No. 2 Washington ‘putting in all the preparation’ ahead of College Football Playoff National Championship 

Across his journey throughout the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics ranks and Group of Five path, it has all led here for Kalen DeBoer. 

DeBoer will lead No. 2 Washington into its first College Football Playoff National Championship appearance, and the Huskies will play for their first national title since 1991 when they line up to play No. 1 Michigan in Houston on Monday night. 

“I’ve tried to make sure our guys realize the moment they’re in,” DeBoer said. “I’ve tried to really make sure and be intentional that this moment is special. It’s really great when you’re in playoff football, when you know when your last game is going to be. And you can have a moment here, a moment there, where you can really appreciate how far we’ve come, whether it’s this year or over the last two years, and in the end, though, someone’s going to be a national champion and that’s the greatest piece of it all is making sure you’re putting in all the preparation.” 

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DeBoer has led a turnaround within Washington’s program from the moment he took the reins prior to the 2022 season. 

Washington finished 4-8 under Jimmy Lake in 2021. It marked the program’s first under-.500 season in 12 years, and it was time for a change. 

DeBoer made the trek across the country from Indiana where he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2019, then he became the head coach at Fresno State from 2020-21. 

DeBoer brought quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with him to Washington after the two spent time together at Indiana, and Penix is soaking in the moment of a CFP National Championship. 

“It’s a dream come true to be honest. I’m still wrapping my head around it,” Penix said. “Just super blessed to be in this position. This is something that you dream of as kids coming to play for the national championship. For us to be here right now, all the hard work and dedication that it took to get here, it’s definitely showing that it’s paid off. But obviously, we got to make it happen.” 

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Penix finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting. He led the Pac-12 Conference with 4,648 passing yards and has 35 passing touchdowns and a 66.7% completion to his name. 

Washington’s offense presents a high-powered passing approach, but it is complemented by dynamic running back Dillon Johnson. Johnson aggravated a foot injury and had a bruised left knee after the Sugar Bowl against No. 3 Texas, but he isn’t likely to miss time against the Wolverines. 

“We’re expecting him to play,” DeBoer said. “He’s been through this over the last couple of months and he hasn’t missed any time there. And so he’s having a good week getting back healthy.” 

Michigan’s defense will counter Washington with a stout front seven. 

The Wolverines hold opposing offenses to 150 passing yards per game, which is good for No. 2 in college football. 

Washington co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach William Inge said Michigan presents “a lot of challenges” from the defensive side of the ball. 

“They definitely define the elements of physicality, and as a coach, it makes you so happy because this is what really defines football from any other sport, the elements of contact that you have to have,” Inge said. “We have to be able to match that exact same physicality with us on defense.” 

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Penix has some experience playing against a Michigan defense. 

In 2020, Penix led Indiana to a 38-21 win over the Wolverines, and in the game he threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns. 

While there may be some flashbacks to competing against Michigan, Penix thinks the Huskies will be up for the challenge. 

“That whole defense, they’re good,” Penix said. “I feel like they do a lot of good things on that side of the ball. I feel like they’re very well coached. They have a lot of good players, and we do too, obviously. But for me, I’m always going to believe in my guys and believe that my guys are going to be able to get the job done no matter what and no matter who we’re facing, so I’m super excited for it. I know the guys are super excited for it, and come Monday I guess we’ll see who had the better side.” 

DeBoer’s play calling and the work he does alongside coordinators such as Ryan Grubb on offense and co-coordinators Inge and Chuck Morrell on defense has been among the best in college football, and Washington hinges itself on executing the right play. 

DeBoer said the Huskies talk about game planning and schematics “all offseason” and even into spring and fall practices. He said the emphasis lies in “game situations,” such as being ready for an opportunity on fourth down offensively. 

“I think there’s a lot of people that are much more aggressive than I am, but I think it’s just picking and choosing the right times,” DeBoer said. “A lot of it, you understand that percentages and the chances and, of course, there’s a million different ways to look at the analytics of everything and what you should do. But for me, there’s a piece of that, but it’s also just where we’re at in the game and your gut instinct. And obviously, you’re trusting in the game plan and you’re trusting in the calls that your coach is going to make and of course, most importantly, you’re trusting the execution of your guys.” 

READ: Former Kansas State QB Will Howard to transfer to Ohio State

Washington’s turnaround over the past two seasons has been drastic, and it all starts with Penix and DeBoer at the top. 

Penix said his relationship with DeBoer “definitely helped” and was among the reasons he chose to transfer to Washington from Indiana after the 2021 season. 

And now the two have a chance to win a CFP National Championship together as part of an unbeaten, conference-champion Huskies team. 

“He’s somebody that I trusted in whenever he was coaching me at Indiana,” Penix said. “It was good, the whole transfer thing. I felt like I was doing what I felt was best for me and my future at that time, and I definitely don’t regret it. I feel like it was the best decision of my life and I’m super blessed that I was able to do that. And to be able to be on this stage today is a big blessing, but I’ve always loved and believed in coach DeBoer and everything that he stands for and he preaches, and I’m still doing it. I’m still believing.”