After losing nine starters from a defense that led the Pac-12 a year ago, the Washington Huskies figured to be in a bit of rebuilding mode this year on that side of the ball.
The drop hasn’t been significant, however, and the Colorado Buffaloes (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) will face yet another formidable Washington defense on Saturday at Folsom Field (8:10 p.m.; TV: ESPN).
“They do a nice job,” CU offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said. “They’re very aggressive back there. They obviously have some really good players, yet they’re young a little bit too. But they they’ve done some good things, they’ve created some turnovers.
“As always, I like our skill set on the outside and our guys I think will rise up to the challenge. I know they look forward to playing a really good club.”
Washington (6-4, 3-4) ranks third in the Pac-12 in allowing 21.2 points per game and third in allowing 349.7 yards per game. Those are good numbers, but not by Washington standards. From 2015-18, the Huskies led the Pac-12 in scoring and total defense four years in a row.
This year, the Huskies have given up more points than normal, but have still found success. They are third in the conference in pass efficiency defense and in third-down defense. They’re also tied with CU for fourth in takeaways (16) and rank fifth in sacks (24).
“I think their front is very talented,” CU quarterback Steven Montez said. “I think (safety) Myles Bryant … he’s a very talented player, very good player. He’s an older dude that’s played a lot of football.
“They have some younger guys in the secondary, as well. We’re definitely going to test if those dudes can play but we’re excited about them coming to Folsom and about seeing them on the field (Saturday night).”
Johnson said Washington has “probably one of the deepest defensive line groups I’ve seen,” which will make running the football difficult. The Buffs have been able to find success on the ground this season, though, and sustaining long drives helped them pull off a 16-13 win against Stanford on Nov. 9.
“It comes to we have to control things up front,” Johnson said.
CU has averaged just 14.8 points in its last five games, but Johnson felt the offense was productive during last week’s bye.
“It was a work week for us and guys came out and worked,” he said. “That’s one thing I say about this group: they’ve really done a good job consistently throughout the year doing that. We kind of went back to the basics, fundamentally, technique, all those things and really tried to improve and I think they took advantage of it.”
Scoring points against the Huskies has been difficult for CU. Since joining the Pac-12, the Buffs are 0-7 against Washington, losing by an average score of 41.7 to 12.9. In five of those games, they’ve been held to 13 points or less.
Against Stanford, the Buffs finally saw success on the scoreboard defensively. CU had given up 30-plus points in 14 consecutive games, but held the Cardinal to 13.
“I think it was very much needed, because as a defense, we know what we’re capable of, and to come out two weeks ago and prove that, it’s a big step for us,” outside linebacker Nu’umotu Falo said. “We take pride in knowing that if we were able to do that, we can do that with anyone else that we play with. I think everyone else on the team, especially the defense, knows if we can do it once we can keep doing it again.”
Alex Tchangam, a senior outside linebacker, said the Buffs carried that confidence through the bye week and into practice this week.
“It sparked the team a lot,” he said. “We got at it even harder because we know what kind of team we can be in the Pac-12. Just coming off a win like that was a good thing for our team.”
As of Wednesday, CU was a 14.5-point underdog for the game against the Huskies. The Buffs have lost 29 in a row when coming in as at least a 14-point underdog. Their last win in that situation came in 2012 at Washington State, when they were a 20-point underdog. … The Buffs will wear traditional uniforms – gold helmets and pants, black jerseys – on Saturday. … CU will honor 17 seniors on Saturday.