Washington’s defense has been in steady decline for years and the game against UCLA was a perfect example.
Going into the game, the Bruins ranked 22nd in the country, averaging 217 yards per game, while the UW running defense was at the opposite end of the spectrum, ranking 99th in the country, allowing 181 yards per game.
The Huskies knew they were going to have to step up if they were going to walk away with a win.
Instead, the Bruins had their way on the ground throughout the game, rushing for 237 yards. That was the sixth time UCLA rushed more than 200 yards in a game this year, while the third time UW allowed more than 200 yards on the ground in a game this year.
It was an indicator of how far the defense of the University of Washington has fallen from where it was less than three years ago with Chris Petersen, where the words Washington and defense were synonymous with each other.
Between 2014 and 2015 in Petersen’s first and second seasons, Washington saw vast improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The Huskies’ average points per game went from 24.8 to 18.8 and they also saw a 60-yard decrease in passing yards allowed per game, from 286.6 passing yards allowed per game in 2014 to just 226.5 passing yards allowed per game in 2015.
As Petersen and his staff continued to recruit their players, Washington’s defense continued to get better and better, peaking in the 2017 season. In that season, the Huskies’ defense was the fourth best in the nation against the career, giving up just 100.8 rushing yards per game, while his total defense was the eighth-best in the nation, giving up just 298 yards per game.
The following year in 2018, Washington’s defense slipped a bit, but stayed relatively the same, dominating the majority of matchups by allowing just 16.4 points per game.
Petersen’s last season as head coach in 2019 showed a remarkable change in the UW’s defensive performance. The points allowed per game rose to 19.4, the rushing yards allowed per game were up to 126.4 yards and the passing yards allowed per game were up to 222.2 yards.
When Petersen’s heir, Jimmy Lake, a former defensive co-coordinator and defensive backs coach, took over the program as head coach in 2020, a return to defensive dominance seemed inevitable.
For two years the opposite has happened. Washington’s defense can no longer be considered dominant or even good for the case.
Under Lake, the passing defense has remained solid, allowing just 185 yards passing through the 2020 season. So far in the 2021 season, they’ve played even better, allowing just 153.2 passing yards per game.
But when teams don’t need to throw the ball, those numbers become irrelevant.
It’s as bad as it has been in quite some time for the UW’s ground defense. In the 2020 four-game season, the Huskies defense allowed 161.3 rushing yards per game and in 2021 through six games, they are allowing 189.2 rushing yards per game.
UCLA’s running game Saturday night was led by junior running back Zach Charbonnet, who entered the game averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Against the UW, he averaged 6.2 yards per carry, rushing for 131 yards on 21 carries.
“It all comes down to execution,” defensive back Trent McDuffie said. “The guys are in the right place, but we have to finish and at the end of the day we have to finish them. I feel like it’s just a few minor details that we have to clean up, then we can come back. “
Even against the passing game, where Washington hangs his pride, a quick glance at the numbers shows many of the same struggles as against the run.
UCLA got what they wanted on the air Saturday night, when quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was 21-for-26, an 81% completion percentage and had two touchdowns per pass.
But it all comes down to stopping the opposition on the ground. Since defense against running is an issue year-round, pointing to execution as the reason for that fight makes people wonder why that execution has been so difficult to achieve per game in and out of this year.
“There are some teams here that have leaned on the running game and they haven’t thrown it much,” Lake said. “When they run the ball more, obviously they’ll get more yardage and that has been the case here in some of our games. We definitely have to be better, we have to be much better. It starts with us coaches making sure to put these guys in a good position to stop the race. “
Contact reporter Nathan Mathisen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @NathanMathisen
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