The Bruins came into Saturday’s game with the second best offense in the Pac-12 at 510 yards per game. Washington held them to 232 yards and held QB Josh Rosen to under 100 yards before knocking him out of the game.
Most people are going to look at the 44 points, the 333 rushing yards and the rejuvenation of an offense that went MIA the previous game.
But the true stars in Washington’s win over UCLA Saturday were on defense — a defense that might end up rivaling that of the Huskies’ national-championship team.
The day after the Don James statue went up in front of Husky Stadium, the UW football team paid homage to its former coach. It put the No. 2 passer in the country in a straitjacket and muzzled the Pac-12’s second-leading offense.
A potential shootout turned into a blowout. Reaching the 50 seemed like a victory for the Bruins.
“We feel accomplished,” Huskies cornerback Austin Joyner said. “We take a lot of pride in that.”
But when asked if his team played above expectations, Joyner gave an emphatic “no.”
Seems fair. The Huskies came into the game averaging a national-best 3.64 yards allowed per play, which was .29 yards better than second-place Alabama. They are second to Alabama in total defense, and third behind ’Bama and Georgia in scoring defense.
You can argue that UW’s schedule has been cotton-ball soft to this point, but you can’t quibble with what it did to UCLA’s offense Saturday. Coach James would have been proud, as would his 1991 Huskies — considered by some as the best defensive team in Pac-12 history.
Did you see Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen’s numbers coming into this game? The junior had 2,620 passing yards through eight games, second only to Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph (2,650). And UCLA as a whole was averaging 510 yards per game, just four shy of Pac-12 leader Arizona.
Saturday, the Huskies slashed that number in half and then some. They held the Bruins (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) to 232 yards on 61 plays (3.80 ypp), and kept Rosen to 93 yards on 21 throws before he left with an injury in the third quarter.
The final score was 44-23, but seven of UCLA’s points came on a fumble returned for a touchdown. If this were the Bruins’ season opener, they’d be considered as offensively impotent as Oregon State.
“As long I’ve been here, the defense has always had some dogs,” said UW running back Myles Gaskin, and, yes, dogs is a compliment. “Everyone knows that about Washington. It’s good to see those guys do what they do.”
The major concern coming into this season — at least in media circles — was whether UW could replenish a secondary that lost Kevin King, Budda Baker and Sidney Jones to the NFL. Given that the Huskies are seventh in the country and first in the Pac-12 in passing defense, it’s safe to say that hasn’t been a problem.
But Saturday, they were without cornerbacks Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy, who sat out due to injury. That wasn’t a problem, either.
Joyner and Myles Bryant filled in just fine at corner. And the pass-rushing tandem of Greg Gaines and Vita Vea has never looked more dominant.
Gaines sacked Rosen on UCLA’s first offensive play, and Vea got him later in the drive. Benning Potoa’e added a sack on Rosen in the second quarter, as did Joyner on a cornerback blitz.
UCLA still managed two offensive touchdowns, but this was more than just an off day. This was the Bruins facing what might be the best defense in the country.
Folks in Birmingham will scoff at that suggestion, but the statistics back it up. It’s also what makes the 13-7 loss to Arizona State two weeks ago all the more painful, as it might have cost Washington (7-1, 4-1) the chance to showcase that D against the country’s best.
That’s not the immediate concern, though, as there are still four more games on the regular season. And three of those come against Oregon, Stanford and Washington State — all of which are averaging at least 33 points.
Normally, this is where I’d say the on guys on the Huskies’ defense will have their work cut out for them. But they’re not the ones who should worry — that’s for the team trying to score on them.