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University of Washington Huskies Football
Sports >  UW football

Coming off a bye week Washington’s porous defense will need to stop the run to beat UCLA

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 15, 2021

Washington offensive linesman Henry Bainivalu helps push running back Sean McGrew past Oregon State defensive back Jaydon Grant for a touchdown on Oct. 2, 2021, in Corvallis, Ore. Oregon State won 27-24.  (Associated Press)
Washington offensive linesman Henry Bainivalu helps push running back Sean McGrew past Oregon State defensive back Jaydon Grant for a touchdown on Oct. 2, 2021, in Corvallis, Ore. Oregon State won 27-24. (Associated Press)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – While its exact origin is disputed, American humorist and writer Mark Twain is frequently credited with the aphorism: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Which means, while details change, circumstances change, settings change, names change, similar events will essentially recycle.

For example:

Washington’s defense knew it needed to stop the run to beat Michigan. Instead, it surrendered 343 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry and four rushing scores in a 31-10 loss.

Three weeks later, UW’s defense knew it needed to stop the run to beat Oregon State. Instead, it surrendered 242 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry and three rushing scores in a 31-10 loss.

UW’s defense knew it needed to stop the run to beat Cal in 2019, and Stanford in 2019, and Oregon in 2019, and Colorado in 2019, and Stanford in 2020. Instead … well, you probably know the rest.

Now, UW’s defense knows it needs to stop the run to beat UCLA.

If it doesn’t, the place and time won’t change the rhyme.

“You can see (UCLA head coach Chip Kelly) is doing some different things schematicswise that cause defenses problems,” UW head coach Jimmy Lake said on Monday. “And then throw in there that they have talented players, they have a quarterback (Dorian Thompson-Robinson) that can also hurt you with his legs. They present a lot of challenges, and Justin Frye – their offensive coordinator, who I have a lot of respect for – he does a lot of different, multiple things that you normally don’t see week-in and week-out.

“So it’s definitely going to be a huge challenge for us defensively. They’ve been able to churn out a lot of yards, so when you can combine a scheme that’s on the cutting edge with really good football players and a coaching staff that’s doing some next-level stuff, it’s going to be a tough contest on Saturday.”

The Bruins’ ground game relies on a trio of ball carriers: running backs Zach Charbonnet (566 rushing yards, 6.4 yards per carry, seven rush TD) and Brittain Brown (442, 6.3, four) and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (242, 3.5, four).

Charbonnet – who the Huskies offered out of Oaks Christian (California) High School in 2019 – should present a challenging skill set with few surprises.

“You guys know I like big running backs. He’s got really good size. He’s got good speed,” Lake said. “We also did a lot of work on him because we thought we were going to play him in 2020 here in Husky Stadium when he was at the University of Michigan (before transferring to UCLA this offseason). So we did a lot of study on him there when he was across the country.”

Stopping Charbonnet will be the primary task for UW’s defensive front seven, which – despite its struggles – has featured some standout performers. Inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio racked up a team-high 16 tackles against Oregon State, and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele registered a sack for the third consecutive game. It’s possible All-American outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui – who has missed the first five games after tearing his left Achilles tendon on April 16 – could also return on Saturday, after Lake upgraded his status to week-to-week.

Sophomore defensive lineman Sam “Taki” Taimani also produced his most complete game against Oregon State, posting nine tackles with two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

It’s a performance he hopes repeats – or rhymes – against UCLA (4-2, 2-1).

“I feel like that (game) is just the beginning of it,” he said. “I feel like now that I’ve had that, that’s the standard I want to live by. I’m pushing myself to play that way every week. If I don’t, it’s a disappointment to myself.”

In losses, UW’s run defense has been particularly disappointing.

In its two wins this season, Washington (2-3, 1-1) allowed an average of 99.5 rushing yards and 3.32 yards per carry, with one total rushing touchdown. In its three losses, Washington allowed an average of 237.33 rushing yards per game and 5.09 yards per carry, with eight total rushing touchdowns.

The same disparity existed in UW’s last full season in 2019, when Washington allowed an average of 98.25 rushing yards and 3.46 yards per carry in eight wins, and 171.4 rushing yards and 4.20 yards per carry in five losses.

While opponents change, schemes change, stadiums change, names change, similar events have essentially recycled. It’s up to UW to replace the rhyme.

“The energy doesn’t change,” Taimani said Wednesday. “Yeah, we lost some close games. It sucks. But we know who we are. We know as a team, we’re a brotherhood, and we don’t let that affect us. We don’t let the outside noise affect who we are. The coaches push us. It hurts them (to lose). It hurts us. But the energy is high.

“We’re excited. We got a week off. It kind of sucked that we didn’t play (last weekend). We had to watch a lot of games. But our bodies are feeling a lot better, and (we’re excited) to get out there and show that we don’t care what the records are. We play with high energy no matter what. The situation doesn’t matter or anything like that.”

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