SEATTLE — Before sending too much praise in the direction of No. 8 Washington and what the Huskies have done defensively through two games, there needs to be a disclaimer.
Facing Rutgers and Idaho to open the season is far from a daunting task.
But for those two games, the Huskies are getting what was expected from their defense. While plenty of reserves have been rotated through, Washington’s starting defense has given up just three points through the first two weeks, allowing a field goal to Rutgers and shutting out Idaho into the third quarter last Saturday before the backups got their turn.
It’s likely those defensive numbers are only going to get better with the Huskies closing out their non-conference slate against lower-division Portland State on Saturday.
“The guys for two games have played really hard and have played really focused,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said Monday. “There’s been a couple things, but you’re always going to have a couple plays when you have — I don’t know how many plays we’ve seen so far, 130, 140 plays or something — so you have a couple things. But I don’t think there’s been a lot of busts and I think they’ve tackled fairly well.”
It’s easy to get overshadowed when starting quarterback Jake Browning has eight touchdown passes in two games and dynamic wide receiver/kick returner John Ross has found the end zone five times. Browning leads the Pac-12 in pass efficiency rating thus far and the Huskies have scored at least 40 points in five straight games dating back to the end of last season. That’s a first in school history.
But they only get those opportunities if the Huskies are doing what is expected on the defensive side.
“I like watching those guys when they’re like that,” Petersen said.
This was a defensive unit that was supposed to be good. They have experience in the front seven led by linebackers Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria, and perhaps one of the best defensive backfields in college football led by Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones.
The pass rush off the edge has been questionable, however. Washington’s been able to create pressure with the interior of its defensive line and through blitzes, collecting seven sacks in two games. But the Huskies are still waiting for a pass rusher off the edge to emerge to follow in the footsteps of Hau’oli Kikaha in 2014 and Travis Feeney last year.
While the matchup with Portland State might seem lopsided, Petersen is hopeful the Vikings offense will give Washington an unfamiliar look. Portland State runs a pistol-style offense, one that Petersen can’t remember seeing since arriving at Washington.
“Everybody’s got their strengths and weaknesses. Portland State does a great job with their offense,’ Petersen said. “It’s a really good scheme, they are playing to their strengths and their quarterback really makes some things happen.”
AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org