University of Washington

After struggling late in back-to-back losses, Huskies defense aims for complete performance against Oregon State

Most of the time, Washington head coach Chris Petersen wouldn’t look forward to a short week. It shifts the Huskies’ entire schedule, eliminating a day off and giving them less time to recover and prepare.

But this time, UW is coming off back-to-back defeats — most recently a 33-28 loss to No. 9 Utah on Saturday. In the losses to Oregon and the Utes, the Huskies held double-digit leads before collapsing in the fourth quarter. Petersen and his players had no desire to dwell on the missed opportunities, so they were happy to return to the field for practice this week without a day off in between.

“I’m glad we’re playing on a short week, just the way things have gone,” Petersen said Monday. “I want to get out there and I want to go play. It was awesome to not have to sit around the office all day today and put in plays. We went out there and practiced. It was great. We get to play sooner. We’ll go play in a handful of days and reload.”

Outside linebacker Ryan Bowman agreed. After losses — and particularly after ones like Utah — he’s always eager for a chance to rebound.

“You want to get back on the field and immediately put everything you did wrong to rest and kind of go nuts on the field,” Bowman said after practice on Tuesday. “Playing Friday is really exciting. It’s one less day you have to wait to get out there and prove that we know what we’re doing.”

And Friday’s matchup with Oregon State will provide another tough test. The Beavers average 431.0 yards per game. They also average 33.6 points, which ranks fourth in the Pac-12 behind Washington State (41.8), Oregon (38.2) and the Huskies (34.9).

What Oregon State does best is convert on third down. The Beavers have the best rate in the conference, converting 52-of-106 (49 percent) of their third downs. In comparison, UW has converted just 41-of-115 (36 percent). Oregon State is also strong on fourth down, converting 10-of-14 (71 percent) of its opportunities. The Beavers are coming off a 56-38 victory over Arizona, where they finished with 572 total yards and converted 7-of-10 third-down chances.

“They’re running the ball extremely well with two good running backs,” said UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. “They got an NFL quarterback that nobody is talking about. This guy will be playing on Sundays. He can make all the throws. They have leading wide receiver in yards, catches and touchdown. And so, this offense has scored a lot of points. … They’re doing some really good things.”

Quarterback Jake Luton has completed 155-of-255 passes for 1,930 yards and 19 touchdowns. He averages 241.3 yards per game, which is fifth in the conference.

“Pocket movement and then making smart decision,” Bowman said of Luton’s strengths. “He’s pretty fast when he gets going. He’s been effective this year. We’re just going to have to shut him down.”

Luton’s top target is also the Pac-12’s leading receiver. Isaiah Hodgins has caught 63 passes for 895 yards and 12 touchdowns. At 111.9 yards per game, he’s the only receiver in the conference averaging more than 100 receiving yards. Against Arizona, Hodgins caught seven passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, an average of 21.4 yards per catch.

The Beavers also have two running backs that average more than 80 yards per game in Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson. Pierce has 111 carries for 696 yards and six touchdowns while Jefferson has 401 yards and four touchdowns on 78 attempts.

One of the biggest strengths of Oregon State’s offense is ball security. Lutton has only thrown one interception and the Beavers have fumbled just four times. They haven’t lost any of them.

“They’re doing all the things that make up the recipe for a good offense,” Lake said.

UW’s defense put together strong performances against Oregon and Utah up until the final quarter. But the Utes scored two touchdowns in the fourth on scoring drives that each lasted more than 5 minutes and spanned more than 80 yards. Against Oregon State, the Huskies are anxious to prove they can put together a complete performance.

“When we lose, it’s all about how we respond,” said defensive back Elijah Molden. “With this, a short week, we didn’t have a day off. This is a grinder. We really have to work harder than we have any other week because our bodies aren’t rested up and all this step. We got to grind it out.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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