This Saturday’s contest against the Huskies is definitely going to be a grind. The Huskies are ranked 10th in the country in total defense and have led the Pac-12 in total defense for three years in a row, only giving up an average of 281 yards per game. This is after five games, two of which were in-conference and one that was against Auburn, which they lost by less than a touchdown. They have also been a national contender in scoring defense, finishing 2017 ranked fifth in the nation.
I don’t have to tell you that there’s very little chance of a win here, judging by past experience and the little to no improvements we are seeing week to week. Additionally, UW has not allowed a passing touchdown since the first drive of their first game of the season.
Let’s take a look at the defense the Huskies are bringing to Pasadena.
Washington was tasked with replacing defensive lineman Vita Vea, currently playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Senior Greg Gaines then became the anchor of this line, and has been a beast since coming to UW out of high school. He has started in all five games this year and has already put together 18 tackles for the season, including five tackles vs. Auburn. He was the recipient of the Huskies’ L. Wait Rising Lineman of the Year Award in both 2016 and 2017. This guy has been a force on the UW front line since he got there and hasn’t looked back.
Seniors Jaylen Johnson and Shane Bowman will also see a start, along with sophomore Levi Onwuzurike. Juniors Josiah Bronson and John Clark may also come in for relief, as they have seen action in two games this year. Freshman Tuli Letuligasenoa will be one to watch for as the future of the Husky defensive line, weighing in at 336 pounds. As an 18-year-old, there’s a good chance he isn’t done growing. The only weakness I see here is that Washington’s defensive line isn’t all that bog, with only Gaines weighing in at over 300 pounds.
Senior Ben Burr-Kirven is a tackling machine this year, putting up 20 tackles (the most by a Husky since 1996 and a career high), two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery vs. ASU. Pair him with the multi-talented senior Tevis Bartlett, who has not only recorded 25 tackles and a forced fumble of his own, but he also played quarterback and defensive back in high school. He threw for 4,112 passing yards and 34 touchdowns while also running for 3,613 yards and scored 46 touchdowns. Defensively, he made 145 tackles. There’s no question that these two are going to be tackling maniacs on Saturday. They’ll be working without junior DJ Beavers, who was injured versus Auburn and hasn’t seen game action since.
The UW secondary has upperclassmen with experience and skill that will give our freshman receivers the toughest day they’ve seen all season. Senior JoJo McIntosh and junior Taylor Rapp have both played in almost every game they’ve been a part of since coming to Washington. McIntosh started all 13 games at safety in 2017 and has already made 25 tackles already this year. Rapp already has four sacks and three fumble recoveries for this year, which shows he hasn’t slowed down since earning first team All Pac-12 honors last year. Unfortunately, this unit is filling the loss of Jordan Miller, who suffered a season ending injury versus ASU.
We’ll also see sophomores Byron Murphy and Keith Taylor and juniors Myles Bryant and Austin Joyner figuring into the mix, with all four having an impact on the Husky defense so far this year. The element to note is that even the backs who don’t start have multiple tackles and tackles for loss, so the depth chart is at least two deep at every slot. While our receivers have been inconsistent, the UW secondary will expose this to the maximum if we can’t hit our guys on the numbers. It will be up to our veterans like Caleb Wilson to help freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson gain confidence against a clearly stacked defense.
How ugly will this get…well, I thought the week two game against Oklahoma was going to be an absolute disaster, and it didn’t turn out so bad. But then I thought we’d build from there and it’s clear we’re still flatlining. The improvements we’ve made, if you can find them, just won’t be nearly enough to combat this Husky defense. There are no real weaknesses to exploit, so both passing and rushing into the endzone are going to be a major challenge.