University of Washington

Apple Cup Preview: UW’s defensive line vs. WSU’s defensive line

Washington State’s disruptive front has been led by standout lineman Hercules Mata’afa.
Washington State’s disruptive front has been led by standout lineman Hercules Mata’afa. The Associated Press

Forgive any Pac-12 offensive coordinator who may not exactly be fond of either Washington or Washington State this year.

A conference with a penchant for points has been home to two of the best defenses in college football. The Huskies (9-2, 6-2) are the No. 4 defense in America while the Cougars (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) are 11th.

Several things have led to the Cougars and Huskies having elite defenses. Like having strong defensive line play. Both teams have seen their fronts overpower opposing offensive lines while also pressuring quarterbacks.

With The Apple Cup only a day away, the News Tribune continues to preview what the Cougars and Huskies have at each position group.


Very few teams have had success running the ball against the Huskies in 2017. UW is fourth against the run and is allowing 102.91 yards per game.

Stopping the run isn’t the only place UW’s front has succeeded. Players like Greg Gaines, Jaylen Johnson and Vita Vea have generated enough pressure to help create lanes to attack the quarterback.

Getting to the quarterback is why the Huskies are also tied for 10th in the nation with 33 sacks.

UW opened the month ranked as the No. 1 defense in college football. The Huskies are fourth and teams are starting to develop something of a blueprint against this defense. Stanford showed any offense capable of hogging possession and winning third down, can put this unit into a corner.


Running against WSU isn’t exactly a picnic for opposing teams either. The Cougars are 19th in rushing defense and are allowing less than 130 yards per game.

Part of WSU’s success has been how it shifts players around to create pre-snap confusion. Quite a few teams have fallen prey to the scheme. That’s one reason why the Cougars are eighth in sacks and second in tackles for loss.

Then there’s junior Hercules Mata’afa. He’s arguably the most dominant defensive player in the Pac-12. Mata’afa’s 9.5 sacks are tied for seventh nationally and his 21.5 tackles for loss are third. WSU has another force in rush end Frankie Luvu, who has 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.

Arizona and California, the only teams to beat WSU this season, were able to get off to large leads early and continued to chip away.


This one goes to WSU. Both fronts are elite but the Cougars have Mata’fa, who is one of the best players in the game at his position.

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark