Washington’s current starting quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., leads the country in both passing yards (4,354) and passing yards per game (362.8) on a 10-2 team. He led UW to ranked wins over Oregon and Oregon State and capped the regular season with a rivalry romp over Washington State. He finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the best player in college football.
For a prospective quarterback, Penix’s example provides a lot to like.
But apparently, not enough.
Lincoln Keinholz — who announced a verbal pledge to UW on June 29 — flipped his commitment to Ohio State Wednesday, less than three weeks after completing an official visit for the Buckeyes’ rivalry loss to Michigan.
“I want to say thank you to the University of Washington for honoring my decommitment,” Kienholz tweeted Wednesday morning. “With that being said, I am moving forward with my recruitment. God Bless”.
Six minutes later, he added: “After long talks and consideration, I (am) very blessed with this opportunity. Thank you to (quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis) and the staff and also everyone that’s been along on this ride. I’m excited to announce I am committing to @OhioStateFB.”
Kienholz — a 6-foot-3, 185-pound passer from Pierre, SD — has rapidly risen through the rankings, considered a four-star recruit and the No. 13 quarterback in the country by 247Sports. Besides Ohio State and UW, the TF Riggs High School standout also reported offers from North Dakota State, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Kansas State, Minnesota, Pitt, WSU and more.
In a stellar senior season, Kienholz completed nearly 67% of his passes and threw for 3,422 yards with 46 touchdowns and just six interceptions, while adding 1,436 rushing yards and 24 more scores.
Meanwhile, with one week until early signing day, Washington’s class lacks a quarterback.
A year ago, three-star quarterback Jackson Stratton rescinded his commitment on Dec. 7 — though it’s possible UW’s new coaching staff cut him loose — before ultimately signing with Colorado State. The Huskies failed to sign a quarterback in the 2022 class.
In all, UW features just three scholarship quarterbacks on its current roster — soon-to-be sixth-year senior Penix, junior Dylan Morris and sophomore Sam Huard.
From any angle, that’s not enough.
“Ideally you sign one (quarterback) every year,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said on Nov. 28. “There’s some gaps in our program. We only have three on scholarship right now. Going back many years, you’d like to have recruited one every year.
“Now, if it’s not the right one, don’t just take one to take one. The (transfer) portal has certainly changed and evolved the way you look at that. So we’ve just got to play it day by day and see where it continues to go.”
In the 16 days since, it’s gone decidedly south.
But the Huskies have options.
Two of them, actually. Washington can either A.) pursue a prep or junior college quarterback, likely targeting the later signing day on Feb. 1, or B.) go shopping in the transfer portal.
The Huskies certainly appear to be exploring Option A, as four-star Washington State QB commit Sam Leavitt reported a UW offer on Tuesday night.
A 6-1, 185-pound passer from West Linn, Ore., Leavitt is ranked as the top player in the state of Oregon and the No. 23 quarterback in the 2023 class by 247Sports. He committed to WSU on July 2 but took an official visit to Michigan State last weekend. The Cougs’ also just lost their offensive coordinator, Eric Morris, who was named North Texas’ head coach this week.
Leavitt — who also touts offers from Arizona and Florida State — amassed 3,884 total yards and 44 touchdowns on 70% completions in his senior season, leading West Linn to a state title.
“He made a tremendous jump this year,” said 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman. “Best player on the best team in the state. Good athlete. Good blood lines. His brother plays in the NFL. Really improved as a pass this year.
“He’s a big reason why they won the state championship. He’s got a good arm. He’s a mature passer, spreads the ball around, goes through progressions. He can tuck it and run. In a game I went to in October he had a 72-yard touchdown. I went down to their state championship game and he ran for 130 yards in a driving rain. So he’s got some athleticism as well. He’s really got some versatility as a quarterback, but he wants to sit in the pocket and he wants to throw. He’s a damn good quarterback.”
But might UW’s pursuit be too little, too late? The seven other UW quarterbacks have offered in the 2023 class — Jaden Rashada (Florida), Avery Johnson (Kansas State), Rickie Collins (LSU), Aidan Chiles (Oregon State), Gabarri Johnson (Missouri), Myles Jackson (Stanford) and Zane Flores (Oklahoma State) — have each also committed elsewhere.
UW could conceivably circle back on Johnson (who starred at nearby Tacoma Lincoln) or Jackson (whose staff at Stanford just changed), or pursue UCLA quarterback commit Luke Duncan (provided the Bruins flip five-star Oregon commit Dante Moore). Three-star Boise State QB commit CJ Tiller may arrive on the radar as well.
Of course, the Huskies could simply strike gold (again) in the transfer portal — as they did with Penix last offseason.
But that’s not an easily replicable recipe.
“For every Michael Penix you’re going to have a Gage Gubrud,” Huffman said. “You’re probably asking yourself, ‘Who the hell is Gage Gubrud?’ Well, Gage Gubrud left Eastern Washington and went to Washington State expecting to take over for Gardner Minshew, and then he gets beat out by Anthony Gordon (in 2019).
“For every Vernon Adams, there’s a Dakota Prukop. Vernon Adams leaves Eastern Washington and goes to Oregon and is awesome. Dakota Prukop leaves Montana State and goes to Oregon and gets benched three games in and they go with Justin Herbert. So you can live and die by the portal, but you still have to have high school recruiting.”
Added UW offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Grubb on Nov. 28: “You always want to develop guys in your system. To some extent, Mike (Penix) could make the case that he was developed in this system (at Indiana). That’s something I think is important, that he did have at least a baseline understanding of what coach DeBoer did with him in 2019.
“That gave us the confidence that Mike was going to be an elite quarterback and get all the small details of being a great player. At the same time, I think everybody has to be realistic that it’s competitive and we want to make the roster the best that we can. I know we’ll stay aggressive, and if we have to make a move (in the transfer portal), we will.”
Granted, Washington probably didn’t want to.
But given the timing of Kienholz’s de-commitment, the Huskies may have no other choice.