The Husky pass rush took a major hit when Joe Tryon and Levi Onwuzurike elected to enter the 2020 NFL draft. Tryon, the team’s sack leader a year ago (and 5th in the Pac-12) with nine sacks, would have been the overwhelming favorite to lead the team again. Onwuzurike only had two sacks himself a year ago, but he silently dominated inside for UW, and he would have certainly opened up things for the outside rushers to get home again this year.
Those snaps (and opportunities to chase down Pac-12 QBs) now fall to other members of Jimmy Lake’s defensive roster. There’s returning talent —both young and veteran— and a big-time local blue chipper who’s never played a down.
Your guess is as good as mine; who leads the Huskies in sacks this season?
Ryan Bowman (5.5 sacks last year, 12 career)
The 6’2” 280 pound senior has been steady during his Husky career. Emerging as a walk-on during the 2017 season, Bowman registered 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman. In 2018, Bowman would be put on scholarship and continue to be one of the Huskies most disruptive defenders.
Bowman is a high-motor player with a knack for getting to the quarterback. He isn’t the freak athlete on the edge that blows past the tackle and gets home. With Bowman, it is more about his always improving technique, and high effort and energy that make him a good pass rusher. Bowman is also a sure tackler who doesn’t usually miss the sack opportunity when he has one.
Bowman was good in 2019, with 34 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and an interception. The Huskies like to shift Bowman inside on passing downs, and run twists with Bowman going outside on the rush, and an outside rusher coming through the middle. It’s hard to imagine Bowman being a double-digit sack guy, but around six or seven sacks could lead the team if there is no elite pass rusher that emerges.
Laiatu Latu (0.5 sacks last season as true freshman)
Here’s the player poised to make a move this season, especially with the departure of Tryon. The opportunity for extended playing time is there for Latu, he just needs to take advantage. According to UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, Latu is making the strides necessary.
“It’s night and day, in a good way,” Kwiatkowski said of Latu’s improvement. “With Joe Tryon’s progression and his improvement from being a freshman to a redshirt freshman, Laiatu’s further along. He’s practicing extremely well, making a lot of plays. I’m very impressed with him and I expect big things out of him this year.”
Latu is an explosive football player with a rugby background. When he was on the field last season, it was easy to see the potential for greatness. When your best athletes are also your best football players (as Tryon became over the past two seasons), that’s when a football team is at it’s very best. UW needs Latu to step in and be ready, assignment sound, and straight up nasty.
Edefuan Ulofoshio (3.0 sacks last season, 3.0 career)
If Eddie U —or any of the inside linebackers— lead the Huskies in sacks this season, it most likely won’t be a great sign. In 2018 and 2017, the Husky sack leader has less than six sacks, and it would take a similar underwhelming output for Ulofoshio to take the sack crown.
“The kid is just hungry to learn more,” UW inside linebackers coach Bob Gregory said of Ulofoshio. “Every morning when I walk past my meeting room, Eddy’s in there. I get in there before 7:00 at times. So he’s in there watching and preparing for the day, taking notes.”
How many opportunities will the UW inside linebackers get to rush the QB? Plenty. Although the Huskies don’t blitz a ton, they do mix up which three or four players rush the quarterback. Ulofoshio will get opportunities to chase the QB, as will fellow ILBs Jackson Sirmon, MJ Tafisi, Josh Calvert, and Alphonzo Tuputala.
Like Bowman, these players have a realistic potential of registering around five or six sacks in a breakout season. Hopefully that’s not enough to lead the Husky team.
Sav’ell Smalls (True Freshman, 3,896 sacks on his street growing up)
Wouldn’t it be nice if Sav’ell Smalls just immediately gets it? As in, he picks up the defense, he’s not overwhelmed by the speed of the game, and the coaches trust him to be out there regularly.
The scouting reports on Smalls praise pretty much his entire game, as would be expected from a player with a .9843 composite ranking coming out of Kennedy Catholic. But where the 30th best football player in the entire 2020 recruiting class really shines is in his elite footwork and balance. His short steps enable him to react to the ball carrier, he is ferocious when he spins to plug the hole, and even when he spins and has his back is to the blocker, he remains balanced.
The physical tools are undeniable, but Smalls is much more than just a pass rusher. He understands coverage, and has shown the ability to prevent completions on short routes to the flat. He reads lineman well, and has an array of moves to get to the passer. On running plays, will Smalls be disciplined to set the edge to the outside? That will go a long way in determining his playing time this season.
The ceiling for Smalls is a double-digit sack season, with spot play as a true frosh being the floor.
Who leads the Washington Huskies in sacks this season?
This poll is closed