Let’s skip the formalities and get down to business. Here’s what to know about the Buffs’ defense:
The Buffs frequent the 3-4 defense but will also go out to a 2-4-5/4-2-5 quite often. Since most of the Pac 12 defenses have a base nickel defense at this point (I mean, c’mon, it’s 2017 already) it should be interesting how that meshes with the Washington offense.
With that in mind, up front the starting three include ends Leo Jackson and Chris Mulumba, the latter of whom will miss Saturday’s first half following a targeting penalty, and Vea-esque JuCo transfer NT Javier Edwards who, at 6’3” and 350 lbs could successfully bull rush a Polar Bear. Jackson was a regular contributor the last two years but this is his first regularly starting, while Mulumba is a juco transfer with athleticism to kill.
Unrelated to the on-field product, Mulumba is a haver of cool facts: he grew up in Finland, where he was born after his parents left the DRC during their civil war. He didn’t play football in high school but wrestled and did judo, which by all accounts he was quite, quite good at, being a blackbelt, three-time Finnish judo champion, and one-time Scandianvian champion. Plus he was in the Finnish military for a year since Finland, like most central/northern European countries, has a mandatory year-long service.
Basically, Chris Mulumba is a total badass.
The guys on the defensive line are new to starting, true, but to call them inexperienced would be inaccurate.
The linebackers, on the other hand, have serious experience leading them. Mike linebacker Rick Gamboa is a combination of jacked (240 lbs at only 6’) and experienced, having started almost every game since his redshirt freshman year. He’s a leader of the defense and team as a whole and it’s not hard to see why.
Then there’s Derek McCartney, who’s also been starting for multiple years although he was injured against Michigan last year and subsequently missed most of the season. McCartney has the strength to go up against an offensive line and make plays both in the pass rush and at the line of scrimmage against the run game. And to add to your list of storylines, former Husky and Washington native, Drew Lewis, has been racking up tackles in the linebacking corps.
One of the aspects of this unit, as well as the roaming defensive backs, that stands out on tape is that they mostly take really sound angles; rarely have they gotten caught moving to the ballcarrier wrong. Combine that with solid tackling and you have a team against whom the opponent will rarely have mistakes to take advantage of.
Speaking of those DBs:
While people over the offseason wouldn’t shut up about the talent Colorado lost from the secondary, they look like they somewhat find themselves in the position Washington’s secondary does — filled with reserves and younger guys eager to take that next step and be starting impact players.
Guys like safety Afolabi Laguda and nickel/linebacker/safety crazy hybrid Ryan Moeller provide experience to anchor the defensive backfield while corner Isaiah Oliver steps up as a starter after a couple years of making solid contributions behind Ahkello Witherspoon and Chidobe Awuzie.
The secondary has far exceeded expectations so far, not allowing a touchdown until, ironically, FCS Northern Colorado scored three on explosive plays of between 25 and 60 yards. Granted, that could just be a case of looking ahead to Washington, but there’s still evidence that the adjustment period of the DBs has them with some all-or-nothing tendencies.
All in all, the Colorado defense doesn’t give up points easily. Colorado State even scored 23 against Alabama (and 38 and 53 against other opponents) and only three against the Buffs. Keep that in mind, should Washington’s offense be somewhat underwhelming on Saturday.
There’s a few factors that stand out to me in this matchup. For one, I don’t know if Mulumba will be lining up on Trey Adams’ or Kaleb McGary’s side, but whichever one he does has the potential to be such a good matchup. If you follow UWDP frequently, you know I put a lot of stock in players with multi-sport backgrounds, especially those that bring a different lens to bringing an opponent to the ground (hello wrestling, rugby, judo). The athleticism factor given Mulumba’s background in two of those versus Trey Adams’ feet and length could be — from purely a football fan perspective — f***ing awesome. From a I-Want-Washington-to-Dominate-the-Trenches perspective, it might be a bit less fun. With Mulumba having got hit with a targeting penalty, though, we’ll have to wait until the second half to watch that play out.
It should be interesting to see, also, how Colorado’s defense lines itself up against Washington and, subsequently, how Washington attacks it.
If Colorado does play a more standard formation like a 3-4/4-3, that potentially works against the Huskies’ less-than-exceptional running game starting in the run blocking which hasn’t been as great as we were expecting moving into this season. On the other hand, that leaves more room exposed for receivers not named Dante Pettis (and those named Dante Pettis, come to think of it) to take advantage of in explosive air plays. Browning and the receivers taking advantage of that could be the difference in this game if it comes down to that wire.
Otherwise, a lot of the Washington offense - Colorado defense battle could come down to who screws up first. The Buffs don’t tend to make mistakes but, as we saw last week, they’re not immune to it.
Any lurking Buffs feel free to chime in with any additional opinions on your team’s defense! (And/or if I said something egregiously wrong and you feel like trashing my take. Just don’t be too mean.)
As always: do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.