The Huskies allowed just nine passing touchdowns with 15 interceptions in the regular season.
The Huskies’ defense wrapped up the regular season by holding the nation’s No. 1 passing offense to season lows in total yards, passing yards and points in their 45-10 victory over Washington State, and this could very well start out as a cliché they-saved-their-best-for-last note about another notable shutdown performance for that defense.
Truth is, despite having statistically the best defense in the Pac-12, the Huskies expect more, they want more, and they see their Apple Cup performance less as icing on the cake to a fine season and more of a taste test for what’s to come in the Heart of Dallas Bowl … and beyond.
“I feel like we’ve had close to the season that we wanted to have, defensively speaking,” junior defensive back Kevin King said Saturday after the Huskies’ second practice leading up to the Dec. 26 bowl game against Southern Miss. “To be the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12, I think that speaks a lot. It shows a lot about how we worked.”
But, he added, “we want more, and I think we can get more. And I think these last two games of the season, it’s starting to show a little bit of what we can really do as a team.”
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The Huskies (6-6) outscored Oregon State and WSU a combined 97-17 in their final two games to become bowl eligible, and they finished the regular season ranked first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (17.8 points). UW allowed just nine passing touchdowns in 12 games — and only one to the Cougars, who played without star QB Luke Falk — while intercepting 15 passes.
“The Apple Cup,” UW sophomore safety Budda Baker said, “was a great statement for us, and we plan to keep doing that.”
As the Huskies look to 2016, their secondary returns everyone on its two-deep except senior safety Brian Clay. The nucleus of that secondary is established around Baker and sophomore cornerback Sidney Jones — both named to the all-Pac-12 first-team defense — plus King and sophomore cornerback Darren Gardenhire.
Among defensive back who defended at least 40 pass attempts, King, in his first season as a nickelback, led the Pac-12 in fewest completions allowed, according to the advanced statistics UW uses. Quarterbacks completed 20 of their 50 attempts (40 percent) against King, who gave up one touchdown pass with three interceptions and eight passes defensed.
Jones was right behind King, allowing 27 completions in 64 attempts (42.2 percent), with one touchdown, four interceptions and a league-best 14 passes defensed.
“We talk about a ‘SWAT’ mentality — when you think about the SWAT team, they go in, whatever the location is, they go in, they drop, they get the job done and they get out,” he said.
NOTE: The Huskies will practice again on Sunday before taking four days off for fall-term final exams. They will resume practices on Friday and then leave for Dallas on Monday, Dec. 21.