Washington Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has turned around a defense that set the record for most points allowed in a season in school history the year before he arrived. The unit was solid a year ago, and they’re even better this season, ranking No. 22 in the country in total yards allowed and No. 25 in scoring defense. That same group ranks No. 16 in pass defense and allow fewer than four yards per carry — the team’s rushing yards allowed per game total is inflated some due to the schemes their opponents have run, such as Arizona and Stanford, leaning heavily toward the ground game, and because the Huskies pass defense has been so strong.
The Huskies even have recorded 16 sacks, ranking them in the top 25. So, in summation, they’re solid against the run, very good against the pass, can get to the quarterback and don’t give up a lot of big plays, as evidenced by their 4.6 yards per play average.
The one area where the Huskies have failed defensively in 2013, however, could be their downfall in Tempe, Arizona Saturday versus well-oiled offensive attack.
While the Dawgs’ offense has taken care of the ball fairly well through six games, committing just eight turnovers on 83 play per game, the defense has created the same number — one fumble recovery and seven interceptions. That is not good.
The Arizona State Sun Devils, by contrast, have committed the same number of turnovers on offense, but their defense has come up with 15 for a +7 margin, among the top ratios in college football. Head coach Steve Sarkisian is a proponent of yards per play as the No. 1 statistic to grade a defense, and there’s no questioning the value of such a a metric. The Huskies rank No. 16 in that category. Turnovers, though, are momentum changers. They kill drives, literally, set up short fields, tire out defenses and deflate the efforts of an entire team.
Creating turnovers with defense, and special teams, can be a great equalizer, particularly on the road. That’s an advantage Washington has not had much in 2013, and they might need it this week against an offense that boasts a Top 10 passer in Taylor Kelly, a prolific, 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver in Jalen Strong and a defense led by senior tackle Will Sutton that has shown flashes of being tough on their home field, particularly against the pass.
If the Huskies can win the turnover battle, winning a conference road game against a strong, 4-2 opponent in a place that hasn’t been kind to them over the past decade becomes more likely. Of course, the nation’s leading rusher, Bishop Sankey, may be destined to tip the scales in UW’s favor against a rush defense that allows 4.6 yards per carry and 169 yards per game.
Sankey. Turnovers. Win.
- Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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