The Washington defense — even in losses — has been nothing short of spectacular. The secondary, in particular, has been lights-out. But against Stanford, a team that likes to go long, the back end of the defense has to prepare for the deep ball, something it hasn’t seen the past few weeks.
In the Huskies’ last two games against Colorado and Cal, Byron Murphy and the rest of the secondary have allowed only a combined 297 yards to opposing quarterbacks. They held Buffs quarterback Steven Montez to a season-low 144 yards passing, while they limited Cal signal-caller Chase Garbers to 153 yards, with his longest completed pass going only 20 yards.
This week, Murphy, along with teammate Ben Burr-Kirven, was chosen as a semifinalist for this year’s Chuck Bednarik award, given annually to the best defensive player in college football. Murphy far outpaces everyone on the team with 11 pass break-ups, and also has 40 total tackles from the cornerback position.
Murphy has been a shutdown corner in every respect, and opposing quarterbacks frequently hesitate to throw his way. However, that means that the other corners get more work on a weekly basis, and this week in particular, taller players like the 6-foot, 2-inch sophomore Keith Taylor may have a busy day.
Stanford has been slumping as of late, but quarterback K.J. Costello has been airing it out the past few weeks. Against Utah, at the beginning of the month, he threw for a season high 381 yards but was intercepted twice in a 40-21 loss. Last week against Washington State, he had his best game of the season, completing 34 of 43 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns in another losing effort.
“He makes a lot of checks, he’s a leader on their team, controls the offense,” Murphy said. “He’s a great quarterback, he puts the ball in the spot, and he can read defenses.”
Two of those touchdown passes went to senior JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who has been a headache for defensive backs all year. He has 11 touchdowns on the year, and has been especially dangerous in the red zone, where he uses his 6-foot, 3-inch, 225-pound frame to box out smaller defenders and make easy jump-ball catches.
“He makes plays, he goes up for the ball, he’s a big target,” Murphy said. “I just have to make sure I do what my coaches tell me technique-wise and keep doing what I’m doing, just make sure I’m out here trying to make plays.”
According to junior defensive back Myles Bryant, Arcega-Whiteside isn’t too dissimilar to teammate Ty Jones in the way he plays the receiver position.
“I think they’re the same body type, both of them play the ball downfield pretty well, they know how to use their body, and they’re able to just attack the ball and create separation,” Bryant said.
It’s safe to say that Arcega-Whiteside will be noticed on Saturday, and it may take the entire defensive backfield to make sure that he’s contained, especially near the goal line.
Reach reporter Chris Angkico at email@example.com. Twitter: @chrisangkico