Photo by Scott Boldt
Oregon Football

Spring Preview: Huskies Defense

May 19, 2020
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Last season, Washington finished ranked 35th in the FBS in total defense. The Huskies allowed 348.6 yards per game, 5.11 yards per play and a total of 30 touchdowns.

In short, not a bad year, but not up to the standard set by previous Washington teams, including the 2016 college playoff unit.

The Huskies hope to change their fortunes with the elevation of defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. Respected co-defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski steps into Lake's shoes.

Take a closer look at this unit statistically and a few things pop out.

The Huskies finished 59th in team sacks, ending the year with just 29. They were tied for 55th with 259 first downs allowed.

They finished 56th, a few spots below Oregon, in passing yards allowed, at 222.2 per game. In the run game they finished 28th at 126.4 yards per game. This was a defense that in years past had been close to elite at stopping the pass. They definitely took a bit of a dip in 2019, but they return quite a talented secondary.

The Husky defense started out relatively strong last season, allowing no more than 20 points in the first five games -- including a 20-19 loss at home against California. It looked like a unit that could once again be the class of the Pac-12.

Then came a pretty rough stretch of four games in October. The Huskies allowed 23 against Stanford, 27 against Arizona, 35 against Oregon and 33 against Utah.

While they weren’t getting blown out by those teams, it was a rude awakening. They went 1-3 in the month, beating only lowly Arizona.

Washington will be looking for a return to defensive excellence under Jimmy Lake.

Defensive Line:

The good news for this position group is it welcomes back three of its top four players. The bad news is those returnees combined for just 5 sacks last season among their 91 tackles.

Washington's biggest player is Tuli Letuligasenoa at 6-2 and 311 pounds. But other than him, no major contributor on defense is listed north of 300 pounds.

You can get away without size against most teams in the conference, but against Oregon it’s going to be a lot tougher. The Ducks' offensive line brings the beef.

The size disparity was an issue for Washington in last year’s game. The Oregon blockers had a field day in the second half, creating open running lanes and giving Justin Herbert time to throw strikes.

In fact, the Washington line failed to be disruptive all season long. A player doesn’t have to have a 10-sack season to be productive, but you do need to get consistent pressure on the quarterback.

This position group does have a couple of notable young players who could make a difference, including a familiar name in Jacob Bandes.

Bandes is a 6-2, 317-pound redshirt freshman who could see a ton of snaps this fall. He has the size to defend the run, but also has surprising athleticism for an interior pass rusher.

Players like Bandes are trending in the NFL. Expect him to have a productive season.

Linebacker:

This group struggled mightily last season, and now it loses its most productive member in Brandon Wellington. In the Oregon game, the backers struggled to fill gaps on running downs, allowing chunk play after big chunk play.

Unfortunately, they weren’t much better against the pass. And projecting forward, it doesn’t appear there's much help on the way.

Among the newcomers, sophomore Edefaun Ulofoshio may be the cream of the crop. As a rookie, he finished with 47 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble.

He’s 6-0 and 231 pounds -- plenty big for the style he plays. Still, he’ll need to take a huge step forward if this unit wants even to be above average.

Expect Ryan Bowman to play a similar role again this year: not a lot of tackles, but he finished with 5.5 sacks for the second time in three seasons. It would be huge if his pass rushing abilities continued to improve.

The loss of Kyler Manu will hurt this unit. While he wasn’t a standout, he was the team's third-leading tackler.

Secondary:

Lake's former position group has long been this defense's bread and butter. It's legitimately good, and it could even take a step forward for 2020.

While I think Oregon has a better pool of secondary athletes overall, the Washington unit is no slouch. They have experience as well as some talented underclassmen.

At the top of the list is Elijah Molden, the son of former Oregon great Alex Molden. He had a wildly productive season with 79 tackles, 4 interceptions, 12 pass deflections, 3 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery.

Molden is just 5-10 and 190 pounds, but the native of West Linn plays much bigger. He uses his speed to stay right on the hip of the receiver, but he also has fantastic ball skills and will position himself to make a play on the pass.

Cornerback Myles Bryant is off to the NFL, but sophomore Trent McDuffie will be ready to fill his shoes. McDuffie recorded 45 tackles, 2 pass deflections, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.

According to Pro Football Focus, McDuffie graded out almost as well as Oregon rookie Mykael Wright. The battle to be the top cornerback in the Pac-12 could well be between these two guys for several years to come.

At safety, the Huskies rotated through several different options. Freshman Cameron Williams saw a lot of action early, but his play fell off toward the end.

However, alongside McDuffie and Molden, Williams makes this a stellar secondary.

Tags: Football, Oregon
 
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