Outside linebackers have improved their game, helped by a top-notch secondary. Their improvement was on full display against Stanford, where Wooching had three sacks and Mathis had two.

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Before the season, the fifth-ranked Huskies knew their secondary might be special.

And they had a pretty good idea the inside linebackers were all-conference caliber. And they believed their massive defensive front could be dominant.

However, there were serious concerns about Washington’s ability to pressure the quarterback simply because the new pass-rushers didn’t have a lot of experience.


UW @ Oregon, 4:30 p.m., Ch. 13

It would be an overstatement to suggest senior outside linebackers Psalm Wooching and Joe Mathis erased all the doubt surrounding them after Friday’s spectacular display in which they combined for five of UW’s eight sacks during a 44-6 thrashing against then-No. 7 Stanford.

But Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington’s career sacks leader, is encouraged by the progress they’ve made heading into Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game at Oregon.

“They’ve come a long ways from when I was here,” said Kikaha, who holds UW records for sacks in a season (19) and career (35). “What I noticed is they’ve become more explosive with their movements.”

The New Orleans Saints linebacker, who is out for the season due to a torn ACL, watched the UW-Stanford game from the sideline.

“I was amazed to see all of their hard work produce a great game like that,” Kikaha said. “I’m really proud of them.”

When first-year defensive-line coach Ikaika Malloe took the job, he immediately wanted to improve the pass-rushing technique of UW’s defensive linemen.

The Huskies had lost their top pass rushers in Travis Feeney and Corey Littleton, who used speed and quickness to combine for 14 sacks in 2015.

“They’ve gotten a lot better at how to use their hands and how their hands fit with their feet,” Malloe said when asked about the biggest improvement in Wooching and Mathis. “And then just understanding the leverage on an offensive lineman – inside or outside. That’s paying off for them.”

Between them, the senior outside linebackers had six sacks in a combined 66 games the previous three years.

Following a three-sack outing, Wooching leads UW with 4.5 sacks. Mathis, who had two sacks against Stanford, is second on the team with four this season.

Their development is critical for a Husky defense that prefers to drop seven defenders in coverage and rush four. The scheme worked perfectly against Stanford, considering UW racked up eight sacks without blitzing against a Cardinal team that had allowed just four sacks in its first three games.

Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns managed 151 passing yards.

“It’s really our defensive backs that’s helping us and buying us time to get there,” Malloe said. “We are doing a little bit better, but for the most part they (UW’s secondary) are buying us a lot of time and that’s why we’re getting there. Usually it takes 3-4 seconds to get there, but for us we need about 5 or 6.

“This year we don’t have that speed. We have more technicians than anything else. … We had to manufacture speed through technique and defensive fronts.”

Despite being relatively undersized for a pass rusher, Wooching (who is 6 feet 3 and 219 pounds) relies on his power and strength to rush the passer.

In contrast, Mathis, who is 6-5 and 250, is more of a speed rusher who likes to dip under or spin around blockers to get to the quarterback.

“Those two guys are relentless,” co-defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “That’s the word I use. They just keep coming.”

The Huskies might have predicted a big year from Mathis, who had 30 tackles including six for loss and two sacks in 2015.

Meanwhile, it’s taken Wooching, a fifth-year senior from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, a little while before finding a role where he can thrive. He arrived in 2012 as a running back before moving to fullback, defensive end and outside linebacker.

Against Stanford, he amassed a career-high six tackles in a performance that won him the Walter Camp national player of the week and Pac-12 defensive player of the week awards.

“It’s really good to see Psalm kind of come out of, I don’t want to say nowhere, but he’s been here a long time,” coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s a fifth-year guy. Plays with a high motor and gives great effort. He’s made plays, but certainly to have it all come together in a game like that was really good for him.”