Although the offense will grab most of the headlines after the Washington football team’s first win Saturday, its elite defensive performance should not be overlooked in the blowout win over Arkansas State. The Huskies’ defense shut down the Red Wolves’ offense, holding the opposition to just 268 yards in the 52-3 victory.
The Huskies were dominant at every level defensively, but it all started upfront. Washington's front seven were finally able to get pressure on an opposing team and disrupt their offense, both in the run and pass games.
“I’m very proud of our defense and our defensive line play,” head coach Jimmy Lake said. “They clogged up those running lanes and it was nice to see some turnovers finally.”
The Huskies’ run defense played much better than they previously had all season. After giving up 343 on the ground last week at Michigan, Washington was able to bottle up the Arkansas State rushing attack, holding them to only 48 yards on the ground.
Giving up big plays and missing tackles have plagued the Huskies all season, but not Saturday, as they looked to eliminate their mistakes. Despite a slippery playing surface for most of the game, the Washington defenders made open-field tackles and stopped Arkansas State from getting any big chunk plays, especially in the running game
“Use your feet, use your eyes, see what you see, and make a play on the ball,” junior safety Brendan Radley-Hiles said about the UW's defensive game plan. “Wrapping up and making sure we got our guys to the ground, that was the game plan.”
Radley-Hiles, known by the nickname Bookie, was the star of the defense against Arkansas State; the transfer made his presence felt throughout the game, as he finished with nine total tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery.
“Every single game Bookie has improved, and this was his best game so far,” Lake said. “We want to continue to grow and develop and Bookie has taken that advice, and that’s what our great players do.”
Finally being able to turn the ball over was one of the biggest takeaways for the Washington defense against Arkansas State. After no turnovers in the first two games of the season, the Huskies had three on Saturday, with all of them coming in the second half.
The highlight play for the defense came late in the fourth quarter, when redshirt freshman linebacker Bralen Trice recovered a fumble and ran it back 72 yards to the house for a scoop and score touchdown.
“We talked about last week, [that] turnovers come in bunches,” Lake said. “I wanna give credit to our offense for scoring points and putting our opponent where they need to throw the football. When they have to start throwing the football, there you go, advantage.”
The Red Wolves’ lethal passing attack, which was one of the best in the nation heading into Saturday, was kept completely in check by the Huskies’ secondary. Arkansas State quarterback James Blackman, who had 304 yards and four touchdowns last week, was held to just 176 yards on 16-for-38 passing.
Even when the Huskies’ backups were on the field late into the game the defense did not let up, holding the Red Wolves to only three points the entire game, and also not allowing a garbage-time touchdown late in the game.
“Everybody’s ready," Radley-Hiles said. "Even if you’re a backup on this team you could be a star. Everybody on this team produces at that starting level. That’s the standard that we set out on this defense as a whole, and the [defensive backs'] room to be specific.”
The Huskies must keep the defensive momentum up as they take a step up in competition, heading into conference play next week at home against Cal.
Reach contributing writer Nick Lombroia at email@example.com. Twitter: @lombroia
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