No matter what the offense is doing, the defense is good enough to make sure the Huskies have a chance to win any game. That was apparent as the offense got off to a slow start against Oregon State.
CORVALLIS, Ore. — It was far from the emotion-stirring triumph seen and marveled over a day earlier on the Palouse. It was, in fact, hardly a victory to be dwelled upon much longer than it took the Huskies to cover the 250 miles back to Seattle.
Yet in the midst of a workmanlike dismantling of an overmatched opponent, one that was virtually preordained, the Huskies showed the outline of a formula that will serve them well on much tenser, much more uncertain nights.
Namely, their defense was reassuringly exceptional in the Huskies’ 42-7 triumph over Oregon State. When the Huskies’ offense struggled throughout the first half, the defense eased the concern, making absolutely no one think that the Beavers, even down just 7-0 at intermission, had the remotest chance of emulating their upset of the century against Washington in 1985.
By the numbers
2017 point differential. The Huskies are 5-0 this season and have outscored opponents by 166 points.
And when the Washington offense awakened, inevitably, in the second half, the Husky D just kept right on doing what it had in the first half: stuffing the Beavers’ run-heavy attack.
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“When we can stop the run like that,’’ coach Chris Petersen mused, “we’re going to be good.”
Of the Beavers’ first 11 possessions, eight ended in punts, two in lost fumbles, and one was a kneeldown as time expired in the first half. Only on their final possession, in garbage time with UW’s second- and third-stringers on the field, did Oregon State march 74 yards for a mercy score with 3:23 remaining in the game, keeping the Huskies from their first Pac-12 shutout since the 2009 Apple Cup.
“We really wanted it, for sure,’’ defensive lineman Greg Gaines said of the whitewash. “They, like, doubled their rushing yards on that last drive (almost literally: the Beavers had just 36 up to that point), and that’s kind of annoying. But it happens. Those other guys have got to get reps. They have a good time out there, and they’re our brothers.”
On a night when the take-away buzz of the night will be quarterback Jake Browning’s check-down to a run on a fourth-and-10 play deep in OSU territory that resulted in a 20-yard scamper by Lavon Coleman, the defense provided nothing as daring or compelling as that.
But that’s kind of the point. What plays best on defense is steadiness, and team swarming, and surety in tackling. Nothing too sexy there, but you look up, and the scoreboard is filled with zeros.
Petersen had said that Oregon State provided the biggest challenge the Huskies had faced all year when it came to the rushing game, particularly its 6-foot-2, 237-pound battering ram of a tailback, Ryan Nall.
“It’s just different,’’ said linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven. “The guy last week (against Colorado) was a 5-7, 5-8 guy trying to dance and get away from you, and this guy wants contact and wants to engage. I think you have to understand what’s coming at you every week. We knew the big guy was going to want to run us over, so you just have to change how you’re going to tackle him.”
That was the focus all week of defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski — go low, wrap him up, and don’t let him get away. And it was Petersen’s final message to the team before taking the field at Reser Stadium.
“He said if we can take one thing out of this game, be a great tackler,” Gaines said. “That’s the one thing we can do, be great tacklers, and we’ll win.”
The UW offense, held frustratingly to one score at halftime, awakened in the second half for five touchdowns, with three of them coming via the time-honored Browning-to-Dante Pettis connection. But that’s hardly a parade-worthy accomplishment against a Beavers defense that ranked 127th out of 130 FBS teams while allowing a cringe-worthy 47.5 points a game.
The UW defense, however, stood out even against all the built-in disadvantages the Beavers carried as baggage, including a backup quarterback making his first start of the year. Earlier in the week, when asked about Oregon State’s quantified deficiencies, Petersen had said, “Statistics are for losers.” But the Huskies no doubt savored a few of them from Saturday’s game, including just 18 yards on nine carries by Nall, and a mere 184 total yards for the Beavers even when inflated by the late drive.
Linebacker Tevis Bartlett said the defense’s mantra is to always play up to its standard — “Do the best we’ve ever done, every time we step on the field. That’s the standard.”
Added Gaines, “I feel we did exactly as we should have done. This is exactly how we should have performed.”
And that’s something the Huskies can savor, even after the dim glow of an expected win fades.