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Mailbag: Defensive Debacle Edition

Answering fewer questions about the offense this week for some reason...

Washington v Arizona State Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

What is with the injuries? Yeah its football but.. It seem worse than years past were the coaches not ready for the rigor of the power 5- Sleepless in sea...

Injuries happen in football every year. They happen to every single team. Alabama and Georgia still have starters who are future 1st round draft picks and closer in body type to Thor than you and I who get majorly hurt. By every indication players performed better in their strength and conditioning this season than in past years. But it doesn’t really matter how much working out you do if you get rolled up on from behind and break a bone or tear an ACL. Those type of injuries are going to happen to anyone in a contact sport like football.

The problem is when you have the majority of the injuries all happen at the same position. Most teams have a capable backup at most spots. But how many teams except the Bama/Georgia/Ohio State’s of the world feel great about the guy who is 4th on the depth chart?

There were 12 players listed in the secondary on the initial 2-deep before the season opener because of a few OR situations. Half of them have missed multiple games so far which has caused some shuffling around of positions. Of the 6 players at defensive tackle, Washington was essentially without 3 of them against ASU. Ale is hurt, Peihopa was suspended, and Tuli played a few snaps late in the game making it clear the plan was only to play him in an emergency and in the 2nd half it became an emergency.

The offense has been remarkably healthy with a game here or there missed by the running backs and a few missed by Jaxson Kirkland. The linebacking corps has been entirely intact and none of the main guys at the edge spot have missed a game yet. Washington may have been better off if the same number of games missed were distributed equally across the non-QB positions but that’s not the way it works.

Wasn’t Sam Adams a respected safety in high school? Any talk of moving him to safety?- TP22

There were definitely recruiting analysts who thought that Adams might be better in college at safety than at running back. With Alex Cook graduating and Cam Williams seemingly setting himself up to transfer there should be playing time at safety available next year. But it takes two to tango. If Adams doesn’t want to switch to defense then the staff certainly won’t force him. A position switch takes complete buy-in. We saw Alex Cook though turn down the chance to be a 4th wide receiver and eventually start at safety. There might be playing time available at running back though too after Taulapapa graduates and with a full offseason healthy for Adams.

If Huskies lose to either Arizona or Colorado (what a horrible thought), will UW find a way to win 6 games and get bowl eligible?- GH Dawg

Ah how quickly the turn tables. Washington just lost a game as a two touchdown favorite to ASU. That was obviously not ideal. It also seemed like a bit of a crazy line at the time given the relative talent still left on the Sun Devils roster and the game location (SP+ thought it should have been more like UW -7). Now the Huskies are a 15.5-point favorite over Arizona at the moment.

The difference of course is that this game is at home where Washington is 4-0 as opposed to on the road where they’re now 0-2. Could the Huskies still lose on Saturday? Absolutely. Arizona’s offense with Jayden de Laura and Jacob Cowing is likely to do a fair amount of shredding the Husky secondary. Of course, they’re also one of the few teams with a worse defense than Washington by almost every advanced metric.

If Washington does blow this game against Arizona then sure, you have to start questioning every single game the rest of the way. Still, Colorado is one of the worst teams in the country regardless of power conference status. Washington could lose their next 4 games in a row and still be a substantial favorite. That means you would just need one more win to get to a bowl out of 4 games. Even with a substantial regression that is exceedingly likely. There’s a reason most advanced metrics have it at 99% we hit 6 wins. And I’d still call it 95%+ even if we lost to Arizona.

People like to declare the sky falling but questioning whether we can find 2 more wins in the back half of the year is a little much barring all 3 of Penix, Huard, and Morris getting simultaneously injured (*knocking furiously on wood*).

Washington v Arizona State Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

What percentage of the defensive shortcomings on Saturday against Arizona State were due to the Husky getting out schemed vs having a significant amount of youth on the field?- Fletch

Is the bad defense more on players on coaching?- Dawgfan12

We have gotten used to well coached solid defense over the last several years . This year so far has been a huge step back. Is it because of coaching and scheme, talent or a combination of the the two? Go Dawgs!- PurpleDawg34

All of these come in to play .. Injuries, Talent(lack there of) coaching, scheme.. However how would assign the blame.. on a scale of 100.. i.e. 10% injuries 20% scheme.. and so on..- Bob

It turns out that a lot of you had a very similar question. Therefore I will answer some version of all of those questions put together.

Let’s start by talking about the talent on the field. If you were trying to make the argument that the Huskies have a talent deficiency, here’s what you would say:

The lineup that took the field on Saturday against Arizona State had almost no one that could be argued to be a true difference maker. ZTF is the only player on the defense that has earned a 1st team all-conference at the power conference level but it was due to a 3-game stretch before a major leg injury. Bralen Trice has feasted early when going up against bad teams but is still a former low 3-star guy. Jeremiah Martin has the pedigree but flamed out at Texas A&M and is at best a solid but steady guy.

