Let’s call it the Edefuan Ulofoshio Effect.
In the first eight games of the 2019 season, UW’s defense allowed an average of 147.63 rushing yards per game and 4.19 yards per carry.
In their final five games, the Huskies surrendered just 92.4 rushing yards per game and 3.10 yards per carry.
Now, this improvement could be attributed to any number of factors: opposing offenses, UW defensive linemen, fluctuating weather patterns or astrological signs. It could be little more than a statistical fluke.
Or we could be onto something.
After all, Ulofoshio — a 6-foot, 230-pound inside linebacker from Anchorage, Alaska — earned a permanent place in UW’s defensive rotation in a 33-28 loss to Utah on Nov. 2, the ninth game of the season.
When Ulofoshio stepped in, the Huskies stepped up.
And more should be expected in his redshirt sophomore season.
“The kid is just hungry to learn more,” UW inside linebackers coach Bob Gregory said of Ulofoshio on Wednesday. “Every morning when I walk past my meeting room, Eddy’s in there. I get in there before 7 at times. So he’s in there watching and preparing for the day, taking notes.
“In the offseason he was pestering me — and I mean that in a positive way. It could be 8 o’clock at night and he’s texting me that he saw something on YouTube. ‘Hey, what do you think about this coach?’ So you love those kind of guys. You love his work ethic in the weight room with (strength and conditioning coach Tim) Socha and his staff. So this guy, you can just tell when a guy really loves the game.
“And I do think the kid’s got a chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t recruited and he’s out to prove everybody wrong. I’m excited that he’s a Dawg, there’s no doubt.”
Few UW fans would have felt that way a year ago, when Ulofoshio was an essentially anonymous and undeniably undersized redshirt freshman walk-on. Following the departures of standout inside linebackers Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett, seniors Brandon Wellington and Kyler Manu were tabbed to take their place.
And, more importantly, they were tasked with upholding a tradition of impressive linebacker play in the Chris Petersen era. With gap-caving defensive linemen and sideline-to-sideline linebackers, the Huskies perennially produced run-stuffing defenses — as the statistics suggest.
Year | Rushing yards allowed per game (national rank) | Yards per carry allowed (national rank)
2014 | 124.07 (22nd) | 3.28 (14th)
2015 | 125.31 (19th) | 3.29 (10th)
2016 | 133.93 (28th) | 3.65 (23rd)
2017 | 100.85 (4th) | 2.86 (2nd)
2018 | 116.14 (15th) | 3.53 (21st)
Now, remember where those same Huskies sat through eight games last fall: 147.63 rushing yards allowed per game, and 4.19 yards per carry.
Without Burr-Kirven, who led the FBS with 176 total tackles in 2018, the Huskies uncharacteristically struggled to stuff the run. And Ulofoshio provided an immediate improvement.
But, as UW prepares for an unprecedented seven-game sprint, he’s going to need some help.
“Eddy Ulofoshio is playing really well. Jackson Sirmon is extremely solid,” Gregory said, when asked about the depth of his group. “And then we have a bunch of guys that haven’t played much football, but I think we’ve got some talent. They just don’t have a lot of experience.
“So (redshirt sophomore) MJ Tafisi I think is a really good football player. (Redshirt freshman) Alphonzo Tuputala is really good. A couple of the young guys, (redshirt freshmen) Miki Ah You and Daniel Heimuli, are good players. We just don’t have a lot experience, but I do think we have some depth.”
To take it one step further, UW head coach Jimmy Lake recently referred to the inside linebackers — somewhat surprisingly — as one of the deepest units on his team.
“We are almost six-deep at that position,” Lake said. “Those guys have been training since December and I feel really good about their growth. Jackson Sirmon has played some football for us. He’s looking really good. Obviously (we’ve got) Edefuan Ulofoshio and Junior (MJ) Tafisi. We’ve got some talented guys that have played football for us, and now they’re coming back. So I’m excited about that group. But we definitely have to go out there and prove it on game day.”
If game day was tomorrow, Gregory said, Ulofoshio and Sirmon would be his starters at inside linebacker. A 6-foot-3, 230-pound redshirt sophomore, Sirmon contributed 28 tackles and two tackles for loss while playing in all 13 games last fall.
It’s also fair to expect Tafisi and Tuputala to earn reps in the rotation. Tafisi showed some physical flashes in seven games last season, before a significant stinger suffered in the win at Arizona on Oct. 12 took him out for the remainder of the year. Tuputala — a 6-2, 225-pounder from Federal Way — made two tackles in four games last season, while preserving his redshirt.
And of UW’s four redshirt freshmen inside linebackers — Tuputala, Ah You, Heimuli and Josh Calvert — Tuputala is closest to becoming a consistent contributor.
“I think he’s playing well right now,” Gregory said. “I think he’s taking a step in his game. He’s a big, physical kid that can run.”
UW needs as many of those as it can find.
And it also needs the Ulofoshio Effect to bear more fruit this fall.
“I think the guy’s very passionate about football,” Gregory said. “Even when we were not together, he was one of those guys who was pestering the heck out of me to learn more. ‘Let’s get on Zoom to watch more film.’
“So you certainly love those kind of guys. And I do think he’ll take a step, but the game is what matters coming up here against Cal.”