Contrary to speculation around the University of Washington campus, Myles Bryant is not walking around this week covered in protective bubble wrap.
Neither is Austin Joyner.
It would be understandable, though, for the Huskies to preserve their suddenly-thin crop of healthy cornerbacks in any way, especially with a Pac-12 showdown looming Oct. 28 with UCLA, the conference’s top passing team, at Husky Stadium.
“We have to have the next-man-up mentality, carry the flag and just be ready to play against UCLA,” Bryant said.
How thin is the defensive-back corps?
After a slow start, junior cornerback Jordan Miller had been the team’s hottest cover guy the past month, starting with his two-interception game at Colorado. His five pass breakups is best on the squad.
But on the game-clinching play of Arizona State’s 13-7 victory over the Huskies last Saturday in Tempe, Miller was wiped out by teammate Taylor Rapp as the two defensive backs tried to make a play on intended receiver N’Keal Harry with less than two minutes remaining. He suffered a broken left ankle, ending his season.
Coach Chris Petersen relayed the story Monday after the ASU game, he and Miller — with a cast over his leg — were coming out of the shower, and all Miller could talk about was getting bigger and coming back stronger next season.
“I’m just looking at him, shaking my head,” Petersen said. “It’s just awesome.”
This would be a good time for Murphy, the star of the UW’s fall camp, to return to the starting lineup after being sidelined more than a month with a leg injury, suffered in practice. Murphy was on the Huskies’ sideline for the ASU game.
“I think Byron is going to come back with an even bigger chip on his shoulder, and play with more of an edge,” Bryant said.
If Murphy, a redshirt freshman from Arizona, cannot return in time to face the Bruins, that leaves the team with just Bryant and Joyner as their lone healthy regulars at cornerback.
That very well could open up playing time for a pair of true freshmen — Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor — in UW’s nickel coverage.
“The good thing, we’ve been playing all those freshmen,” Petersen said. “We’ve got some guys there.”
Bryant noted that Molden, Taylor and even fellow freshman safety Brandon McKinney look much more comfortable understanding the defense than they did during fall camp in August.
“They know the ins-and-outs of our defense, and know the techniques,” Bryant said. “(Defensive backs) coach (Jimmy) Lake has done a good job preparing them for that role. If they have to step up, they will be ready.”
As a whole, it is hard to criticize what the Huskies secondary has accomplished this season. They rank second in the conference behind Washington State in passing yards given up (163.9 yards per game), and their 5.2 yards given up per completion is tops in the league.
But they’ve also yet to face four of the top five passing attacks in the Pac-12, starting with the Bruins more than a week away.
“I think we are pretty confident,” Bryant said. “We think anybody can step up and play, and we know there won’t be a dropoff between the next person and the previous starter.”
1. USC (6-1, No. 3 last week)
Last week: d. Utah, 28-27
This week: Sat. at Notre Dame
Will near-perfect second half against Utes spur Trojans to reach potential?
2. WASHINGTON (6-1, No. 1)
Last week: lost to Arizona State, 13-7
This week: Bye
More than any other game, passing-game weaknesses showed up in loss.
3. WASHINGTON STATE (6-1, No. 2)
Last week: lost to California, 37-3
This week: Sat. vs. Colorado
QB Luke Falk is mostly brilliant, but every so often, he’s unexplainable.
4. STANFORD (5-2, No. 4)
Last week: d. Oregon, 49-7
This week: Bye
Four-game winning streak has fully erased memory of slow start to 2017.
5. UTAH (4-2, No. 5)
Last week: lost to USC, 28-27
This week: Sat. vs. Arizona State
Utes were inches away from winning on Trojans’ field for first time in 101 years.
6. ARIZONA (4-2, No. 8)
Last week: d. UCLA, 47-30
This week: Sat. at California
Since QB Khalil Tate entered lineup, Wildcats running at 80-percent clip.
7. OREGON (4-3, No. 6)
Last week: lost to Stanford, 49-7
This week: Sat. at UCLA
Ducks’ combined 17 points in recent losses to WSU, Stanford are fewest since 1992.
8. CALIFORNIA (4-3, No. 10)
Last week: d. Washington State, 37-3
This week: Sat. vs. Arizona
QB Ross Bowers’ end-zone flip in Class 4A title game for Bothell much cleaner.
9. UCLA (3-3, No. 7)
Last week: lost to Arizona, 47-30
This week: Sat. vs. Oregon
After giving up 605 yards to Arizona, defensive players starting to point fingers.
10. ARIZONA STATE (3-3, No. 11)
Last week: d. Washington, 13-7
This week: Sat. at Utah
Hard to imagine a more imposing receiver in the country than N’Keal Harry.
11. COLORADO (4-3, No. 9)
Last week: d. Oregon State, 36-33
This week: Sat. at Washington State
Should Buffs defense ever give up 569 yards to this Oregon State offense?
12. OREGON STATE (1-6, No. 12)
Last week: lost to Colorado, 36-33
This week: Bye.
Ex-WSU assistant Cory Hall might be staking claim to head-coaching job.
– Todd Milles, staff writer