“The standard” doesn’t waver from player to player.

The production certainly might.

After UW’s 39-28 win over No. 11 Michigan State last week, Alex Cook spoke about “the standard” — an expectation of success cultivated by the likes of Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones, then faithfully passed to their successors. The Huskies, after all, have had 11 defensive backs drafted since 2015 — including eight in the first two rounds.

“The standard,” UW’s senior safety said, transcends class or coaching staff. It withstands injury. It’s a responsibility individually accepted by UW’s DBs.

Including Kamren Fabiculanan and Julius Irvin.

After starting safety Asa Turner suffered an injury last week, Fabiculanan — a 6-foot-1, 191-pound sophomore — was promptly converted from the “husky” nickel-back role to take his roommate’s spot. In his second career start, Fabiculanan produced a career-best eight tackles and a pass breakup.

He did what he was supposed to do.

“Elite-level preparation,” said co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chuck Morrell, when asked why Fabiculanan was the man for the job. “I look at the guys on our squad that know multiple jobs and can operate on a really high level, and Kam’s right at the top of the group. He’s right up there with guys like Asa Turner. If you ask me who knows our defense the best, Kam Fab is probably No. 1 or No. 2 overall.

“So there’s an inherent trust that goes into that as a coach. And also, I think he’s a veteran guy, too. He’s had starts before in his career. He played well during fall camp. He comes up and works his tail off every day. I didn’t feel like the moment was going to be too big for him.”

Fabiculanan played both corner and safety at Westlake (California) High School, and has practiced at every secondary position since enrolling at UW in 2019. He said this week that “I pride myself on knowing every single person’s job and just knowing where my help is, knowing what everyone’s doing and being the smartest on the field.”

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Not just the smartest.

Loudest, too.

“He’s a fantastic communicator,” Morrell said. “I think that’s a huge thing, where he can run the show and get everybody in the right spot. That’s really critical. Any mistake that’s made, he knows where the mistake was at. He’s got good, solid fundamental man technique from the work he’s been playing at husky, and he sees contact well. He wants to run to the ball and put guys on the ground.”

Likewise, Irvin — a fifth-year junior — converted from safety to cornerback this preseason, and slid into a starting role when Jordan Perryman was injured in the Kent State game. In last week’s win over Michigan State, Irvin allowed completions on just 2 of 7 targets for 22 yards … and added an interception and a pass breakup.

When asked where the interception ranks among the highlights of his football career, Irvin said: “No. 1, for sure. That game was special, and I’ve played in a lot of games and been to a lot of games here.”

A 6-1, 179-pound junior and former four-star recruit, Irvin started just two games in his first four seasons in Seattle.

But “the standard” doesn’t sleep.

“(UW’s current coaches) have so much trust in me to move around from position to position,” Irvin said. “That ultimately makes me feel comfortable about going out there, knowing the coach really wants me to be out there. He has trust in me. He has faith in my abilities. It’s definitely a different approach to the game. I’ve never played this much in my career so far, so to have those guys trust me to go out there and make plays, it means everything to me.”

But after Michigan State’s Payton Thorne completed 71% of his passes and threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns last week, it was worth asking: can “the standard” withstand Stanford? Or would Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee — who co-defensive coordinator William Inge called a “top-tier, elite quarterback” — have his way?

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That question became even more complicated in Saturday’s 40-22 win, considering starting cornerbacks Perryman and Mishael Powell didn’t suit up against Stanford. Irvin, redshirt freshman Davon Banks and true freshman Jaivion Green split cornerback reps.

“Mish (Powell) will be out for a couple weeks. I would expect this week (against UCLA he’ll be out) for sure,” DeBoer said after the win. “I know Perryman’s really close. There was even a chance … again, we thought we’d have him this week. But we’re getting really close.”

In all, McKee completed 17 of 26 passes (65.4%) for 286 yards with three touchdowns (including a 78-yarder in garbage time) and an interception. He was also sacked eight times.

“The standard” stays the same.

A deceptive run defense

UW defensive linemen Tuli Letuligasenoa, Faatui Tuitele, Ulumoo Ale, Voi Tunuufi and Jacob Bandes combined for four tackles and a sack against Michigan State.

Which may seem statistically insignificant.

And yet, the Spartans managed just 42 rushing yards and 1.4 yards per carry — including -0.5 rushing yards before contact.

UW’s defensive linemen succeeded in statistical silence.

“They’re playing within the scheme. They’re doing what they’re being asked to do,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said this week. “They’re not going to get a lot of the tackles, other guys are going to get those tackles, but they’re eating up blocks, and a guy like (Ale) in particular, he’s going to eat up a lot of people. We know how hard that is, and I know how hard that’s been over the years to block guys that size. Tuli’s snapping off the ball at the line of scrimmage and causing problems. (Tuitele) has also been consistent and constant every single play.”

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Through three games, UW ranks first in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (90 yards per game) and second in opponent yards per carry (2.73).

That unit was challenged Saturday against a Stanford team that rushed for 221 yards, 4.9 yards per carry and three scores against USC. Running back Casey Filkins totaled 100 rushing yards and five yards per carry (though, due to UW’s eight sacks, Stanford finished with just 86 rushing yards and 2.4 yards per carry).

The expectation endures.

“Being able to stop the run, that has to be your premium,” Inge said. “You have to do that on defense and make teams one-dimensional. So that’s something we’ve been preaching to them from day one.”

Note

  • UW’s offensive linemen have been positionally interchangeable thus far, as Corey Luciano has played center and right guard and Matteo Mele and Troy Fautanu are each capable of contributing at multiple spots as well. With sixth-year senior left tackle Jaxson Kirkland returning from injury Saturday, Fautanu slid from left tackle to left guard as well. Then when Kirkland sat out the second half, Fautanu returned to left tackle and sophomore Nate Kalepo was installed at left guard. “Certainly since I’ve been here at Washington, this has been one of the more flexible, versatile groups that we’ve had,” UW offensive line coach Scott Huff said this week. “But credit to our guys, and a little bit how it’s set up with spring football and being able to move different pieces around and try guys at different spots. Because injuries unfortunately happen and we’ve got to be prepared for it.”