SEATTLE - The first three games of Kalen DeBoer’s tenure at Washington were about proving to the Huskies that they had successfully left the trouble from the past couple of seasons behind.
Now that the 18th-ranked Huskies have earned some attention, the next step is proving it to the rest of the Pac-12 and beyond.
"Guys are fired up. I don’t think they’re surprised, but I know they’re really in retrospect thinking about where they’re at and their confidence now compared to where they’ve been in the past weeks, months, years," DeBoer said. "So it’s pretty cool to see. That’s why you do what you do as a football coach, not just building a great team but helping guys realize you can become even more than what you think you can. We’re on that path."
Washington’s next challenge comes Saturday night when the Huskies host Stanford. It’s the Pac-12 opener for Washington (3-0) on the week it returned to the AP Top 25 following a statement victory over Michigan State.
Everything seems to be going great for DeBoer and his team, which hasn’t trailed at any point in the first three games. But there are tests still ahead.
"Our guys just see it. They see what they are capable of. They see the potential that exists within this 2022 football team," DeBoer said.
Stanford (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) is coming off an early-season open week and looking to end a losing streak.
Stanford has lost its past seven conference games, its longest Pac-12 losing streak during David Shaw’s tenure and the longest for the Cardinal since losing the last game of the 2005 season and the first six conference games of 2006. Stanford has not lost eight straight in Pac-12 play since dropping nine in a row over the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
It’s been nearly a calendar year since Stanford last won a conference game, when the Cardinal beat then-No. 3 Oregon in overtime on Oct. 3, 2021.
"There’s a level of football that we can play at that’s much higher than we’ve played at so far this year. So that’s our focus," Shaw said.
If there was ever a week for a possible upset, the ingredients seem to be there. Washington has spent the past week hearing about how the Huskies are back after the Michigan State win. Washington hasn’t been ranked this high in a full season since the early stages of the 2019 campaign.
And the one area where Washington has shown vulnerability so far — pass defense — would seem to help Stanford’s offense led by quarterback Tanner McKee, and with leading rusher E.J. Smith out due to injury.
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has topped 330 yards passing in each of the first three games after reaching that mark three times in his 20 career games at Indiana. Penix threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns against Michigan State.
Washington has gained at least 500 yards of offense in each of the first three games. It’s the second time in school history the Huskies have topped 500 yards in a three-game span, and they’ve never topped the 500-yard mark in four consecutive games.
With Smith sidelined by an undisclosed injury, Casey Filkins will get the start at running back for Stanford. Smith was the workhorse through the first two games with 30 carries for 206 yards and three TDs, but Filkins did rush a career-high 16 times for 77 yards and a touchdown in the loss to USC.
Washington’s run defense was terrific last week against Michigan State, holding its running back combo of Jalen Burger and Jerek Broussard to a combined 30 yards rushing on 17 carries. The Huskies are tied for 20th in the country in allowing 2.73 yards per rush.
"We’ll play multiple backs as we have in the past, but excited about what Casey put on film last week," Shaw said.
Another troubling trend for the Cardinal is their carelessness with the football. Stanford has committed multiple turnovers in nine straight games dating back to last season, the longest streak since the 2002-03 season. Dating back to 1996, Stanford has not had multiple turnovers in 10 straight games.