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Day 9: the baddest of the bad

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Which defenses on the UW schedule pose strange and mortal threats to the Husky offense?

Utah v Washington
Will we see more of this against Utah in 2017?
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Yay! single digits!

Washington v Washington State
Hey Myles, how many days until we get our game on?
Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

We continue with our countdown with a debate focused on UW’s 2017 opponents. Specifically, which of those opponents look to present the greatest challenge to Washington’s offense thanks to their defensive prowess.

There can be little debate that the Huskies were one of the best offensive teams in the nation last year. The program set school records for points scored (585), scoring average (41.7), total TDs (77 including defense & special teams) and passing TDs (47). In the grand scheme of the NCAA, UW was tied for fourth in total TDs and 8th in average per game. When you narrow that to just Power 5, UW’s shoots up to fourth in average per game.

Even the advanced stats loved UW’s offense a year ago. Per Bill Connelly, UW was off the charts in overall efficiency and strong in all of the key factors that correlate to offensive success.

Washington’s 2016 Offensive Radar Chart
Bill Connelly, SB Nation

Damn, I love a good spider chart.

It is interesting to note, however, that UW’s offense was not at its best against the better teams on the schedule. Against the two top 10 teams they played, UW averaged just 10 points per game and less than four yards per play. Against the rest of the better defenses they played (Colorado #12, Stanford #18, Utah #38 per S&P+), the stats were ok, but not great. UW averaged just 6.21 yards per play across those three (and that average goes way down if you include Alabama and USC). In fact, those five opponents - Colorado, Stanford, Utah, Alabama and USC - are the only five that held UW under 7 yards per play on the season.

So, how did they do it? The common denominator in each of those games was that the Huskies were made one dimensional by their opponent. In fact, each one of them was simply able to take away explosive plays in the passing game putting pressure on UW to be a “grind it out” kind of team. In a few cases, that worked out fine - Stanford and Colorado were still blowouts. In others, uhhh, not so much.

The biggest threat to UW’s offense will certainly be provided by teams with the size and the athleticism to contain UW’s passing game. Jake Browning doesn’t have the kind of arm strength required to consistently beat good coverage and, thus, has to rely on the ability of his receivers to run good routes. Like any other QB, he has to have some protection because, although he is a good decision-maker under pressure, his tools are not great outside of the pocket.

So, who do you think presents the toughest test this season?

Option 1 - Utah

I’ve almost no doubt that Utah is going to put up the best defensive line in the conference this year. The inside/outside punch provided by DT Lowell Lotulelei and DE Kylie Fitts has no real equal. While the unit as a whole may not generate a ton of sacks, they can really break down a pocket. You can see that in their numbers from a year ago where their sack total was average by their opponent offensive efficiency was well-controlled.

The Utes are going through a transition in the back end. Their secondary is turning over just about everyone off of a unit that was decent. The one guy that isn’t turning over - safety Chase Hansen - has been sidelined for much of camp with an injury. There are definitely some question marks.

Option 2 - Stanford

Stanford is kind of like the mirror image of Utah as we get ready to kick off the season. Their defensive line has a few players - DT Harrison Phillips can be quite disruptive when he’s not hurt - but they don’t have a ton of depth or a lot of experience.

The secondary, however, projects as one of the best in the PAC. Their two outside corners are both big, lock-down kinds of guys while their slot guy - Alameen Murphy - logged seven PBUs last year. I’m particularly bullish on Quenton Meeks - a 6’2”, 210 lb beast who can easily control one side of the field in much the same way we grew accustomed to Sidney Jones doing.

This is exactly the kind of defense that can give Jake Browning and the Dawgs fits on the road.

Option 3 - UCLA

I can already tell that I’m going to take some grief for this. UCLA, after all, wasn’t one of the “best defenses” in the PAC a year ago and there are a bunch of pieces that have to get replaced this season.

Still, UCLA projects as a difficult matchup.

The key thing that UCLA has going for it is a defensive secondary that looks a lot like UW’s: deep and loaded with talent. Jaleel Wadood and Nate Meadors are high-level experienced players, Darnay Holmes looks like a breakout candidate while some younger guys like Brandon Burton, Alijah Gates and Jaylan Shaw are all in line to provide depth.

The front seven looks just as deep if not quite as experienced. DL Kenny Young is back as is DL Osa Odighizuwa. Those headliners are backed up by a lot of depth including top overall national recruit Jaelan Phillips (get ready to hear his name a lot), savvy DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, big DT Boss Tagaloa, former 5-star LB Mique Juarez and steady LB Josh Woods. And that is just a few of them.

This unit could be really, really special if they can channel all their talent.

The Verdict - Stanford

I suspect you all would have lost your minds if I had picked UCLA. In truth, I pretty much called it a tie in my own mind. However, the fact that the Stanford game is on the road tips the scales for me. I’ll go ahead and call Stanford the toughest defense that we will play on our schedule in 2017. That should up the hype factor a bit.

Incidentally, I still think Stanford and UCLA would rank as the tougher defenses even in the event that we have an extra game showdown with USC to end the season. I think both of those teams are just a small step ahead of the Trojans.

Who do you got? Which UW opponent defense concerns you the most?

Poll

Which opponent Defense is the most menacing to UW in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Utah Utes
    (211 votes)
  • 41%
    Stanford Cardinal
    (243 votes)
  • 10%
    UCLA Bruins
    (62 votes)
  • 12%
    somebody else
    (75 votes)
591 votes total Vote Now