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A Q&A With Washington Writer Mark Schafer

Depth charts are being released, game prep is in full swing, and I got a chance to learn more about the 2023 Washington Huskies.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

College football is back...ish.

Notre Dame and USC provided some star power during a very light opening course.

UMass showed out under Don Brown and Louisiana Tech, led by former Bronco Hank Bachmeier, managed to sneak past a FIU team that managed only four passing yards.

It’s good to see Hurricane Hank land on his feet. The best of luck to him.

However, with week zero under our belts, we are now ready for the main course that is Labor Day weekend.

I had the chance to connect with SB Nation’s Washington site, “De UW Dawg Pound”, about Boise State’s season opener and what fans should expect from the Huskies.

Please enjoy the conversation I had with Mark Schafer about Boise State’s toughest opponent in years.

Aiden Petterson: With the recent news of UW running back Cam Davis being out for the season, how does this impact the Husky running game and who do you expect to step up?

Mark Schafer: This is not an ideal situation. Davis was explosive last year and finished 4th in the conference in touchdowns with 13. His versatility will be missed, as will his explosiveness. However, the staff made moves in the portal to bolster the running back room. Dillon Johnson is now the popular pick to be RB1. The Mississippi State product has power and explosiveness, but also good hands to catch passes, something that he did plenty of in Leach’s Air Raid. Behind him, the Dawgs have plenty of returning talent in Will Nixon and Richard Newton, who were effective last year, in addition to another transfer in the speedy Daniyel Ngata from Arizona State. Cam is a key piece to this offense, to be sure, but the rest of room has the talent and experience to step up.

AP: Michael Penix Jr. led the Indiana football program back from the dead and has meshed with head coach Kalen DeBoer extremely well. What is it that makes Penix Jr. stand out compared to the rest of his PAC-12 peers?

MS: I think the connection between DeBoer and Michael Penix is what stands out the most. DeBoer and Penix were OC and QB at Indiana in 2019, and Mike has run this same scheme for 5 seasons now, he basically knows it inside and out.

On the physical and mental side, what stands out to me about Penix is, first, his arm. “Arm talent” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days, but he has it, and he has it in spades. The ability to make a smart throw is something that he also has, but he also has the confidence and the trust in his receivers to go for the big play. Sometimes that confidence backfires, but what’s probably most impressive is that he shakes it off when he makes a mistake and doesn’t get rattled in the slightest. Go watch the tape from the Oregon game, and you’ll see that on display.

AP: How much concern is there about having to replace three starters on the offensive line considering the up-and-down health history of Penix Jr.?

MS: I’d say my own personal concern is about a medium. Now we get to find out how good of an O-Line coach Scott Huff is. It was surprising that he was the only coach retained when DeBoer took over, but last season was incredible for the O-Line. Henry Bainivalu and Jaxson Kirkland had a lot to do with that. Still, the Huskies return a fair bit of talent from last year. Roger Rosengarten and Troy Fautanu man both tackle spots, and Julius Buelow and Nate Kalepo are both back to occupy the guard spots, bringing starting experience. Parker Brailsford has impressed in fall camp, but whether that’ll translate to game action remains to be seen. All this is one giant question mark right now, and it should clear up come 12:30 PM on September 2nd .

Penix’s health history is something of a concern for me, and it remains to be seen whether the line can protect him as well as they did last season. I personally think they’ll do a good job keeping him upright. But given the question marks on the line, there’s a moderate amount of concern there.

AP: Do you see vast improvement in the pass defense for the Huskies or will Boise State be able dink-and-dunk their way down the field?

MS: I do see improvement in the pass defense, and I’ll give you three reasons why. The first reason is that the secondary was absolutely decimated by injury last year. Guys were playing out of position constantly and that in turn led to an abysmal pass defense. To shore that up, the staff made sure that each defensive back has experience in multiple positions in the secondary.

Secondly, the personnel received an upgrade, with defensive back Jabbar Muhammad coming in off an All-Big 12 honorable mention season for Oklahoma State. He’ll hold down one spot and Elijah Jackson will hold the other.

Thirdly, last year was the first year of a new scheme, which led to general shakiness in the defensive unit. That’s to be expected whenever coaches change and a new staff comes in. Now in year 2, the rust should be fully shaken off, the scheme learned, and the talent having gained a year of experience. As I stated, I see improvement in the pass defense, but how vast, I’m not quite sure.

AP: Who is the player that Bronco fans should fear the most on the defensive side of the ball and why?

MS: The talent on the defense starts up front for the Huskies. More specifically, it starts on the edge. Bralen Trice was a wrecker of opposing offenses last year, racking up 9 sacks, 12 TFL, and 38 total tackles. What stands out to me is his combination of strength and speed for a guy his size. He’s very quick for a big guy and has the strength to beat the man (or men) trying to cover him, as his pass rush win rate last year was good for top in the nation at 29.5%, and his pressure rate was good for second at 22.5%. The Bronco line will surely have their hands full if he keeps up that production.

AP: It’s time to put pen to paper (or keystroke to Word doc). What is your prediction for this Pacific Northwest clash?

MS: I’m predicting an offensive explosion for the Dawgs to start out and while I do think that Boise State will try and keep it relatively close, but in the end, the offensive firepower will be too much for the Broncos’ defense to handle.

Mark Schafer: Washington 45 - Boise State 28

Thank you to Mark, Max, and the rest of the UW Dawg Pound staff for being such a joy to collaborate with!

Best of luck to the Huskies in 2023 (after week one, that is).

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