Huskies are without their top two cornerbacks for Saturday's game vs. UCLA, and UW is expected to turn to a true freshman as a replacement.
Washington is the only team in the country that has not allowed a touchdown pass in conference play.
Of course, the No. 12 Huskies (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) have not faced UCLA’s Josh Rosen, a quarterback that many see as the best pure passer in college football. And the Huskies have not had to play a game yet without their top two cornerbacks, which will be the case for Saturday’s 12:30 kickoff vs. UCLA (4-3, 2-2) at Husky Stadium.
Cornerback Jordan Miller is out for the season with a broken ankle, and cornerback Byron Murphy is not yet expected to return from a broken foot.
Sophomore Austin Joyner has played well in four starts as Murphy’s replacement. Miller’s replacement will likely be true freshman Keith Taylor, who played limited snaps in the first half of the season on special teams and in mop-up duty.
Taylor, from Long Beach, Calif., is long and lean at 6-feet-2 and 186 pounds, and in uniform he could be mistaken at first blush for former UW cornerback Kevin King.
“Any receiver is going to have a tough time getting around him, just because of his length,” sophomore safety Taylor Rapp said. “Once he gets refined with his technique like Coach (Jimmy) Lake is teaching him, I think he’s going to be an incredible corner, and incredible asset.”
Taylor is one of three true freshmen defensive backs who have played for UW this season. Elijah Molden, a 5-foot-10 corner, could also play more snaps with Miller out. And safety Brandon McKinney has been a regular on special teams.
“It’s been so exciting seeing them step up to the plate and do what they’ve done,” Rapp said.
The Huskies’ secondary has rarely gives up big plays. It has allowed just 11 pass plays of more than 20 yards, tied with Washington State for the fewest in the country. The longest pass play UW has allowed this season? Just 36 yards.
“If those guys just keep the ball in front of them, I think we’ll be fine,” linebacker Tevis Bartlett said.
Junior Jomon Dotson could also be in the mix at cornerback, and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said he feels “great” about the depth in the secondary.
“The guys are competitive. They’re excited about their opportunity,” Kwiatkowski said. “They’re going to go out there and compete. Coach Lake is going to have them in the right position. They just have to go out and make plays.”
The Huskies, looking to rebound from their 13-7 loss at Arizona State two weeks ago, have allowed just three passing touchdowns this season, tied with Penn State for the fewest in the nation. All three of those against UW came during nonconference play, and Rutgers had two of them — including one in the fourth quarter (when UW was leading 30-7) when Taylor stumbled near the goal line while trying for an interception.
UW ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 10.6 points per game, and UW’s defense has surrendered just six touchdowns in seven games (turnovers by UW’s offense led directly to two opponent touchdowns).
Rosen, by the way, ranks among the national leaders with his 19 touchdown passes this season. In four Pac-12 games, Rosen has six touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 130.9.