Alphonso Tuputala has maybe been the most consistent player on that side of the ball and he’s another low 3-star recruit who has also dealt with an Achilles injury since getting to college. Cam Bright had some good seasons at Pitt but isn’t a premier athlete and hasn’t lived up to his “above average but not quite all-conference” billing since moving to Seattle.

With Powell out the outside corner spots have been occupied by an unrated FCS transfer (Perryman), a former 4-star who is only starting now in his 5th year due to injury (Irvin), a player unrated until after he committed to UW (Banks), and a medium 3-star recruit seeing his first major time (Jackson). And Powell is a former walk-on so it’s not like UW is without a super stud Trent McDuffie.

At safety the leader in playing time has been a converted wide receiver in Alex Cook. Kamren Fabiculanan has been the primary option with Asa Turner hurt/ejected as a 3-star converted corner with 3-star Makell Esteen filling in most of the other snaps.

Finally we get to the defensive line where by far their best DL player was nicked up and only played a few snaps late once it became clear he was sorely missed. This is the one spot that has premier recruiting talent with former 4-stars Faatui Tuitele and Jacob Bandes but neither has been far above replacement level so far. The rest of the snaps went to a 270-lb 3-star redshirt freshman in Voi Tunuufi and a low 3-star true freshman in Jayvon Parker.


Is that an entirely fair analysis? No. It’s what I would say if forced to take a debate position I may not actually believe. At the same time there’s unquestionably less talent on this side of the ball than on the offense and it shows. Pro Football Focus isn’t the be all end all of analysis but the only 2 Huskies that rank in the top-40 overall defenders in the conference are Jeremiah Martin and Bralen Trice. They combined for 0 QB hits and 3 total pressures on 44 pass rush opportunities against Arizona State. The closest things Washington has to stars both were non-entities in that game.

I went through on a snap-adjusted basis to try to determine game by game the level of talent and experience that Washington had on the field on defense. If a player wasn’t in the 247 Composite I used their 247-only score. If they weren’t ranked anywhere they got a 0.75 rating. If it was a transfer then I used their 247-transfer score.

The defensive lineup against Arizona State was both the least talented and the least experienced of any that they’ve played so far this season. That includes the game against Portland State in which the 3rd and 4th string players saw a decent number of snaps late in the blowout win.

On Saturday Washington also had 18% of their DL snaps and 24% of their safety snaps come from guys who weren’t on the 2-deep to start off the season. That’s despite the DL essentially being a 3-deep since both reserve spots had multiple players listed there. No other game has eclipsed 9% along the DL and the previous high at safety was 15% against Portland State and most came in garbage time. Clearly injuries at those spots have taken their toll.

All that to say there are clear issues in terms of both high-end talent and depth. Washington needing 20+ snaps from first or second year non-premium recruits like Davon Banks, Jayvon Parker, and Voi Tunuufi (regardless of their future potential) is something you didn’t see much of on recent Husky defenses.


As far as the scheme goes it hasn’t really mattered what the Huskies are doing. Teams have been able to find success regardless. Per Sports Info Solutions the 3 most common pass defenses Washington has run over the last 2 games are Cover 1 (26 snaps), Cover 4/Quarters (13 snaps), and Cover 3 (7 snaps). They have given up 9.5, 9.3, and 14.5 yards per attempt respectively in those coverages. Per Bill Connelly’s advanced box score the Sun Devils averaged a little bit better when going against Man vs Zone (9.5 to 7.9 YPA) so it isn’t strictly a matter of UW getting torched in man-to-man.

Perhaps the most interesting trend in the defense is the lack of variation in the pass rush. Washington has rushed 3 only once in the last 2 games and never rushed more than 5. They send only 4 guys on 76% of attempts and occasionally blitz one extra player. You would think that Washington would occasionally drop 8 into coverage in those 3rd and 7+ looks and hope their pass rushers can get home but that hasn’t been a thing recently.

It could be that Washington already doesn’t trust their secondary so what good would it do putting another corner you don’t have faith in out there in a dime look? Might as well hope to get more pressure and help your secondary that way. Opponents though have averaged 9.7 yards per attempt against that standard 4-man rush so it may need to be time to mix things up and be willing to blitz more often when Trice, Martin, and ZTF aren’t getting home.

And because we need a quick palate cleanser after that...

I have typically scoffed at the idea that the grass surface results in a significant disadvantage for UW. I have to ask, does Wayne stumble and fall right before the line to gain if they are playing on turf?- Cursed Dawg

They call it the turf monster, not the grass monster. That should tell you about the relative odds of tripping out of nowhere on one surface versus the other.