When Washington defensive back Myles Bryant first saw Elijah Molden on a football field, he immediately noticed their similarities.
“We sort of have the same mindset and we sort of bring the same aspect to the game,” Bryant said. “He has pretty good feet. He’s a good man-to-man guy. He can come up and make the tackle. So he’s a jack of all trades. You can put him anywhere and he’d fit right in and make plays.”
Bryant, a junior, described Molden as eager to learn, which is one of the reasons he was able to make an impact as a true freshman last season. He does everything he can to learn from the Huskies’ veteran players, Bryant said, and takes pieces of their games to add to his own.
Molden played in all 13 games in 2017, finishing with 19 tackles and one pass breakup. As a sophomore this season, he has 13 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Head coach Jimmy Lake told reporters that Molden and fellow defensive backs Keith Taylor and Brandon McKinney essentially serve as three extra starters who can enter the game without dropping the level of play.
“(Molden) plays a number of different roles for us,” Lake said earlier this season. “Every single week, he has a little bit more of a role.”
The biggest difference in Molden this season is confidence, Bryant said.
“As a freshman, we put him out there in a couple packages and you could tell sometimes he wasn’t too comfortable,” Bryant said. “But I think this year he basically came into his own and he’s more confident out there. He knows the defense more inside-and-out and he’s just making plays.”
Last season, Molden was the player mostly learning from the Huskies’ more experienced defensive backs. Now, Molden has a group of promising freshman coming up behind him, and Bryant said he’s taken naturally to leadership.
“Basically he’s taken an ownership role of helping those guys out who are younger than him and teaching them what us older guys taught him,” Bryant said. “It’s basically like a heritage of that.”
Bryant, Molden and the rest of UW’s defense will have its hands full with Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside on Saturday. In the Huskies’ 30-22 loss to Stanford last season, Arcega-Whiteside caught five passes for 130 yards, including a 39-yard reception.
Bryant broke up two passes intended for Arcega-Whiteside last season, but Bryant also recalled at least one reception.
“We each ended up getting each other,” Bryant said, “so it was a pretty good matchup.”
Not only does Arcega-Whiteside’s size (6-3, 225) present a challenge, but his basketball background influences how he plays receiver. He was a McDonald’s All-American nominee in high school.
“He’s a big guy,” Bryant said. “He’s not too fast but he knows how to use his body. He’s able to create separation with how he releases off the line. He can go up, get the ball. … He sort of plays like a basketball player with how he attacks the ball. I think he’s one of the best receivers in our conference.”
Arcega-Whiteside has caught 47 passes for 743 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Defending him, Bryant said, starts with being in good position.
“Getting yourself in the right position and knowing they’re going to give him the chance to go up and make those plays,” Bryant said. “When they do give him the chance, you have to be physical and just play through his hands.”
UW didn’t force any turnovers in its 12-10 loss to Cal on Saturday. The Huskies have only three interceptions on the season. And while they’ve forced 13 fumbles, they’ve only recovered six. As a team, they have a minus-4 turnover margin.
Hhead coach Chris Petersen spent most of his time praising the defense during his press conference on Monday, he also noted the lack of turnovers as a factor in the loss to the Golden Bears.
The Huskies turned over the ball twice against Cal, including Jake Haener’s pick-6 that ended up being the difference in the game.
“One of the things Cal had been struggling with a little bit is turning the ball over on offense,” Petersen said. “They didn’t turn it over and we did. So that’s an issue.”