To put it simply, the Husky defensive backs graded out remarkably well this season. Readers of this blog are probably well aware of the trial by fire many of the young defensive backs endured in the 2014 season. Freshmen like Sidney Jones, Budda Baker, and Darren Gardenhire showed the promise that came with their lofty recruiting evaluations, but were short on experience and got burned more than once last year.
Fast forward to this season, and the Husky secondary was a force from the start. They began the season exceptionally well, and did not allow a passing touchdown until week 4, against California and future first rounder QB Jared Goff. Heading into the Cal game, the Washington defensive backs held their first 3 opponents to 524 yards in the air, 4 interceptions, and no TDs. That is actually very telling of the season as a whole: high-ish passing yardage allowed, but few TDs.
The DBs came back down to earth after losing to Cal, allowing their first 2 passing touchdowns of the season, letting Goff throw for the 324 yards. They obviously learned their lesson that game, and proceeded to have an absolute lockdown game against USC the following week. They held QB Cody Kessler and his prolific offense to 156 yards, no TDs, and 2 picks. The front seven was in his face all night, but the defensive backs did their job quite well.
They continued to play well as the season wore on, and showed especially well in the season finale against Washington State. Against arguably the best passing offense in college football, the Husky DBs dug in and forced two pick 6s, all while allowing less than 300 yards passing and only 1 TD. That single touchdown only came after gifting WSU a short field after a Jake Browning interception.
Taking the season statistics as whole, it speaks to the great season the DBs had. The one area they don't grade out really well in, is passing yards allowed (this was the only stat on the 2nd page of the NCAA stats for pass defense...that says something). Washington allowed 226 yards/game, good for 68th nationally. However, when you consider they only allowed 11 passing TDs all season, that number seems less relevant. Yes, I am sure they are working on their passing yards allowed, but ultimately if you keep teams out of the end zone, that is what matters, right?
Looking at the more "advanced" statistics, like pass efficiency defense, Washington grades out quite well, slotting in at 30th nationally. And again, the 11 TDs allowed is better than all but a handful of teams in the NCAA. Lastly, the DBs made plays on the ball when they had chances and picked off 15 passes, which ranks in the top 25.
It's hard not to love what the defensive backs accomplished this year. On average, they allowed less than 1 passing TD a game (.85 passing TD/game), and pulled in more than 1 interception per game (1.15 interceptions/game). They didn't give up big plays, either - until the Southern Miss game, I can't recall the secondary really getting burned on many big plays.
When the All Pac-12 teams began coming out, it was clear the defense has two bona fide stars, both in the defensive backfield: FS Budda Baker and CB Sidney Jones. Budda is about as crucial to this defense as any one player. His ability in the backend to stop big plays is a huge asset. Consider that during the Southern Miss game, when UW was down Kevin King, Budda Baker lined up in the slot in his place. During this shuffling, Southern Miss was able to generate two big plays from WR Michael Thomas. Seriously, watch any game this season and you'll see more than 1 key tackle from Budda that stops a sure TD or a long gain. Coupled with Sidney Jones's ability to lock down his side of the field and it's easy to see why the Huskies had so much success.
Brian Clay stepped in as a 5th year senior transfer from Hawaii, and by midseason was taking all the first team reps at SS. He turned in a solid season and his experience in the backend was key. JUCO transfer Ezekiel Turner didn't play much this year (a prediction I completely whiffed on) as it seems the coaches preferred JoJo McIntosh as a big thumper at safety. Perhaps the biggest move in the secondary that made the biggest impact was Kevin King's move from safety, where frankly he wasn't very good, to nickel corner. He showed really nice coverage ability, speed, and ball-hawking skills. I project him to be a big piece of the defensive back puzzle next year.
So, what does all this mean, gradewise? I'm hesitant to give an A, or even an A-, because that signifies that little to no improvement is needed. I do not believe that is the case. The yards per game number could definitely go down, and there were a few interceptions left on the field (I'm looking at you, Budda). They also struggled coping without Kevin King in the bowl game. Southern Miss QB Nick Mullens and their WR Michael Thomas are an excellent duo and made the Husky defensive backs look quite average.
Still, the defensive backs put together a really great season, and deserve recognition for that. I mean, 11 TDs allowed through the air, in this day and age of wide-open college offenses, is really amazing.