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Sports >  UW football

UW Huskies tasked with (finally) stopping the run against Arizona State

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 11, 2021

Oregon running back Travis Dye runs with the ball during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Seattle. Oregon won 26-16.  (Associated Press)
Oregon running back Travis Dye runs with the ball during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Seattle. Oregon won 26-16. (Associated Press)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

UW has surrendered at least 218 rushing yards in five of its nine games this season.

In the previous four full seasons, it had not happened once.

And, unsurprisingly, the 4-5 Huskies are 1-4 when their opponent eclipses 200 yards on the ground.

So, it stands to reason that — against an Arizona State offense that amassed 282 rushing yards with 6.7 yards per carry and four scores in last weekend’s 31-16 win over USC — the objective is easy to understand.

Stop the run, and win the game.

Don’t, and you won’t.

“I think the game plan is simple. We’re trying to execute something to stop the run,” UW co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe said Wednesday. “That, to me, will basically fall on coaches — myself included, coaching the defensive line, coaching the outside linebackers. We’ve just got to be more physical, and then we’ve got to execute our technique.

“I think I said in the beginning there’s just an inexperience of our players. There’s no such thing as that at this point. So for me, I’ve just got to do a better job coaching it. We’ve got to emphasize what we’re trying to create, and then have the stamina to do it in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, that’s when the fatigue sets in and we’re not executing exactly how we’re coached to do it. That’s really my job. I’ve got to get my players to do that, and it’s a reflection of me.”

Malloe is likely referring to the 26-16 loss to rival Oregon — in which the Ducks totaled 214 rushing yards and 5.6 yards per carry in the first three quarters, before compiling 115 more rushing yards and 6.4 yards per rush in the fourth.

And yet, UW’s underwhelming run defense has been startlingly consistent. In the aforementioned five games where the Huskies surrendered 200-plus on the ground, opponents averaged 5.6 yards per carry in the first three quarters, and 5.8 yards per carry in the fourth.

That’s a comprehensive calamity — and, according to Malloe, a reflection of the coaching staff.

We’ll see if the staff takes strides on Saturday.

“I think (defensive coordinator and acting head coach Bob) Gregory does a good job in trying to tweak things as we go on and move forward,” Malloe said. “Yeah, we’re going to tweak some stuff and see if we can add on, see if we can subtract, see if we can disguise. But ultimately it does come back to our technique. It really does. We can throw as many guys as we want in the box, but we still have to execute the technique. To me, that was my focus in coaching this week, making sure that does not fail us when we come to Saturday, regardless of the call.”

It comes back to technique.

Which comes back to players.

And along the defensive front seven, there are new names to know. Without standout inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio — who is out for the season with an arm injury — second-year freshman Carson Bruener has emerged, contributing 23 tackles with 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in his first two starts. And without sixth-year senior outside linebacker Ryan Bowman — who is also out for the season with a shoulder/arm injury — some pass rush responsibility has passed to freshman defensive lineman Voi Tunuufi, who has responded with six tackles and two sacks in his last two games.

But among the outside linebackers, Zion Tupuola-Fetui — who has recorded eight tackles and one sack in four games since returning from a torn Achilles tendon — will be counted on to expand his role.

“Ryan Bowman was the leader of my group specifically,” said Malloe, who mentors the outside linebackers. “So Zion will be what we call the next man up, no different than what’s going on right now with the coaches situation. That’s Zion’s job. Zion’s job is to go and be the verbal communicator — which he has not (been before Bowman went down), but he has accepted that role and taken that on.

“But it’s not changing what he does on the field. His responsibilities and what we expect him to do for the package, that won’t change. But picking up where Rhyno (Bowman) left off, that has to change for Zion. He has to be that verbal leadership guy. He has to be that verbal guy in our room, and I think he’s doing a pretty good job.”

UW has done a far worse job containing dual-threat quarterbacks, as Oregon’s Anthony Brown recorded 63 rushing yards with 5.3 yards per carry and a touchdown last weekend and Cal’s Chase Garbers added 71 rushing yards with 4.4 yards per carry and a score on Sept. 25.

Redshirt senior Rachaad White is the primary runner for Arizona State, having shredded USC for 202 rushing yards with 7.2 yards per carry and three touchdowns last Saturday.

But quarterback Jayden Daniels — who has 482 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per carry and four scores this season — may be Malloe’s feared fourth quarter back-breaker.

“It’s really hard to simulate what he brings to the table,” Malloe said. “He’s fast. He’s quick. He’s got an arm. Do you let him throw? Do you try to get him out of the pocket? He poses so many problems, and he’s part of the run game. There’s 11 guys now. It’s 11-man versus 11-man, because of the threat he has as a runner. So he’s obviously the guy we’ve got to continue to figure out a plan to make sure we can keep him in the pocket, put some pressure on him, make him at least make some quicker decisions than normal. But that will be an issue come Saturday.”

Without head coach Jimmy Lake — who will serve a one-game suspension against Arizona State — the Huskies have issues galore.

They also have a possibly unachievable challenge.

Stop the run, and win the game.

Don’t, and you won’t.

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