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Week 9 Defensive Preview: #15 Washington (6–2)

The Golden Bears face their toughest defense of the season

NCAA Football: California at Washington
Starting Nose Tackle Greg Gaines takes Chase Garbers to the ground for a sack.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting Report:

Scheme: 2-4-5, Base Nickel/Cover 3
Defensive Coordinators: Jimmy Lake and Pete Kwiatkowski

Week 6 Recap: Defeated (5–2) Colorado, 27–13
Pass Defense: 61 % completion percentage, 144 passing yards allowed and 1 touchdown
Rush Defense: 119 rushing yards on 35 attempts, 3.4 yards per attempt, with 0 touchdowns
Total Defense: 2 turnovers (interception, fumble recovery), 263 yards total offense allowed, 3–13 on third downs

Defensive Line:

The Washington defense runs a scheme popularized by head coach Chris Petersen during his time at Boise State in the Mountain West Conference. In the Huskies base defensive front, their defensive line can be either three or two players down. This allows for more players in space patrolling the field and helping in coverage. A downside, however, is the absence of bodies on the defensive line. The defense can be at a disadvantage when opposing teams want to run the ball because of the mismatch in numbers. Washington is still incredibly effective at stopping the run, thanks to types of players they recruit. Let’s just say Petersen has a “type” when it comes to filling out the depth chart for his nose tackles. Prominent players like Vita Vea and Danny Shelton who went on to be first-round picks exude the squatty-body, space-eating, gap-occupying defensive tackle whom Washington covets. Of course, with Vea and Shelton being long gone, fifth-year senior Greg Gaines has taken over their roles as the run-stuffer in the middle.

Washington is allowing a modest 134 rushing yards per game this season. An opposing rusher has run for more than 125 yards on the Huskies yet. Scoring on the ground is where this run defense tightens up, only allowing eight rushing touchdowns this year—tied for sixth fewest in the NCAA.

Like most odd-front base defenses, defensive linemen are not expected to be the main factors in pass rush production. Washington has only generated 10 sacks this season, with the leader being a defensive back. Gaines has two sacks on the season, adding to his career total of seven.


Enough cannot be said about Washington’s madman in the middle, Ben Burr-Kirven. Against Colorado last week, the Bay Area native racked up 15 total tackles and an interception on his way to his second Lott Trophy national defensive player of the week award in 2018. The first time he received the award was for a 20-tackle performance against Arizona State Week 3. On top of winning national defensive player of the week twice, he leads the entire NCAA in tackles with 108 total. To add, he has caused four turnovers for the Huskies this season: three forced fumbles and an interception. Expect to see Patrick Laird and Burr-Kirven meet in between the tackles often on Sat.

His teammates on the second level are no scrubs either. Will linebacker Tevis Bartlett is second behind Burr-Kirven in team tackles with 48, not a close second albeit. With opposing offenses keyed in on Burr-Kirven and Gaines, Bartlett is freed up to make splashy plays behind the line of scrimmage. In 2017, he led the Huskies in tackles-for-loss with 12 and had the second-most sacks with four. This season, he has kept a slight pace to those numbers with three tackles-for-loss—a sack and two forced fumbles. The strong-side linebacker Benning Potoa’e can comparatively be considered the weakest link out of the starters. Still, he’s a starting linebacker on a top-15 nationally ranked defense.

Defensive Backs:

Ball production from the Huskies has not been as voluminous as it has in years past, with players like Kevin King, Marcus Peters and Budda Baker leaving to be starters in the NFL. This 2018 Washington defense has only amassed three interceptions through eight games, compared to 2016 when they had six at this point and would go onto finish with 18. Still, their coaches scheme them to be in elevated positions to succeed in other aspects of defending the field. A nickel defense of three cornerbacks on the field is usually a situational package defense for teams, but the Huskies play it as their base. The additional DB on defense is a big reason why Washington has the 14th-ranked pass defense and second-best in the Pac-12 (second to first-place team, drum roll please…...California).

The player to watch out for in the defensive backfield is free-safety Taylor Rapp. The “Rapp attack” has taken over the box score multiple times this season. The 2017 All-Pac-12 First-Team Defensive player leads Washington—as a safety—in sacks with three. On top of leading the team in sacks, he also leads with four TFLs. He is true all-range safety with the size, speed, and athleticism that NFL teams covet in the backend. If he declares this year, he’s likely to be a high pick. If Rapp is the lead singer on the defense, cornerback Myles Bryant is the guitarist to his right. Bryant is small in stature, standing 5-foot-8 and 183 pounds, but big in playmaking ability. In his first year as a full-time starter in 2017, he took his only interception of the season to the end zone for a pick-six. This year he has the second most sacks (2) and TFLs (3), and third most tackles (45). Redshirt-sophomore Byron Murphy has been the best cover corner on the outside for Washington this season. His 11 pass break-ups are the fourth most in the nation. Unlike typical cornerbacks, Murphy is not afraid to come up and make tackles in the run game. His 37 tackles are fourth-most on Washington.


How many points will the Cal offense score against the Washington defense?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    (217 votes)
  • 35%
    (133 votes)
  • 6%
    (23 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    50 or more
    (6 votes)
380 votes total Vote Now