Arizona uses a familiar weapon in a different way.
Last weekend, Washington struggled to stop 5-foot-10, 217-pound Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson — who rushed for 133 yards, 5.8 yards per carry and a touchdown in the Huskies’ 27-21 win.
Meanwhile, Arizona running back Gary Brightwell — a 6-1, 218-pound senior — gashed USC for 112 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per carry, while adding three catches for 20 yards as well. He’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry in his Wildcat career.
On Saturday, the Huskies have a second chance to prove they can bully a bigger back.
But be warned: while Brightwell’s size is similar, the Wildcats’ scheme is anything but.
“This guy’s good,” UW coach Jimmy Lake said of Brightwell with an exasperated grin. “This guy’s a good football player, and what really makes him dangerous is the style of offense. Last week (the Beavers) were a little similar to us, in that Oregon State is going to line up and go, ‘Here you go. We’re packed in here and we’re going to run the football.’
“Well, this team that we’re playing this week is going to be all spread out and you’re going to have to defend all these wide receivers — these fast guys — out on the perimeter. Then when you stretch out and put everybody out there they’re going to hand this ball off to this big running back to try to slice through your front that’s probably going to be reduced by a couple numbers.”
And, if we’re being honest, UW’s defense has been reduced by a couple numbers as it is. Defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike and outside linebacker Joe Tryon declared for the NFL draft this offseason, and their expected replacements — Tuli Letuligasenoa and Laiatu Latu, respectively — each missed the Oregon State game with unspecified injuries.
In their stead, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Sam “Taki” Taimani made his first career start, and redshirt freshman Faatui Tuitele cycled in behind him. The line combined for four total tackles and zero tackles for loss.
A pair of true freshman outside linebackers — Sav’ell Smalls and Cooper McDonald — rotated in behind starters Zion Tupuola-Fetui (four tackles, two strip-sacks) and Ryan Bowman (three tackles, one TFL) as well.
On the second level, redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio led the way with a team-high 10 tackles and four pass breakups.
But against Arizona — whose running backs produced 173 rushing yards, 5.8 yards per carry and two touchdowns in last October’s 51-27 loss — UW will need more contributions from less established names.
“(Lake) said it since day one: if you can make plays and you can be aggressive, you’re going to end up playing on this team,” Ulofoshio said. “That’s what everyone in the building felt. It was equal opportunity for all of us. Anyone can get their job snatched, and anyone can get their job (secured). So it’s always constant improvement, being aggressive.
“He wants dawgs out there, so that’s what we have to be.”
But that doesn’t mean, Ulofoshio says, that they need to be “Superman.” Too often against Oregon State, Husky defenders left their designated gap in an attempt to save the day.
“They were just making creases against us because it was either that I wouldn’t stay in my gap or another person wouldn’t stay in their gap,” he said. “They’d make creases, because we’re trying to make a play. So you shed (a block), but your responsibility is this gap.
“So when I say discipline, it’s discipline in trusting that this guy’s going to do his job and you’re going to do your job, trusting each other. That was the adjustment: do your job.”
In the first three quarters last Saturday, Oregon State ran for 159 yards and 5.3 yards per carry.
In the fourth quarter, the Beavers managed just four carries for a total of eight yards.
Maybe that’s a sign of progress for the Huskies’ undeniably depleted front seven.
Or maybe it’s a mirage. We’ll see on Saturday.
“We definitely need to play the run better, which we did not play very well at all Saturday night,” Lake said. “That was one of our keys to the game and we made some strategy changes throughout the game — in the first, second and third quarter — that really helped us, which was a huge boost to our defense after we made those adjustments. We ended up shutting out Oregon State in the second half. They scored no points in the third and fourth quarter, but we definitely want to play better in the first and second.
“But we like who we have. We made it out of the game healthy. We’re excited to put some better film on tape this weekend, making sure we don’t give up those type of running yards.”