More NFL scouts than usual attended last weekend's University of Washington-Stanford football game, either squeezed in among media members in the press box or, in the case of Seahawks general manager John Schneider, stationed on the sideline in Husky Stadium to get a close-up glimpse.
That turnout still wasn't good enough for Husky offensive guard Troy Fautanu when he considered the guy who most people came out to see: his quarterback Michael Penix Jr., the Indiana transfer.
"I don't know why 32 teams aren't out here watching No. 9," Fautanu said. "He's the man."
As they head into Friday night's nationally televised game against UCLA — which presents an intriguing QB matchup of Penix against the Bruins' Dorian Thompson-Robinson, both dual threats guys — the Huskies come in as confident as ever in their ability to move the football.
Last year, the UW was unfailingly predictable and much easier to defend against, with opponents doing everything to pile up bodies to stop the run and virtually ignore the Huskies' passing game.
The emergence of Penix from the transfer portal and the availability of wide receivers Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja'Lynn Polk, who each were injured and out of action for long stretches in 2021, has changed everyone's outlook and approach.
All of these UW players now present big problems for an opposing defensive coordinator trying to game-plan against them, with four so far trying and failing to stop them. There are no automatic solutions.
"I think our receivers are too much of a threat to stack the box," Fautanu said. "Like last year, we were running into seven- and eight-man boxes because we weren't doing great in the passing game. This year, we have No. 9 back there and everyone in that [receivers] room is a threat downfield. What do you want to do, like zone coverage or man up those guys?"
Penix also draws raves for his leadership ability, where he shows no reluctance at all to get after UW teammates who might be lagging, and he continues to deliver the football time and time again.
"We have so much confidence in Mike in just being able to operate the offense and being confident he's going to make plays," Fautanu said. "It's nice when you're straining maybe five or six seconds of a play and you look downfield and a guy is running with the ball."
As a veteran quarterback who spent four seasons in the Big Ten, Penix has seen just about everything. He's played in big games at Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. He knows when it's time for everyone to be as serious as can be and isn't afraid to express it. Or even hear it in return.
"[It's] him being able to hold us accountable when we're being lazy on practice days," Fautanu said. "He just calls us out or like us calling him out, as well. It's a mutual relationship. To have that with your quarterback is something special."
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