Washington’s offense features the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year at quarterback, plus All-Pac-12 players at running back, wide receiver, tight end and center.
And yet the Huskies’ defense might be the better unit.
Heading into UCLA’s (4-3, 2-2 Pac-12) road date with No. 12 Washington (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday, the Huskies are third in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 10.2 points per game, and second in total defense, allowing just 236.9 yards per game.
“They bring challenges up front, they bring challenges in the secondary and with their linebackers,” said UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. “We have to have our best day.”
With preseason All-Americans on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps, as well as last year’s Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in the secondary, Washington will provide the stiffest test yet for the UCLA offense.
The Bruins took a step forward Saturday against Oregon, scoring five times while producing their first turnover-free outing in four games. The Bruins are averaging 510.1 yards per game this season.
But they’ve yet to face even a top-40 defense this year.
The holes that developed against the Oregon defense likely won’t be there against Washington. Only one team in the nation, Alabama, has allowed fewer rushing yards per game than Washington.
That’s not to say passing the ball will be any easier. The Huskies allow the sixth-lowest passing yards per game in the country and have only surrendered three touchdown passes while grabbing eight interceptions.
“We just have to continue to work on being the efficient offense we want to be,” Fisch said. “(That) comes with converting on third down, shortening up your third downs …and then making some explosive plays.”
Defensive lineman Vita Vea is the most imposing member of the Huskies’ defense. Standing at 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, Vea was the No. 19 prospect for the NFL 2018 draft in the most recent rankings by ESPN’s Todd McShay.
Anchoring the linebacker unit are Azeem Victor, the top inside linebacker in the nation in McShay’s preseason draft rankings, and Keishawn Berria, McShay’s No. 3 outside linebacker in the preseason.
The Huskies’ secondary lost three top-notch players to the NFL this past offseason, but safety Taylor Rapp was the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year last season.
Even with all the elite talent, the unit is far from top-heavy – the Huskies have gotten sacks from 15 different players this season.
“We all know it’s a good football team – just turn on the tape, that’s easy to see,” Fisch said. “Our guys just have to say, ‘Can we play our best game?’”
They’ll likely have to.
Ready for the road?
A trip to Husky Stadium seems a poor prescription for a UCLA team that has started the season 0-3 on the road.
Washington has seen a bump in attendance after last year’s College Football Playoff run, drawing an average of 68,101 fans this year to a stadium that seats just more than 70,000.
“Great place to play,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. “It’s going to be exciting … excited to get to play a ranked team, a team that was in the playoffs last year.”
Coach Jim Mora said he wasn’t sure why the Bruins have struggled on the road this season.
“We just have to play better,” Mora said. “Not get caught up in the environment and be able to play through less-than-successful plays when you kind of get reeling and the crowd gets into it. … You’ve just got to settle down and play.”