Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Cynthia Ge, football beat reporter at The Daily Californian, and Ethan Kilbreath, sports editor at The Daily of the University of Washington, the University of Washington’s independent student newspaper. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Washington has done relatively well this season, especially compared to the start of last season. What do you think changed?
It’s a whole new coaching staff — new head coach, Kalen DeBoer, replaced Jimmy Lake, who was fired last season, and almost every coach this season has been different, so the Huskies pretty much have an entirely new staff. And that has just brought different results. Obviously, they haven’t been one of the top teams in the country or anything, but they’ve already surpassed their win total from last year. Starting from the top with DeBoer, it really just seems like he has things more organized. The quarterback is also different. Last year, Dylan Morris was the starting quarterback. This year they brought in Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr., and he’s been huge for the offense. The offense has been completely revamped, the pass game has been completely revamped, and everything starting from the top with the head coach is just completely different from last year.
What are your takeaways from Washington’s season thus far?
They’re definitely making positive progress as a program. We knew after last year that they were going to have to have some success this season because it’s really hard to recover if you have two bad seasons in a row, so they’ve definitely rebounded this year. We’ll see where exactly it ends up, but the Huskies are only one win away from bowl eligibility. The part that’s probably been most embraced by fans has been the success the offense has had, because last year the offense was really struggling and had trouble moving the ball. But this year, UW has one of the top offenses in the country. The defense has been a different story: There have been a lot of injuries, and they’ve been giving up a lot of points and a lot of yards.
During his game last week against Arizona, Michael Penix Jr. broke the school record for single-game passing yards, throwing for 516 yards and four touchdowns. Can you speak to his impact on this Huskies team as an athlete and leader?
Penix is a fifth-year junior, so he’s been around for a while. He played in the Big Ten at Indiana, and he’s always been a productive quarterback in his career. Unfortunately, he’s also been bugged by injuries. This is the first season that he’s played more than six games in a year, so the fact that he’s been able to stay healthy this year has really been a key part of the Huskies’ success. He’s also one of the most humble guys. He’ll always give credit to his offensive line and his wide receivers. That’s just the type of guy he is. He makes good decisions with the ball, he’s a smart quarterback, and he’s obviously really talented as well.
In the past seven games, the Huskies have been extremely productive on offense, scoring at least 30 points in every game. What do you think is contributing to this offensive success, and do you think these numbers are sustainable for the rest of the season?
The offensive line has been really solid, so Penix hasn’t been sacked very often. The other main strength besides Penix has been the wide receivers. Last week, Rome Odunze became the first receiver in Huskies history to have four straight games of 100 yards receiving. Jalen McMillan, Giles Jackson and Ja’Lynn Polk have also been big playmakers for the wide receivers, so Penix has a lot of great weapons to throw the ball to. The running game is a little bit more in question; they haven’t had quite as much success on the ground as they have in the air.
The Huskies put up quite the fight against the No. 9 team in the nation three weeks ago. How did the game against UCLA impact the team’s outlook for the rest of the season?
It brought them back down to earth. Going into the UCLA game, the Huskies were ranked No. 15 in the country, and they had just had the big win against Michigan State. There was just this feeling of, “Are these guys ever going to lose a game? Could they like when the conference? Could they even make the playoffs?” The expectations got a little bit too unrealistic, so when they finally lost that first game to UCLA, we knew that this team could still have a successful season, but this wasn’t a team that’s going to make the playoffs or be a frontrunner for the conference just yet.
The last time Washington played against Cal, the Huskies won a close game that spilled into overtime. Do you think this season’s matchup will result in a similar narrow win margin?
I won’t confidently say that UW is just going to run Cal over, but I think the Huskies will win the game. Cal is coming off a loss to Colorado, so I think the Huskies are really going to want to secure bowl eligibility now.
What is your score prediction for Saturday?
I’ll say Washington 38, Cal 24.