Besides those monumental outcomes over Michigan State and Oregon, DeBoer has won more games than any other first-year Husky coach in program history. His 10 victories by far exceed the initial efforts of all of the great ones who came before him in Montlake in Chris Petersen (8-6 in 2014), Don James (6-5 in 1975), Jim Owens (3-6-1 in 1957) and even the turn-of-the-century Gil Dobie (6-0-1 in 1908), the latter playing against high schools and lower-classification colleges. 

His team currently is ranked ninth in the AP Top 25 poll and is tied for second place in the Pac-12 Conference with Oregon.

And DeBoer still has a bowl game to play, maybe even on New Year's Day, with the Huskies' postseason game likely taking him and his players to California or Texas depending on who invites them to face what should be a high-profile opponent.

Taking all of these impactful events into consideration, here's a quick rehash plus a photo gallery of DeBoer's debut season that's been as uplifting for UW followers as last year's disaster was bitterly disappointing for them. As a city, Seattle always seems out of sorts when Husky football is suffering and renewed when it's not.

2022 HUSKY SEASON IN REVIEW

At UW 45, Kent State 20 — DeBoer rolled out his offense and he needed just two minutes and 10 seconds for his players to score for the first time against this overmatched MAC opponent, with that initial touchdown of what has been 63 this season coming on Virginia transfer Wayne Taulapapa's 28-yard run. Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. played as well as advertised, completing 26 of 39 passes for 345 yards and 4 touchdowns, two to Husky holdover wide receiver Jalen McMillan. People were greatly encouraged by what they saw in this first-night preview. 

At UW 52, Portland State 6 — Further endearing themselves to the local populace, DeBoer's Huskies put up seven touchdowns against another lower-level team, with back-up running back Cam Davis providing two of them on the ground and McMillan sprinting a season-best 84 yards for a lightning-strike score, the longest of the season. Choosing to spread Husky playing time around and develop the younger guys, the new coach used 74 players. 

At UW 39, Michigan State 28 — OK, so the Spartans weren't as good as everyone thought and then many of them wound up arrested and charged for their involvement in a postgame helmet-swinging brawl at Michigan, but this was a signature win for DeBoer. Any time you beat a Big Ten team, especially one coming off an 11-2 season, it's a worthy accomplishment. UW wide receiver Ja'Lynn Polk enjoyed a career day with 6 catches for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns, scoring on catches of 8, 17 and 53 yards. These teams, with the Spartans finishing the current season at 5-7, meet again in East Lansing, Michigan, in 10 months.

At UW 40, Stanford 22 — DeBoer's first deep dive into Pac-12 play went well as the Huskies jumped to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter and Taulapapa gave the Huskies' their first 100-yard rushing effort in 11 games over two seasons, finishing with 120 yards on 13 carries while scoring on a 34-yard dash. Steady Peyton Henry kicked four field goals. This outcome helped cause the once wildly successful Cardinal coach David Shaw to resign following a 3-9 season. DeBoer, in effect, has become the new Shaw.

At UCLA 40, UW 32 — The first road game for DeBoer marked the only time his team got manhandled all season, but the worst of it lasted for just the second and third quarters. The Huskies still had their moments at the Rose Bowl against a good team that finished the regular season 9-3 and is headed for a decent bowl game. The UW led 7-0 and 10-9 before falling behind by a daunting 40-16 and then scoring twice in the final quarter to make things respectable on the scoreboard. 

At Arizona State 45, UW 38 — This represents the only real blot on DeBoer's first-year ledger, with the Huskies losing to a shorthanded, coach-less and less-talented opponent, but in reality the outcome was unavoidable in Tempe. The UW gamely tried to play without anything resembling a proven or adequate secondary, with both cornerback starters out or hobbled, hybrid Husky Dom Hampton getting injured during the contest and safety Asa Turner lost to targeting in the opening half. That forced the UW to go with multiple true or redshirt freshmen in coverage and it left the UW extremely vulnerable. Davis kept things competitive with second-half TD runs of 4, 1 and 5 yards. Two Sun Devils created a scare late in the game with Penix when they hit him, left him groggy and were penalized for it. Yet, he missed only a play and was back at it.

Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. immediately built a loyal following among UW fans by dialing up a high-octane offense and leading his team to a season-opening victory over Kent State. Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports © Provided by Husky Maven on FanNation Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. immediately built a loyal following among UW fans by dialing up a high-octane offense and leading his team to a season-opening victory over Kent State. Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
View the 12 images of this gallery on the original article

At UW 49, Arizona 39 — Penix provided a record-breaking afternoon in Husky Stadium that was both fascinating to watch and timely enough to break a two-game losing streak. Penix completed 36 of 44 passes for a school-best 516 yards and 4 touchdowns, with his 529 yards of total offense providing another record-breaker. Sophomore wide receiver Rome Odunze benefitted the most from this aerial outburst by catching 9 passes for 169 yards and 2 scores, juggling the second TD in an unforgettable manner.

UW 28, at California 21 — This game was probably closer than it should have been, but the Huskies won just the same, scoring their first road win for DeBoer. It seemed only fitting that this tough-minded game be decided by a 36-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter from Penix to Mr. Violent himself, running back Richard Newton, who made a difficult catch and stiff-armed his way into the end zone as he continued to bounce back after a long injury absence.

At UW 24, Oregon State 21 — This was the sort of game the Huskies simply couldn't win in 2021, a contest that required them to overcome considerable adversity along the way to a good team and then close it out. The UW never led until Peyton Henry connected on a 22-yard field goal with eight seconds left to play on a blustery night at Husky Stadium, a kick set up by a masterful 18-play, 92-yard, four-minute and 25-second drive that ate up a huge chunk of clock.

UW 37, at Oregon 34 — DeBoer officially stamped his first year as a huge success with a statement win over the Ducks at Autzen Stadium and by using his big-play offense to get it done. The Huskies had electric touchdown passes of 76 yards to Polk and 62 yards to Taj Davis, the later coming with just 3:07 left in the game on an incredible opposite hashmark throw from Penix to tie things at 34. Henry, now feeling unflappable at the end with a game on the line, won this one with 43-yard field goal with 51 seconds remaining. Penix was at his big-game best, completing 26 of 35 passes for 408 yards and 2 touchdowns.  

At UW 54, Colorado 7 — The Huskies avenged a bad loss from the year before in Boulder by scoring the game's first 47 points, 33 coming in the first half at home. Matching the Portland State game, the UW put up seven touchdowns, two each by Taulapapa and Davis, with the Virginia transfer able to play on in spite of losing three former teammates and friends in a fatal campus shooting back East the weekend before. He broke 100 yards rushing for a second time, picking up 107 on 22 carries against the Buffaloes.

UW 51, at WSU 33 — DeBoer's team won its sixth consecutive game and broke the 50-point barrier for the third time by winning a highly competitive Apple Cup in Pullman against a sound WSU team. Penix made a real case for a Heisman campaign by completing 25 of 43 passes for 484 yards and 3 touchdowns, and rushing twice for 34 yards and 2 touchdowns. Entering the expected bowl game, he has a nation-best 4,354 passing yards and has thrown for 29 scores. Taualapapa rushed 13 times for 126 yards, his third 100-yard ground game for the Huskies. Both Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan went over 1,000 yards receiving, with their totals reaching 1,088 and 1,040. It would a surprise if Penix wasn't named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and DeBoer as Coach of the Year. The state of Husky football is in a very good place right now.  

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