One guy has been here. Has won here. Maybe not as consistently as the fan base would have liked him to, but enough that he is a legitimate threat to start in the Huskies’ opener.
Another guy is the one whose left arm is thought to have been kissed by the football gods — the five-star recruit who throws a divine deep ball and is dripping with natural talent.
And then there is Michael Penix Jr. — the transfer from Indiana with little luster on his résumé. He has never played more than six games in any of his four college seasons. He completed fewer than half his passes in all three of the Hoosiers’ losses last year, in which he played all of five games. But as Washington’s first football game draws nearer, it is Penix who has been just consistent enough in practice, just knowledgeable enough in this system — that it should come as no surprise if he is the Huskies’ starting quarterback when they open against Kent State on Sept. 3.
“He’s got a real strong, powerful arm,” Huskies receiver Ja’Lynn Polk said of Penix. “I think a lot of people will see that real soon.”
This wasn’t Polk predicting who will be behind center when UW’s season begins. He was complimentary of fellow Husky quarterbacks Dylan Morris and Sam Huard, against whom Penix is competing. But it was clear that Polk, like others in the program, have been impressed with what they have seen from the fifth-year junior thus far.
No, you won’t see Penix’s name on any NFL mock draft sites. He doesn’t make scouts salivate or fans fawn out of pure wonder. However, there is enough of a track record to suggest that not only could Penix win this quarterback battle, but that he could provide enough production to lead UW to a successful season.
Take his 2019 campaign, for example. This was Penix’s sophomore season and the one year Washington coach Kalen DeBoer served as Indiana’s offensive coordinator. Within that system, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Penix completed an Indiana single-season record 68.8% of his passes while throwing for 1,394 yards and 10 touchdowns against four interceptions.
Those may not be overwhelming numbers. Certainly nothing that would stand out at Ohio State or Michigan or other perennial Big Ten powers. But it was enough to nab the Hoosiers five wins in the six games Penix played before going down with a sternoclavicular joint injury.
Critics will say that Penix, who has also missed significant time because of two ACL tears and a shoulder injury, failed to recreate his second-year success in each of his next two seasons. They aren’t wrong. His completion percentage dipped to 56.4% in 2020 and 53.7% in 2021 as Indiana went 7-4 in the games Penix played over those two years. Still, mention of Michael’s name Friday was enough to instantly prompt a smile from Huskies associate head coach JaMarcus Shephard.
“Love the guy. Oh, my goodness” Shephard said. “Go ahead — I’ll let you ask a question.”
Well, what gets you so pumped up when you hear his name?
“He’s just got some poise back there, and he throws a really tremendous ball. I like that he can throw it from a lot of different arm angles,” Shephard continued. “I like that he doesn’t make a lot of excuses about whether a play should have been played this way or that way. He does a great job of coming and talking to the guys instead of just complaining. To me, those are the leadership qualities that you want to see from your quarterback.”
So what does Penix think about his situation? Well, Friday — as Shephard’s words may have indicated — he spent most of his time praising the two quarterbacks he is competing against. No reason not to.
Morris went 3-1 in his debut season in 2020 before finishing 4-7 as the starter last year — but one could make a strong case that if he were not temporarily pulled vs. Arizona State and Colorado, UW could have won both games and reached a bowl.
And Huard, the five-star high school standout from Kennedy Catholic, has shown significant signs of improvement in the spring and fall after a rocky four games his freshman season.
But it is Penix who has the most experience — particularly in this system. The question is whether he can stay healthy. Friday, a reporter asked him whether he is more reluctant to take a hit these days. Penix wasn’t biting.
“It’s football. You’re going to get hit. Everybody is going to hit in football. Not everything is going to be perfect. I’m not really worried about that,” Penix said. “You’re going to get hit. You can’t be scared about that in this game.”
What would you say to people who say you’re injury prone?
This time, a smile. “Don’t count me out,” Penix said. “It’s going to be special. Keep believing.”
Saturday, the Huskies will play a closed scrimmage that could lead to some separation in the quarterback competition. Penix sounds ready to capitalize.
He may have set a completion-percentage record at Indiana, but he also knows that, at this point, his collegiate career is incomplete.