SEATTLE — From the time he took the job as head coach in Washington, Kalen DeBoer realized the importance of getting the best out of his Oregon neighbors.
Now that he’s done it in his first season in charge, what’s next? How about keeping hopes alive for a Pac-12 championship game spot?
The 15th-ranked Huskies, who came back from the road excitement in Oregon last week, play their home final against listless Colorado on Saturday. Washington (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12, No. 17 CFP) still has a shot at earning their way to Las Vegas for the conference title game but needs some help getting there. First, the Huskies need to avoid disappointment against the Buffaloes and then defeat Washington State in next week’s Apple Cup.
“We’re becoming a pretty complete team and every week we’re closing the gap to our potential. We’ve been saying all along that anyone can beat us,” DeBoer said. “A couple of weeks ago we had a two-game losing streak and we will learn from those games as much as we did from wins. We must be ready. In terms of opportunities that could come our way, we have big plans this season. Before we think about the last week of the season, we need to make sure we’re focused on Colorado.”
The challenge is clear. The Huskies just won on their most hated rival’s home field and will face Washington State rivals on their home field in Pullman in a week’s time.
It’s a perfect recipe for a break-in. In that case, Colorado (1-9, 1-6) could be the perfect opponent. The Buffaloes have lost four straight games, giving up at least 40 points on each of those setbacks, and now must try to slow the nation’s leading passer Michael Penix Jr. from his magical night against Oregon.
“From the first second, it was like Washington was better than Oregon on the field that day,” said Colorado caretaker coach Mike Sanford. “It is a monumental task for our football team to go in there. And we look forward to this task.”
Penix might not have a better moment in college than his performance against Oregon. His 408 yards of passing and two touchdowns against the Ducks included a number of highlights. Penix moved up to second on Washington’s all-time passing list and could be close to breaking a record that seemed untouchable with a big game against Colorado.
Penix has 3,640 yards on the season and needs just over 800 yards to beat Cody Pickett’s 2002 school record of 4,458 yards. Pickett has made the mark in 13 games.
Colorado senior running back Alex Fontenot’s game against USC last week was a bright spot in an otherwise miserable season for the Buffs. Fontenot rushed for a season-high 108 yards and a touchdown against the Trojans. It was the fourth 100-yard game of Fontenot’s career, but his first since November 23, 2019, when he rushed for 105 yards in a win over Washington.
Fontenot saw a lot during his time in Boulder. He arrived on campus in 2017 and showed flashes of being a breakout star in 2019 before an injury cost him the entire 2020 season.
“At this point I can’t commit to myself in every game. I would just hit a wall with it,” said Fontenot. “I’m out here just enjoying the time I have to do what I love with all my brothers because I know I’ll probably never get that time back.”
Washington will honor 13 seniors — 11 grantees and two walk-ons — before kickoff, DeBoer said. It’s been a difficult tenure for some of them, including three head coaches, a shortened season due to the pandemic and a brutal 4-8 campaign.
“We have relied on her so much over the past 12 months to give me advice when I have questions about how things have been done in the past. Or how we’re doing with our attitude and the little things and areas that I can clean up for the team that might not be where we want them to be in sync,” DeBoer said. “They were open, honest. You were great.”
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