While we have seen some pretty bad defense on our part this year, if you watch the game Saturday you’re going to see one of the most solid defensive units in the country. If this was last year, I’d be saying it was us. Unfortunately, it’s going to be our opponent. They are the #2 defense in the country when it comes to yards allowed per game, but in total yards, they sit in the top spot. Their defense also scores an average of 10.6 points per game, which puts them at third in the country. The Washington defense is in the top ten in every major category...except one. Are there any weaknesses that our offense will be able to expose? Let’s take a look.
Washington is #2 in the nation in run defense, something our guys have struggled with from the start. With the Bruin run game seeing mild success, I’d expect us to see very few yards on the ground.Elijah Qualls was a loss to the NFL this year, but the Husky front line hasn’t missed a beat. Washington’s run to the playoffs last year was fueled by their defense, and a lot of their success came from their big guys up front. Lineman Vita Vea, Jaylen Johnson, and Greg Gaines make up one of the most talented defensive lines in Husky history and weigh in at around 1,000 pounds combined. Yeah. Gaines is the smallest at 317, and Vea is the largest at close to 340. The funny thing about this line is that Gaines and Vea were running backs coming out of high school. This perspective helps them block and has probably helped them stop their opponents this year. Washington's front racked up 24.5 tackles for loss through their first six games, and also amassed 14 sacks. Rosen is going to need major protection this weekend from these guys.
Washington’s linebackers are all experienced and add more depth to the defense. Seniors Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria have recorded 46 tackles combined this year, and that’s even with Victor missing their opener against Rutgers for a violation of team rules, and Bierria missing three games. According to the Husky Haul, these two were considered the best linebacking duo going into the 2017 season. Outside linebacker Benning Potoa'e is now contributing as a starter at that position, as he began his football career as a defensive end. He learned the nuances of his new position and has earned a starting spot, and is one of the biggest outside linebackers in the country at 6’3”, 278 pounds. Weaknesses here? Not really.
This is the youngest unit returning on the UW defense, with two juniors, a freshman, and a sophomore listed as starters. There was talent lost to the NFL, but the Husky secondary is pretty well reloaded. Sophomore Taylor Rapp as started each game for the so far this season, and was the Pac 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. He has 30 tackles so far this year, and was named the coaches' special teams player of the game after their victory over Montana. Watch out for redshirt junior Jojo McIntosh, who was named by ESPN as the Most Versatile Husky (FWIW). He can play safety, end, or pass rusher, and tackles like a linebacker. Last weekend, junior Jordan Miller suffered an incredibly serious leg injury, so bad that the networks were careful not to show it again. He is likely out for the season, and will probably be replaced by Jomon Dotson, who has played in all games this season. I’d say this is the area where Washington is the most banged up, but let’s face it, they’re not a liability.
The only “weakness” that I was able to find in the Washington defense was their ability to create turnovers. They only have 13 this year (boo hoo), but by the end of last year, the Huskies led the nation with 33 turnovers (19 interceptions, 14 fumbles). The more interesting statistic is that last week, they had zero turnovers against Arizona State. Bierria spoke with The News Tribune in Washington about their upcoming game against UCLA. “They made some plays,” Bierria said about UCLA’s 45-44 comeback win over Texas A&M earlier in the season. “But I remember they missed a lot of plays, too. There were a lot of opportunities for them to take the ball away in the game and they didn’t get it done. That goes into our defense. If you get an opportunity to get the ball, you gotta take it away.” Let’s pray our Bruins don’t let this happen.