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Washington Husky Football Season in Review: Evaluating the Passing Defense

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Wait; these guys lost how many starters to the NFL draft?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Washington at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For most Husky fans, the lingering image burned into our brains from the 2017 season is not Saquon Barkley speeding down the sideline for Penn State’s 4th touchdown of the first half in the Fiesta Bowl. Not for me, anyway. I can live with that. In fact, I was expecting it. I was also expecting Bryce Love to get loose on a long TD run because that is what he usually does.

But those damn third down conversions by Trace McSorley and K.J. Costello...

When the Husky defense can’t get off the field on third down.

What were the expectations?

Hope springs eternal ahead of every season for every team. The DawgPound is no different:

How could this secondary really be as good as the one in 2016 that featured Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, and Kevin King? Did we expect the pass rush to be better without Psalm Wooching, Elijah Qualls, and a lights-out first-half-of-a-season from Joe Mathis?

Sure we did. Because Jimmy Lake will restock the defensive backfield, and we never really liked Wooching anyway. Yep, nearly half of us said the passing defense would be just as good in 2017 as the one that ranked 4th in the nation in Yards Per Attempt the season before.

Why? Because we are loyal, optimistic, and more than just a little bit foolish.

Here’s what resident DawgPound stat-boy Ryan Priest had to say about the secondary heading into the spring:

Jimmy Lake’s overarching goal in 2017 will be the elevation of young players to starring roles, and the replacement of lost production. Consider that among its defensive backs, Washington needs to replace players who accounted for nine of 16 interceptions (56 percent), 193 of 365 tackles (53 percent), 17 of 23.5 tackles for loss (72 percent), and 27 of 33 pass defenses (82 percent). JoJo McIntosh should lead the charge in that respect, as the junior safety accounted for 12 of the unit’s 23 returning starts in 2016, and offers the most in-game experience of any returning players in the secondary.

And here’s what the 2017 numbers show compared to the season before:

Defensive Statistics (Passing)

Category 2017 2016
Category 2017 2016
Passing Yards/Game (Nat'l Rank) 197.2 (32) 182.9 (15)
Yards Per Attempt 6.1 (10) 5.7 (4)
Opponnent QB Rating 117.58 (29) 106.24 (8)
Completion Pct 65.2 (117) 57.2 (49)
Interceptions 15 (23) 19 (8)
Passing Touchdowns 10 (2) 13 (12)
Sacks 39 (14) 40 (14)

Sacks are not the definitive measure of whether a pass rush is effective, but include a few other key stats and the numbers echo what the eye test said all season long: the pass rush was okay, but not as good as 2016.

The sack totals were essentially the same, but increases in passing yards per attempt, completion percentage, and QB rating of Washington’s opponents are reflective of the pressure (or lack of) that UW was able to generate. Pressure up the middle was a constant from Vita Vea and Greg Gaines, but the outside edge rush was not consistently generated.

The secondary was just so close so many times. Despite the decline on the stat sheet, you still didn’t see receivers running wide open or guys missing tackles. A bad angle, a mis-timed jump, a moment of hesitation in assignment; these are the things that Baker, Jones, and King did early on in their careers as well. But they were so well seasoned by 2016 that they seemingly played every down error-free.

Fact is, if we are to compare the 2017 editions of Byron Murphy, Myles Bryant, Austin Joyner & co. to the veteran UW stars they replaced, the answer is pretty simple: they were not as good. But a lot of young guys got into the mix this year, many of them clearly very good players. While Murphy played a starring role, fellow freshmen Elijah Molden, Keith Taylor, and Brandon McKinney all saw action in the secondary for the Huskies. You have to think there is enough talent and experience returning next season for this secondary to give the 2016 squad a run for its money.

Montana v Washington
From left, Taylor Rapp (#21) Jordan Miller (#23) and Myles Bryant (#5) will be three of the five upperclassmen leading the UW secondary in 2018.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Poll

Which best describes your feelings about the Husky pass defense in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    I expected a dropoff, but I thought they would be better than they were (Worse than I expected)
    (96 votes)
  • 53%
    We were a little overly-optimistic to expect this group to be as good as in 2016. They were fine. (Neutral)
    (320 votes)
  • 31%
    Considering everything, they actually exceeded my expectations (Better)
    (187 votes)
603 votes total Vote Now