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UCLA Football Oppo Preview: A Closer Look at the Huskie D

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While Chris Petersen's offense has gotten off to a slow start, the defense has held things together in Washington. Will the Bruins be able to hold the nations leading pass rusher at bay?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

When Justin Wilcox took over as Washington's defensive coordinator, the Huskies had one of the worst defenses in the country.  In a couple of seasons, the Huskies D improved significantly, and Pete Kwiatkowski has maintained the improvement in his first season after taking over from Wilcox.

This season, the Huskies are allowing just 30.8 ppg, but that hides the fact that the defense has only allowed more than 24 points in a game twice this season; Oregon scored 45, and Eastern Washington managed 52 points in the second week of the season.  They've held opponents to 20 points or less 5 times this season.  Make no mistake, the Washington defense is not elite.  They still allow far too many yards (409.8 ypg, 77th nationally), especially through the air where opponents are completing 65.1% of their passes for 275.3 ypg.  But they have a knack for keeping points off the board, in part because of their ability to create negative plays.  Washington has 37 sacks and 67 tackles for loss, which rank 2nd and 9th nationally in those categories.

Up front, Washington two big tackles in Danny Shelton (6'1 339 lbs. Sr.), Evan Hudson (6'6 273 lbs. Jr.), and end Andre Hudson (6'3, 246 lbs., Sr.). Shelton has the size of a prototypical nose, but he's really improved this season at getting in the backfield and making plays.  He's second on the team with 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, and leads the team with 70 tackles.  If our interior line cannot block Shelton, it is going to be a long night for the Bruins.  Evan and Andrew Hudson also have the ability to penetrate the backfield, but their production is nowhere near Shelton's at this point. These three provide the girth on the defense, and the Huskies want opposing teams to run around edges where the rest of the defense can utilize its speed to chase down ball carriers.

Washington boasts a pair of dynamic linebackers in pass rushing Ha'oli Kikaha (6'3 250 lbs. Jr.), and do it all WLB Shaq Thompson (6'2, 224 lbs., Jr.).  Kikaha leads the nation with 15.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.  Despite playing running back, Thompson has tallied 53 tackles, and has scored 4 defensive touchdowns this season.  Thompson is a converted safety and easily one of the best athletes in the Pac-12. The other two linebackers are MLB John Timu (6'1, 235 lbs., Sr.), and Travis Freeney (6'4, 218 lbs., Jr.).

The secondary is led by corner, Marcus Peters (5'11 193 lbs. Jr.), who will generally match up with our best receiver.  The other corner is Sidney Jones (6'0, 171 lbs., Fr.).  Given the speed and coverage ability of Washington's linebackers, they will not have to come out of their base defense very often.

The starting safeties are young, with SS Budda Baker (5'10, 173 lbs., Fr.) and FS Kevin King (6'3, 183 lbs., So.).  Baker came close to committing to UCLA and is good friends with Myles Jack, and Saturday will give us our first glimpse at what could have been while watching Baker play.  He's done a tremendous job starting as a true freshman and is third on the team with 58 tackles.

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That concludes the preview of the Washington defense. Fire away with additional thoughts and comments.